ANACONDA — War is not a pretty picture. Dr. Peter Sorini has the photographs to prove it.
A member of the U.S. Army Reserve Medical Corps, Sorini has served six deployments overseas performing surgery on soldiers injured in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He brings thousands of images back to his office at the Community Hospital of Anaconda for medical records and teaching.
One by one, they paint a disturbing scene: amputated limbs, bodies shredded by shrapnel and head wounds so severe the faces are barely recognizable.
“I don’t look at these often. It mostly brings back bad memories,” Sorini said. “They are shocking, but it really highlights the risks of what our soldiers go through.”
Sorini, a neurosurgeon and Butte native, joined the Reserve in 1989. In this most recent deployment he spent four months at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, and returned Aug. 16.
From there, Sorini encounters the worst of the battlefield laid out each day on the operating table, including about four spinal or head trauma patients per day.
But Sorini is grateful to put these soldiers — and civilians — back together, to do what he can to help them live as normal a life as possible.
“I’m just always happy to help somebody in their time of need,” he said. “It reminds you that, if you have your health, it really is everything.”
Not everyone is so lucky. Sorini and the hospital team lost several patients over the summer, caught in fatal blasts from improvised explosive devices.
Sorini remembers one soldier caught in the massive 1,500-pound truck bomb explosion June 1 outside Forward Operating Base Salerno near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
The man, whom Sorini is not allowed to identify, took a piece of shrapnel to his neck which blocked his airway. Sorini was left to deliver a difficult prognosis to the family.
“The hardest thing is when a soldier dies on our watch,” he said. “You see the families, and those are just tear-jerkers. It just breaks your heart.”
Sorini is a family man himself; he has a wife, Stephanie, and three daughters. Coping with the stream of brutality is impossible without their support, he said.
Doctors at Landstuhl must work around the clock to keep up with new patients flown in from Afghanistan every day. Many of the troops are changed forever by the sacrifices they made, but Sorini said he is always inspired by their positivity and courageousness.
“They will tell you, if they can still talk, that they want to go back and finish their mission,” he said. “You can’t help but love them, and want to do whatever you can for them.”
Sorini is a self-described pacifist. He does not serve to support the war, per se, but to support the men and women willing to risk their lives for their country.
Their dedication is what motivates him to keep coming back for duty.
Sorini has spent five deployments in Germany and one four-month stint four years ago in Iraq. The “crucible of war” is a controlled chaos, he said, with plenty of background noise but nevertheless a clear signal at the center of it all.
“If somebody has a head injury that’s life-threatening, and you can take care of it, that’s good work. Or if someone has a fractured spine and you can help them walk again, that’s good work,” Sorini said.
The lessons he has learned in service are also valuable reminders in providing care back home: the need for private practices to work as a team, and that taking good care of patients doesn’t always mean having the nicest, fanciest equipment.
Steve McNeece, chief executive officer of Community Hospital of Anaconda, said in a recent announcement that the hospital is humbled to have Sorini as a member of their team.
Inculcating between the two worlds takes some time, Sorini said, but makes a difference in forging his values.
“It helps you appreciate life, and how tenuous and wonderful life is,” he said. “It helps me to remember to do the right thing, and always do it right.”