It’s the easiest analogy in the world to compare this book to the cultural icon of M*A*S*H*. This book references the Book, Movie and Television Series M*A*S*H* several times while Dave Hnida recounts his experience as a reserve doctor at a combat hospital during the recent surge in Iraq. It should be qualified however, that this is more like the final seasons of M*A*S*H* when comedy began to give way to Hawkeye’s maudlin self-reflection and questioning of the meaning of everything. Make no mistake, there is plenty of comedic relief throughout the book, but again and again the reality of war and the death and suffering is brought home.
Hnida opens his own personal life as well tying themes throughout his experiences in Iraq with earlier reflection on his relationship with his father, his connection to the Columbine tragedy where several of the students killed were patients of his in his family practice in Colorado, and the rape of his daughter in the course of her becoming the first woman to score points in a Division 1 college football game.
Hnida is an able writer and it’s no mistake that in addition to his medical skills that he is a medical journalist and TV personality. Far from being just a narrative diary, Hnida brings his colleagues alive and brings to life the his real life Trapper John (or BJ Honeycut if you prefer) the army brass who will salute in a shower, the higher ups who don’t take themselves so seriously and of course, the soul-less administrators who inevitably fall prey to the pranks that are their due.
As I read through this book I found myself wanting to criticize the parallels but I have to admit, the book it well enough written and acknowledges this element to where I was able to enter into the experience. Hnida avoids the temptation to make political and moral judgments throughout the work instead focusing primarily upon the humanity of the patients and the medical staff caught in a storyline nearly impossible to imagine for any who have not been there.
Hnida does a masterful job of bring his reader along and while the analogies to M*A*S*H* abound, the book pulls off its intended goal admirably and stands on its own.