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Veteran’s Day: Dr. Chris Coppola on Writing and Publication

In honor of our veterans this Veterans Day, I’ve got a special guest post from Dr. Chris Coppola, author of Coppola:  A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq.

Book Description:
Title: Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq
Author: Dr. Chris Coppola
Trim: 5.5 x 8.5, Hardcover, 265p.
Published: November 1, 2009 (Online) & February 1, 2010 (bookstores)
Publisher: NTI Upstream

I hope you will give him a warm welcome as he talks about his book and his writing experiences.

I continue to tell people “I am not a writer” even as my book Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq was published Nov. 1, 2009. I am a doctor, a father, a veteran, but in no way do I consider myself a writer. The truth of the matter is that I wrote my book out of necessity, to survive a very stressful passage in my life.

During medical school I had committed to military service, and in 2003 I started work as a staff surgeon at a military hospital in Texas. Shortly after, we invaded Iraq, and it wasn’t long before I found myself serving as a trauma surgeon in a combat support hospital just north of Baghdad.

I was well fed, housed, and protected, but still I felt groundless and lost witnessing the daily onslaught of blown up patients entering the hospital doors. One bed held a twenty-year-old soldier with his legs blown off. In the next was an elderly grandmother in a black burka with eviscerated intestines; and nearby her, a child of two with burns covering the majority of her body. During the day, the frantic pace of work kept me fully occupied. But late at night, alone in the Spartan trailer that served as my quarters, I could not sleep. 

Part of my difficulty arose from the fact that I was far from the comforting embrace of my wife and children, the salve that would usually ease my troubles. They couldn’t come to me, but I could tell them my worries, so I wrote: long detailed letters in which I poured out the painful images that deprived me of sleep. Sometimes I wrote until dawn. Once unburdened of these difficult memories, I felt relieved and ready to face the meat grinder of war once again. I could rise, head back to the network of canvas tent that formed our hospital, and again do my best to help the soldiers, detainees, and civilians who had the misfortune to be among the thousands injured in the war.

My wife and I shared my letters with family and a few close friends. Friends asked to share with other friends, and soon I was writing for over 100 readers. I found myself carefully choosing words that would be read to my son’s fourth grade class and in the operating rooms of my hospital at home. I did my best to match photographs that would compliment the letters’ content. I was surprised to find that readers were actually eager to receive the updates—if I was too busy to write for a week, I got worried emails inquiring if anything had happened to me.

Once home, I was relieved to be back with my family, but I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I wasn’t doing anything to support our troops who were still at war so far from their families. I gathered my letters, and crafted them into a book as a tribute to the troops and a benefit for Fisher House, a home away from home for families of injured troops. Again, I was writing to serve an emotional need.
Now that Coppola: A Pediatric Surgeon in Iraq is written, I feel like the story of so many brave children, parents and soldiers has been preserved. I saw such moving acts of bravery and strength from so many ordinary people that I felt the rest of the world should know, in some way, what I witnessed. Now that these events have been set to paper, I believe they have enduring reality and meaning even as they happened in the senselessness of war.


About the Author: 

Dr. Chris Coppola was sworn in as a second lieutenant in 1990 as part of the Air Force’s Health Professions Scholarship Program, agreeing to perform six years of active duty service in exchange for a free education at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. As part of the program, Dr. Coppola would spend one month of each year serving as a clerk in a military facility. Later, while completing his surgery residency at Yale-New Haven Hospital, he conducted research on birth defects and went on medical missions in Haiti and the Amazon.

10 Percent of each book sale will benefit nonprofit organizations like War Child Canada and War Kids Relief.

For more on this author, please check out the first part of my interview with Dr. Coppola on my D.C. Literature Examiner page.

Thanks to Dr. Coppola for providing this guest post and answering my interview questions.

Clicking on some title and image links will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page; no purchases are required.