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The Author Speaks

Nursing the Troops

Interview with Susan Luz, coauthor of The Nightingale of Mosul: A Nurse’s Journey of Service, Struggle, and War


Public health team—Susan Luz is third from left—looked after troops' well-being. — Courtesy Susan Luz

Q. Did you work with the wounded?

A. I worked in the hospital when there were mass casualties. I took care of the “expectants.”

Q. How did you help someone expected to die?

A. I’d hold their hands, give morphine. A lot of our expectants were Iraqi civilians and Iraqi soldiers, and, naturally, the terrorists.

Q. Did you treat Iraqis differently from Americans?

A. I didn’t get Americans—they were in the emergency room until they died. The Iraqis would get triaged, and if it was clear they were going to die, I’d get them. They were never awake. But no, I didn’t treat them any differently from anyone else—I took an oath. What we feel inside about the terrorists is a different story. If you saw one blow up your friend, you might think differently. But I wouldn’t do anything different with that person.

Q. How did you boost morale?

A. We’d have barbecues, card tournaments, movie nights. We’d dress up and go to the hospital on Halloween, or on St. Patrick’s Day—just to let the wounded soldiers and civilians feel a little bit of normalcy. There was a time and place for everything, of course—if the helicopters came over and you were having a cookout, you put your things away and headed for the hospital, because it meant there were casualties coming in.

Q. Where did that desire to help people’s frame of mind come from?

A. Considering the age I was—and I couldn’t have children—those were my boys and girls over there, and I wanted to take care of them. We were the MASH unit on the base. So in true M*A*S*H* style, I’d be Klinger. On the show, if anyone needed something, ask Klinger! In Iraq, you asked Col. Luz. They’d say, “We need furniture for our offices,” and I’d go out with my specialist looking for things people had abandoned—blankets, desks, couches.

Q. And they felt comfortable asking a colonel for such things?

A. They used to call me “the ambassador,” because they knew I could talk to people. The enlisted would say, “Wow, she’s a colonel and she’s talking to me?” And I wasn’t afraid of the generals—I got them to let me start a beauty parlor. Guys have barbers, I told them. “Why can’t we have a beauty parlor?”

Q. How did you get away with that?

A. Basically, I can get anything I want—not because I’m female—but because I have a way with people. And I’d barter. When we were inaugurating the hospital, they asked the [mess hall] to make a cake, and the guy refused, claiming they needed more notice. I got a cake in two hours.

Q. How?

A. Because I had all these DVDs from HBO! I’d gotten to be friends with one of the people on Band of Brothers. So I’d say, “Look, I’ll give you this DVD of The Sopranos or Six Feet Under.”

Q. Any other triumphs?

A. One of the steak houses had 160 steaks to give away. Who did they give it to? Me! We brought them up to the wounded soldiers.

Q. What does a gift like that do for morale?

A. We grilled them up and brought them to the soldiers, and oh my God, they were so happy.

Q. What did you miss while when you were in Iraq?

A. I missed my wonderful husband, George, and being with friends and family. But I developed my own family there.

Q. Families are formed during wartime?

A. Sure. I had a second family there, my own band of brothers, and especially my band of sisters—the other nurses I served with.

Q. Do you stay family after everyone goes home?

A. My unit, of course. And I stay in touch with others I connected with from other places. We talk on the phone a lot. We send CARE packages to a good friend who’s a nurse-anesthetist in Afghanistan all the time. The original band of brothers got together every year for a reunion. We talked about doing that, but right now everybody’s got two war zones going on. Maybe in five years.

Q. What message do you want to send with this book?

A. I hope this book will show other women especially that we’re important, and it doesn’t matter what age you are. There are people in their 30s who complain about everything and think they’re old. Not me. I get tired, of course. But I just think there’s so much to life.

Rob Gurwitt lives in Norwich, Vt.

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