BCMH Anesthetist Jerry Hill Serves in Iraq

  • Oct 24, 2004

by Faye Lozier, L'Anse Sentinel
The following story appeared in L'Anse Sentinel (L'Anse, Michigan), a weekly publication.
The article appeared in the September 15, 2004 edition, and is reprinted with permission.

Baraga County Memorial Hospital has been without its staff nurse anesthetist since June due to his call-up by the Naval Reserves.
Jerry Hill, CRNA (Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist), has been the nurse anesthetist at BCMH for the last 16 years. For the last 15 years Hill has been in the Naval Reserves. He currently holds the rank of Navy Commander (a Navy Commander is equal to a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army or Air Force).
Hill has drilled at the Navy Reserve Center in Gwinn where he was Officer in Charge of Detachment 29 Fleet Hospital Great Lakes. Hill was called to active duty in June. He volunteered to go to Iraq and was deployed there a few weeks ago. Hill has been told he will serve an estimated 12-18 months.
Hill was called to fill an opening in the anesthesia department at the Navy Hospital at Camp Pendleton Marine Corp Base in San Diego. This is his first recall and deployment during his 15 years in the Reserves. After initial processing at the Great Lakes Naval Base in Chicago, Hill was sent to Camp Pendleton near San Diego, CA.
Upon arriving at Camp Pendleton, Hill filled in there because several of the anesthesia personnel were due to be deployed to Iraq in August. He was informed four anesthesiologists (anesthesiologists are physicians with specialized training in anesthesia) were needed in Iraq. There were no volunteers to fill these spots, and it was decided that they could fill one spot with a CRNA, but the others must be anesthesiologists.
Anesthesia personnel will serve on one of several FRSSs (Forward Resuscitative Surgical System), which are each manned by an anesthesiologist, surgeon, operating room nurse, and two operating room techs. The highly mobile, small units are brought close to the front so immediate surgical care can be given for combat injuries.
Hill was chosen as the CRNA to man one of the FRSSs. During July he spent a month at Los Angeles Medical Center for trauma training. He worked with trauma teams in the intercity hospital on the midnight shift.
In an email to staff at BCMH, Hill relayed his experiences at the LA trauma center: "You really cannot believe this place, you must see it with your own eyes to believe it. The ER sees 450 patients per day. At any given time there are as many as 30-40 people in the ER. Add to that the doctors, nurses, lab, x-ray, residents, interns (you get the idea). You literally have to walk sideways to move in the ER because it is so crowded. It is absolute pandemonium. Picture the TV show 'ER,' but add at least another 50 patients and triple the staff and you get some idea," Hill wrote.
"Had three shootings in just the last 24 hours. Last night had a post gunshot in the OR that had to be recovered and cared for in the OR because there was no ICU bed available. Have to say, it has been a very interesting place," Hill wrote.
In an email a couple of weeks later, Hill told BCMH staff, "We are putting in 14 hour days under almost constant stress with the trauma never stopping. It really is just like a war zone here. I have to say it has been really good preparation for the real thing as we will be subject to the same stress and workloads in Iraq."
During this training, medical personnel were evaluated to see how well they handle stress, how quickly they diagnose and treat severe trauma, along with the appropriateness of their decision-making process.
Hill was assigned to FRSS and also to Shock Trauma Platoon, a sub-component of FRSS. The platoon deploys with Marines when they go on patrol to be able to give immediate medical care to any severely injured Marine. According to Navy policy, the anesthesia position at an FRSS can only be filled by an anesthesiologist. However, because of the number of FRSSs and the length of deployment, the Navy has run out of anesthesiologists to fill the FRSSs and Hill is the first CRNA in the Navy to be permanently assigned to an FRSS.
Hill volunteered to take the place of another anesthesia professional who had two small children at home. In one of his emails Hill wrote, "Some of them had families with young children and since my children were all grown and gone and I live by myself with no family responsibilities, I volunteered to go to Iraq. I took the place of a guy that had a three and a four year old. I just felt that young children needed to be with their dad, and if the worst should happen, I am far more expendable than him." Because of his rank as the senior officer, he is also in charge of FRSS.
In his "goodbye" email to BCMH staff, friends and family, Hill wrote, "It seems like I have been writing a lot of goodbye letters lately, but this one is for real. We finally got the word. They received 80 casualties this weekend alone in Fallujah and are screaming for help. We are deploying to Iraq in the morning. As if we needed a reminder of how bad things have gotten over there today, they had us take one of our dog tags off our neck and lace it in our left boot (I don't think I have to tell you what that means) so now it's for real. Hopefully I will return home safe and sound, but if not, then I will be with Jesus, so either way I win. I will do my best to make you all proud."
Hill was deployed on Aug. 9, 2004. Hill has kept in contact with periodic emails. He has relayed the living conditions and terrain. In his most recent email he states, "All in all I am doing well. We train every day for anything that may come our way and try to keep on our toes. I can't say this is fun, but never expected it to be. I will be OK and am proud to be here helping out our guys."
Hill is scheduled to return from Iraq in March 2005, but is uncertain whether he will be sent home or required to continue service.
Filling in at BCMH
Since Hill's departure BCMH has faced reduced anesthesia coverage. Relief Anesthetist Joni Meyers, CRNA, has stepped up and is covering scheduled surgical cases. However, this leaves a gap for emergency coverage. During Hill's tenure he covered emergency cases on a "call" basis. He was available by telephone or beeper after regularly scheduled hours, and would come to the hospital to provide anesthesia services in the case of an emergency.
With Hill's absence and the uncertainty as to his scheduled date of return, emergency anesthesia coverage has been difficult to secure. BCMH has an agreement with Dr. Timothy Nelson, surgeon at Keweenaw Memorial Medical Center in Laurium, to accept BCMH emergency cases.
Emergency cases are those which occur after regular business hours when the surgical department is not staffed. Emergency cases which require general anesthesia will be shipped to Keweenaw Memorial Medical Center where Nelson will attend to the patient. 

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