Dr. Dave Hnida

Physician, Medical Commentator, & Author

Dr. Dave Hnida

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Dr. Dave Hnida was a forty-eight year-old physician from Littleton, Colorado, when he volunteered for a tour of duty as a battalion surgeon in Iraq. Three years later, he returned for another stint, this time to run the ER of a Combat Support Hospital (CSH)—a modern-day MASH unit in the brutal desert war zone. Paradise General: Riding The Surge At A Combat Hospital In Iraq is Dr. Hnida’s moving account of his experiences as a trauma chief at the 399th CSH—the medivac destination of choice because of the high survival rate, an astounding 98%—and one of the busiest combat hospitals during the Surge of 2007. Though set against a devastating backdrop, Hnida’s story manages to remain both hopeful and at times outright funny, infused with the gallows humor of Dr. Hnida and his rebellious band of seasoned doctors.

Paradise General is a human story, an illuminating account of the realities of modern warfare that reports without artifice or agenda. “We all had to deal with issues from the war,” Dr. Hnida writes of himself and his fellow doctors once they are safely back in the U.S. “A few of us more than others, but each has carried home some bits of psychological debris from the carnage.” Hnida’s story is both a personal journey and a larger testament to the remarkable, courageous way lives are being saved in the Iraqi war. A true American hero, Hnida gives you someone you can root for no matter how you feel about the war itself.

Dr. Hnida’s decision to say goodbye to his family and his practice and successful career in Colorado to serve in Iraq was rooted in some dark experiences, yet grounded in the simplest of motives: to live the ideals of service that he had long espoused to his children. Devastated by the Columbine shootings, where nine of those killed had been his patients, as well as the widely publicized rape of his daughter—the first female to score a point in an NCAA Division I football game—by one of her own teammates, had prompted Hnida to find a way to help protect and save other young people. He was also haunted by his own father’s pre-death confessions of his horrific ordeal in World War II—experiences that he never truly understood until he, too, found himself at the center of a war zone.

After a grueling eighteen hour flight to Kuwait on “Duct-Taped Airlines,” followed by another flight aboard a non-insulated military C-130, Hnida, seven other doctors, and additional medical personnel arrived at the 399th Combat Support Hospital near Tikrit, birthplace of Saddam Hussein. Dubbed “Paradise General,” the CSH proved to be nothing more than a group of shabby tents behind blast walls, the only one of five such facilities in Iraq without a hard roof. Inside the makeshift warren, though, was a 24/7 medical center where the wounded were helicoptered-in for treatment. From a first day marked by missteps, it was trial by fire as Dr. Hnida and his colleagues battled the odds to patch up catastrophically injured soldiers  – spaghetti and meatballs surgery, as they called it – before shipping them to Germany or the U.S. for further care

Hnida takes audiences through the anatomy of a trauma, as emergencies are dealt with swiftly and deftly by the experienced and caring team of doctors who, until recently, were all civilians just like him. He shares candidly about the anguish of dealing with young soldiers, no older than his own children, and about the day to day ribbing and joking that created an impenetrable bond between the doctors, and kept them all on the right side of sanity. The doctors faced challenges of conscience, as when they treat a young man who has lost an arm and a leg to an insurgent’s bomb, and just hours later must try to save the life of the insurgent himself—a fifteen-year-old Iraqi boy. Another soldier is “saved” just long enough to ship him to Germany, so that his family can be flown to meet him and say their goodbyes.

Hnida’s humor and self-deprecation manage to transcend much of the stress and tragedy, and no holds barred accounts of the barely livable conditions, rudimentary latrines, and inedible food and drink can be side-splittingly funny. As lifelong civilians suddenly caught in the unyielding, often inane web of military protocol, the doctors are chafed by the sometimes imbecilic bureaucracy and bristle at moments when top brass try to score Vicodin or Viagra in the midst of far more pressing life-and-death crises. To ease the daily tension, the personnel at Paradise General succumb to silly practical jokes, wheelchair races, and the wearing of fake nametags (Major Whiner, Major Jack Cass). The humor is matched by heat, and Hnida grows to appreciate and love his fellow physicians and the rest of the dedicated, compassionate staff, who perform endless miracles in the forsaken desert outpost.

Dr. Hnida is a family physician and medical commentator. He has worked as a local and national correspondent for NBC and CBS, and has made appearances on the Today Show and The Early Show. He lives with his family in Littleton, Colorado.

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