September 18, 2013

The Gift of a Second Chance

This week we have the special opportunity of welcoming one of our very own Coachwell clients and leaders to share his story of inspiration, healing, and call to action after serving as a surgeon in the midst of a war zone. Please welcome Dr. Hassan Tetteh, a thoracic surgeon, educator, and the recent author of Gifts of the Heart, a novel informed by life experience. May this story inspire you to live with purpose and intention and above all, to help others with your gifts!

My novel, Gifts of the Heart, was inspired by my time serving as a Naval combat surgeon with the Marines in Afghanistan. Learn more about the life experience that compelled me to write this novel here.

Landing in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province 120 degree heat was disorienting, but the needs of so many injured soldiers motivated me to work quickly. 

By comparison, performing surgery in a hospital stateside is tame: The operating room is sterile; work is done at a reasonable pace; and there is the luxury of time to close the wounds delicately, so that friends and loved ones hardly notice the scar.

Surgery on the front lines, however, is down and dirty.  We treated a gauntlet of men, and sometimes women, working as quickly as possible to save their lives after an explosion or enemy fire had blown them close to death’s door.

Starting out, the other surgeons and I felt dispirited. Aside from the constant carnage, conditions in our location were extremely austere. There was nothing fancy, only the bare essentials needed to live and save lives.

We “engineered” creative ways to stay connected with family, including a rented satellite that sped up our Internet connection, allowing us to keep in touch with loved ones back home. As our tour ended, my fellow surgeons and I actually felt that our desert assignment was preferable to our peers who worked under more posh conditions.

We lived hard and we were closer to the injured than ever before. We helped a lot of young men literally ripped apart by war, and gave them a shot at a future through our teamwork, tenacity, and dedication. In our sliver of the Afghan desert, in sagging tents, we stayed to care for and support our brave warriors. We all volunteered to be there and a tremendous esprit de corps arose between us as a result.

Witnessing and caring for so many young people’s wounds and lives forced me to revisit my purpose in life. Through my own suffering as witness to trauma and destruction emerged a wisdom that engendered me with great humility, promoted a deep sense of gratitude for surviving the experience, and expanded my capacity to love all things in my life even more.

When we stabilized a lethally injured patient, and helped rescue them from death, we gave that person more time to find and fulfill their own purpose. That was the gift of a second chance that we fought hard to give each patient in the operating room. But some days, we lost and it was not enough.

I saw too much. My inspiration came from pain, the pain that came from challenges and destruction I faced in the desert. Writing my novel, Gifts of the Heart, was my own way to heal and process the experience, which ultimately led me to find my deeper purpose.

My goal in writing Gifts of the Heart is to help awaken the reader to find his or her sense of purpose, especially for those who have similarly dealt with any kind of trauma or stress. The common theme of any inspirational book is to teach you about coping and overcoming any kind of conflict or obstacle. My hope is to convey this same message to any individual whose life-altering experience forced them to answer one crucial question: how can I help others?

To your excellence in sharing your gifts,

Hassan A. Tetteh, M.D.