Husband, wife doctors at Landstuhl give troops their all
August 1, 2006
LANDSTUHL, Germany — Apparently, Air Force Dr. (Lt. Col.) Warren Dorlac needs neither food nor rest to fuel his boundless energy and frenetic pace.
Dorlac glanced up while completing paperwork following an operation to amputate an Army specialist’s left arm.
“We gotta get lunch because I missed breakfast, lunch and dinner yesterday,” said the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center surgeon and chief of trauma services.
Dorlac had just enough time to make a lunch date at the stifling hot Landstuhl dining facility tent with his wife, Air Force Dr. (Lt. Col) Gina Dorlac. Gina Dorlac works as a pulmonologist at Landstuhl and serves as the medical director of both the combined intensive care unit at Landstuhl and the critical care air transport for European Command.
The married couple of 17 years spent a rare free moment together at lunch recently, munching down salads. Once or twice a week, they’ll have lunch together. Even then, their time together is usually interrupted by phone calls.
“Sometimes that’s the only times we see each other,” said Gina Dorlac. “This week has been a bad week. The night before last, he didn’t come home at all. Last night, he came home late and went to sleep.”
The husband/wife doctor duo has been at Landstuhl for two years. Gina Dorlac averages about 70 hours a week at work, while her husband logs upwards of 100 hours a week, she said, although he’ll only admit to putting in between 80 and 90 hours a week. Now, consider that there’s only 168 hours in a week. Several days go by where Warren Dorlac doesn’t get to see the couple’s three young children.
By her own admission, Gina Dorlac says they do not have a normal life. They have bad days treating war casualties but usually not on the same days, she said. They get through the emotionally taxing times with no real outlet.
“Some people have real active faith and church life,” she said. “Other people exercise or have to do their run to keep their mind straight. We don’t do any of that stuff very well. We just sort of struggle through from day to day and keep it held together with Scotch tape, duct tape or whatever you got around.”
Gina Dorlac’s not complaining, whining or seeking pity. The couple knew what they were getting into when they were assigned to Landstuhl. She also knows that either or both of them could be deployed.
“Every time I start to feel sorry for myself, it takes five minutes to look at what somebody is sacrificing,” Gina Dorlac said and then motioned to her arms and legs. “Got ’em both. They’re still there. Nobody’s shooting at me. I am in awe of what those guys do. So to do anything less than everything you can here is cheating them. I think everybody who works here probably feels that way.”
By all accounts, the Dorlacs do everything they can for our nation’s wounded warriors. On a recent morning, Warren Dorlac was held up on a phone conversation with surgeons from the country of Georgia in an effort to arrange training for them at Landstuhl before they head downrange. The phone call caused him to run a little late for rounds where he checked on U.S. troops from Iraq and Afghanistan suffering gunshot wounds and injuries from roadside bomb blasts.
Finishing his rounds, Dorlac walked at light speed to a meeting to discuss the protocols of using a new medical device. He and his wife basically ran the highly technical meeting. As soon as the meeting was over, Warren Dorlac hustled to the operating room for a 30-minute surgery where he removed Army Spc. Joseph Keck’s left arm below the elbow. The 22-year-old soldier’s arm had been pinned under a flipped Humvee and — after four surgeries — was beyond the point of saving. After the surgery, Dorlac finished the paperwork in time to squeeze in lunch with his wife.
And that’s just one morning in the life of Warren Dorlac. The breakneck pace does take its toll on the family. When the couple’s three children try to make their mother feel guilty, they’ll tell her that she must love the soldiers more than them, Gina Dorlac said.
She believes their children understand what she and her husband are doing and why they are doing it. They try to explain it to them without belaboring the point.
“Warren works incredibly hard with what little time he has with the kids,” she said. “He does Boy Scouts very actively with them. He does the best he can. I always feel like — and I think most working women do — that you’re always short in something. You’re either not doing your job as well as you wish you could do it or you’re not parenting as well as you wish you could do it because there’s only so many hours in the day.”
The impact on their family does not keep the Dorlacs from giving their all to the wounded men and women of the U.S. military. For instance, take this exchange between the couple as Warren Dorlac left from lunch.
“What’s the rest of your day look like,” Gina Dorlac asked.
“I don’t know,” Warren Dorlac said.
“Do you think you’ll come home,” she asked.
“More of the same,” he said. “I don’t know.”
“OK. Let me know,” she said.