Doctor Don Trunkey, a giant of a man physically and world renowned in the arena of trauma surgery, became a colleague, a mentor, and a friend as we served together during Gulf War I – Desert Storm. Doctor Trunkey was the Chief of Professional Services and the Chief of Surgery of the 50th General Hospital as the unit deployed from Fort Lewis Washington to Saudi Arabia in January 1991. I was assigned as a thoracic/general surgeon, working under Doctor Trunkey ‘s direction during the deployment. We served at the Riyadh Military Hospital in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
One evening, in early February 1991, I was the surgeon on call. Following a SCUD missile attack I was called to the emergency room at 0300 hours to see a very ill VIP – LTG John Yeosock, Commander of the Third US Army. General Yeosock was suffering from acute cholecystitis and needed urgent gallbladder surgery. Because of General Yeosock’s senior command status, I asked Dr. Trunkey to come to the emergency room to perform a second opinion. Doctor Trunkey concurred with my diagnosis and recommended gallbladder surgery for the general as well. General Yeosock was devastated by the news as he shortly would be commanding all the Third Army Forces for the upcoming ground war portion of Desert Storm.
General Norman Schwarzkopf, commander of all coalition forces, when notified of General Yeosock’s illness, began the search for a replacement commander. I had worked under General Yeosock as the Division Surgeon in1980 when he was Colonel Yeosock, the Chief of Staff for the Division. Because I had developed a great working relationship with him during that division surgeon assignment, he felt comfortable conveying to me how heartbroken he was about possibly losing his Third Army Command.
I immediately spoke to Doctor Trunkey who took charge of the situation. He made an appointment to speak to General Schwarzkopf. These two giants of men spoke eye to eye in the General’s office, Doctor Trunkey assured General Schwarzkopf that we could operate on General Yeosock and have him ready for full duty in less than a week. Although initially quite skeptical, General Schwarzkopf finally agreed to the plan.
Because of security concerns, General Schwarzkopf assigned his aircraft to fly General Yeosock and the medical team to Germany to have the operative procedure completed. Because this was just prior to the days of routine laproscopic gallbladder surgery, Doctor Trunkey stated that we would do the procedure through a mini incision and then use an epidural catheter for pain control.
Doctor Trunkey and I completed the operative procedure in less than an hour and the General did well. In four days General Yeosock walked off the aircraft and reported to General Schwarzkopf that he was ready for full duty. In a few days the General would successfully command the Third Army in the biggest tank battle in history.
Daniel G Cavanaugh, M.D., FACS (Retired)
COL USA Retired
For more about Desert Storm and other adventures see:
Cavanaugh, Daniel G, Soldier/Surgeon – A Memoir, Copyright 2018