What inspired you for the first time to become a war doctor?
Two things. The first was the film by Roland Joffé Killing fieldswhich had a huge impact on me when I saw him as a trainee surgeon. There's a scene in a hospital in Phnom Penh, invaded by patients, in which a surgeon has to deal with a splinter wound – I wanted to be that surgeon. The second major spur was watching the news of Sarajevo in 1993. There was this man on the television, who was desperately looking through the rubble of his daughter. Eventually he found her and took her to the hospital, but there were no doctors there to help her. I thought, "Right, I'm leaving."
How was the first war experience?
As a young man, jumping off the plane and running to the shelter, then jumping on a bulletproof vehicle and transported at high speed to the hospital was Boy & # 39; s Own stuff, just like I wanted it to be. That was great. The adrenaline was unbearable and the amount of endorphins in your head – I felt like I was floating in the air and could do anything. So being able to help people, having their own operating room, was wonderful. Of course, I wanted to replicate it all the time. Once I savored it, I could not stop myself.
That adrenaline rush is still so strong, 25 years later?
Nowadays, I am less driven to repair individual patients and more, wanting to impart the knowledge and skills I have accumulated over the years to local doctors in the field. Recently I was in Yemen and there were simple medical procedures – lifesaving procedures – that the doctors were doing wrong because they had never seen them before. Most doctors rarely see more war wounded. Everyone has forgotten how the explosion wounds affect children, such as gunshot wounds or the effects of the impact of the big bombs they fall on people. This is why it is important to keep doing it and because I have founded my foundations [the David Nott Foundation] provide surgical training to doctors around the world on how to work in austere environments [war and disaster zones].
What makes a good war doctor?
You have to know a little about everything – neurosurgery, maxillofacial surgery, chest surgery, abdominal surgery, orthopedics, plastics, pediatrics, how to deliver a baby. You must be able to make decisions about what is right for the patient without resorting to hi-tech surveys such as CT scanners or X-ray machines, which are few and far between on the front lines.
How big is the PTSD for war doctors?
Really big. I was never quite right when I returned, especially if I had done a two or three month mission. I became more irritable and aggressive for a while while I decompressed and readjusted to London life. But it was after meeting Elly and that last mission in Syria that it all became too much. I still really want to go to exciting places and help people. I have to, I find it almost a vocation. But now I'm more experienced, I know what not to do. I know when some places are too dangerous to go.
Would you say you're an emotional person?
Yes, I'm a very emotional person. At the beginning, working in war zones, I developed this kind of icy heart. I did not want any relationship, I did not want anyone to come close to me because then I would not be able to keep doing what I was doing, and that was all I wanted to do. This is the thing that has changed most of me since I had my two daughters.
Do you feel comfortable in the limelight?
No not at all. And I am aware that this book will push me inside. But I wrote to testify. [My friend] Ammar and the other doctors in Syria said I had to write it because without them their voices would never be heard and no one would ever really know what had happened.