Dr. Michael Lavor can summarize his medical stint in Afghanistan for the U.S. Navy over the past year as the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Deployed out of the Navy Operational Support Center in Tucson, Dr. Lavor spent September 2012 through April 2013 directing medical operations at the base at Tarin Kowt, in southern Afghanistan.
“The Good included the fact that we were operating at a coalition base: a Dutch base with an Australian commander, Australian special forces, Slovakian security personnel, Singaporean surveillance… it was amazing how so many people from so many places worked so well together,” he said. “We did a lot of valuable training with Afghan personnel, educating them in medical procedures.”
Dr. Lavor was considerably older than most of his colleagues; he has long years of experience in vascular and trauma surgery in Tucson, and his medical record dates all the way back to military service as a medical corpsman during the Vietnam War era back in the 1960s.
On the Bad side of this new experience – the environment was desolate, rocky, dusty and hot. And the Ugly obviously included the loss of life.
But overall, the experience was generally positive, even in the face of adversity.
“We were staying in temporary shelters,” Dr. Lavor said. “The isolation was especially difficult for the young troops. We managed to bring sanity back into our lives during downtime. We used things such as basketball, ping pong, Christmas parties, barbecues…We even made our own golf course, good for chipping and putting, with some help.” He thanks Tucson golf pro Don Pooley and Southwest Greens of Tucson for providing the valuable golfing diversion.
Dr. Lavor noted that the medical team served a vital function in treating anyone injured in the conflict – coalition military personnel, Afghan civilians, or wounded insurgents. “We were proud that 100 percent of wounded personnel brought into our base were treated successfully, and were able to leave the base alive.”
In his view, is the ongoing presence in Afghanistan beneficial to the US? “Yes,” said Dr. Lavor. “Our team did a phenomenal job in training Afghan medical and military personnel, and it’s certainly a positive situation for the Afghan people. There were many positive interactions; we saw the Australians bringing Afghan teens and other civilians in for training in construction and other skills.”
As for someone at his “advanced age” – he has now turned 64 – Dr. Lavor suggests that age should be no obstacle to service. “I would encourage physicians even near the end of their career to consider volunteering, to give back. Being older in age helped provide stability for the junior officers and enlisted personnel. I had direct responsibility for the wellbeing of my crew as a senior leader.”
It helps to be in shape, he added. Older personnel generally face lower fitness mandates than the younger folks do, but Dr. Lavor noted that he managed to meet the physical qualifications of those 17-to-20-year-olds.
Now, the bigger challenge for him, he admits, may be getting back to the workday routine at Saguaro Surgical P.C., treating patients at facilities such as Tucson Medical Center and the TMC Wound Care Center, and re-learning all those computer systems involved in practicing modern medicine in the U.S.