Write up from the Daily Southerner
December 19, 2011
TARBORO — Being a doctor during wartime may create a chaotic image in the brains of most people. The detailed experience can only be explained by someone who has lived every waking moment of this surreal reality. Fike painted the picture of his world in Afghanistan as an Orthopedic Surgeon.
He said, “As I tell people, it’s sort of a mixture of controlled boredom and utter chaos.
There are periods of time where it’s just chaotic, things are happening all the time and you’re reacting constantly, and then there are long periods of very controlled boredom where you’re just trying to find things to do with your time. That’s why we’re there, we’re there to help and protect the U.S. soldiers that get injured or hurt and you can’t predict that, so you don’t know when it’s going to happen or if it’s going to happen.”
Colonel Fike was deployed five times for the Iraq War. His latest deployment led him to FOB (Forward Operating Base) Salerno in eastern Afghanistan where he holds his fondest memories.
From this particular deployment, his greatest memory was taking care of native children whose lives have been changed forever due to IED’s (Improvised Explosive Devices).
“Taking care of them and the fact that their lives are not going to be normal again are things that will be with me for a very long time,” said Fike.
After his life-changing experience with one world, he made his transition to his new
home in North Carolina as an Orthopedic Surgeon.
Eight years after the start of the Iraq War, the U.S. Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, declared the official end Thursday, Dec. 15. From this day forth, U.S. troops are homebound.
Even though Fike’s occupation remained the same from the beginning of his deployment to his humble transition back to his new home in North Carolina, one thing is for sure, there is no comparison between the two worlds he lived in. His duties in the U.S. and overseas were very different when compared to each other, according to Fike.
“When you’re over there, you’re pretty much in charge of everything that goes on inyour area, so you take care of people the way you see fit,” said Fike. “When you come back here, all of the paperwork and the way that we do things in the United States take a lot of your time away from actual patient care. There’s actually a lot more constraints on your time here than there was there, because you had one job there, which was to be an army physician. Here (the United States), you have to take care of the family, the business, the work on top of your doctor duties, so there is actually more things that have to get done here than there were there.”
“Welcome Home Dr. Fike.”
The welcome back banner positioned in front of Carolina Regional Orthopedics in
Tarboro blew swiftly in the wind as it welcomed back a family man, a loving doctor and a soldier.
According to Fike, spending time away from home in the U.S. has changed his
perspective on life greatly. When asked about his feelings about this being his final return, he was at a loss for words, but still reflected happiness through his gestures.
“It is a dramatic relief when you finally get back,” said Fike. “It’s not something that you can explain very well, but it is a great feeling.”
During his stay overseas, Dr. Fike has experienced internal growth, an appreciation for the simple things in life and a lifelong connection with fellow soldiers.
"Service is something that everybody ought to consider, because you'll learn a lot about yourself and about other people,” said Fike. “I've always been very proud to put on the uniform. I’ve met long lasting friends that I'll know for the rest of my life. There is a significant bond that forms between those people that you deploy with. You sort of realize how lucky we are here in the United States to have the things that we have, because when you go to other countries, you realize how little those people have in their lives.”
During his first deployment in the early 2000s, the wonderful creation of modern
technology has allowed Fike to stay connected with his wife and children. Recently, with social media sites, Skype and FaceTime, Fike said that it was easier to stay in contact with his lovedones. During his last deployment, Fike and his family made a move to Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and weren’t able to connect as frequently.
“My family and I have recently moved to North Carolina, so we’ve only been in North Carolina for about a year. The hardest part was that my family did not have the social resources that they have had before, but my partners and the people that we have met in North Carolina have been very nice to them.”
He spent his time overseas by serving his country and caring for injured natives. If one wonders if his life has changed he would answer by saying, “There’s no question, I don’t think you can go and do something like this for that period of time and not come back and be a little different about it. Once again, most of it is the perspective on life in general and a little bit of perspective of what the United States means to other countries. You learn a lot about yourself. There are things that you can do that you never realized that you could unless suddenly you’re there.”
Fike grew up in Nebraska, went to the University of Nebraska for undergraduate school and the University of Kansas for medical school. He has practiced in Oklahoma for 12 years and moved to Rocky Mount with his family to get closer to the ocean one year ago. Fike works at Carolina Regional Orthopaedics in both Tarboro and Rocky Mount. He also works at both Nash General Hospital (Rocky Mount) and USH Edgecombe Hospital (formerly Heritage Hospital in Tarboro).
Fike, age 44, has plenty of stories to share will all inquisitive minds. One thing that he wants everyone to know is that there are always ups and downs when it comes to the Iraq War.
“I would tell anybody that looks at all of this that there are a lot of pluses and minuses about everything that we do, but from my standpoint, I think we get more right than we get wrong,” said Fike.
TARBORO — Letter to the Editor:
I read with great interest and appreciation the article "Welcome Back Dr. Fike" in the January issue of the Tarboro and Homes Magazine. I am a staff general surgeon employed at the Heritage Hospital. In 1971, I served in the same capacity at the 24th Evacuation Hospital, Long Binh, Vietnam. Before I was allowed to work independently caring for our combat injured GIs (as well as those of other countries and Vietnamese civilians), I was directed by our chief of surgery to work with orthopedic surgeons for two weeks.
I learned from our several orthopedic surgeons how to manage the complex soft tissue wounds seen in combat situations, high velocity and blast wounds I never saw in my residency training at Hartford Hospital. I will always be grateful for what I learned from them and for the lives they helped me save.
Tarboro is very fortunate to have the services of Dr. Ed Fike and his experience in war surgery, and those of Dr. Mark Petruzziello, my general surgery colleague, who trained and served in the Navy for several years.
Charles J. Middleton, MD, FACS