By Dr. James Appel - September 3, 2014

I feel like I’m in some movie.

I’ve been called over by the Department of Defense to testify. A uniformed woman leads the way as the hospital’s van transports Dr. Sonii and I to the walled compound of the military. We walk past a seriously black and shiny SUV, coming out of the pouring rain into the lobby and past the camouflaged guards. Down a couple hallways, past large photos of soldiers doing humanitarian tasks like helping out in schools, battling floods, etc and up to a double door with a full length mirror to the right. Above the mirror it says “watch your uniform”. Our escort pauses briefly to make sure her uniform is up to standard and we walk in, me more than a little embarrassed in my jeans and t-shirt, which is the best clothes I brought to Liberia. Why didn’t I think to plan about coming in to a room of well-dressed civilians and military types? Silly me.

A tall man with a big smile welcomes us and asks us to take a seat. The rest of the men in the room are more somber and intimidating. The man, who appears to be the head of the commission, informs me that they’d like me to give a statement about the patient we operated on a few Fridays ago with the alleged gun shot wound.

First I am called to the middle of the U-shaped formation of tables. There is a single chair there facing the chief who is flanked by two other well-dressed men not in uniform. I’m asked if I will take an oath. I agree and am motioned over to my left where a Bible, a Qur’an and another book I don’t take the time to identify lie. I’m asked to choose which I would like to swear on. I briefly think of the Qur’an but place my hand on the Bible instead. I’m informed I can pick it up if I want to and the way it’s said makes me want to, so I do.

The classic formula of “I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help me God” is read out to me in brief spurts which I am told to repeat, which I do. I then place the Bible down and return to my small chair in the midst of important men.

I’m told to begin and I start describing how I first saw the young man, what I observed and then what kind of surgery we did and once again what I observed. The man to the left of the chief is smiling and nodding and encouraging me so I start to loosen up and talk mostly to him. The man to the right of the chief keeps a scowl on his face the whole time. When I’m done, the chief smiles again, warmly and thanks me heartily. In fact, everyone is thanking me. I kind of like that about the Liberians. I’m then taken to an empty office and asked to write out my statement, similar to what I just said. I finish quickly, but then think I must have put the wrong date. Surely it can’t be the 22nd, it has to have been longer then that, so I try to call Gillian to confirm but I can’t get through. So I just change it to the 15th (later I learn it really was the 22nd, but so much has happened in that time it’s seemed like a lot longer). 

I’m brought back in and they laugh and joke about if they’ll be able to read my doctor’s writing. I’m starting to feel really comfortable. The man does have some difficulty and so another man goes over to help. They finally get through it with me having to decipher some of my own writing in the process. Then they ask a few questions such as the following:

“Have you ever removed a bullet form someone?” 

“No.”

“Was the colon touched?” 

“Just the rectum which is the last part of the colon.”

“You mention that the holes in the intestines were caused by a projectile such as a bullet, have you dealt with ballistics before?” 

“Yes, I’ve treated gun shot wounds, just never taken a bullet out as it’s not always necessary. Can I draw on the board?”

They agree and I trace out the digestive tract and point out why I think it was a bullet and how that could pierce the skin, go through the small intestines and enter the rectum and why the shape and size of the holes makes me confident it was a bullet because a knife or an arrow would leave a different type of wound.

Now they are really happy and say that’s enough and “thank you’s” come from all around and repeatedly. I’m kind of embarrassed about how thankful they are, and yet it’s nice too.

We go back out in the rain to the van and drive back to the hospital. The boy who had been shot is released that same day to go home, having recovered completely.

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