For me, war and coffee go hand in hand. I simply cannot have one without thinking of the other.
“Dacia, do you mean war figuratively?”
No, I mean war in the very literal sense of the word. More specifically, coffee reminds me of the war on terrorism and Iraq.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, let me add that I have always loved the smell of coffee. My dad’s parents both drank it constantly and throughout their day. The smell of coffee and cigarettes was a staple of childhood. Strangely enough I did not learn how to drink coffee until well into my twenties. I find myself, even today, modifying the potion with the latest trend in sweeteners. The nostalgia it brings now does not take me back to my grandparent’s small house in Henderson, Kentucky. It takes me to a place of horror and self-discovery; of trauma and triumph.
War smells like dirt and raw chicken. Baghdad circa 2007 through 2009; I worked in the emergency room in the “Green Zone”, also known as Baghdad ER. It was more secure than most places per square foot, however it was still dangerous. Rarely were we shot at with simple gunfire, but often we stood under threat of mortars and rockets that targeted the hospital compound daily. At that point, it was luck of the draw if you live or not. Lucky for me and the entire hospital staff, we had no fatalities due to enemy fire power. You may think this as a successful mission, but roughly over 150 young men and women that call USA home did not come out of that ER in the fifteen months I worked there. We still maintained a 98% survival rate despite this. You can do the math. I’ve seen a lot of trauma.
“Coffee, Dacia. Bring it back to coffee.”
There was an abundance of Starbucks coffee donated to the hospital by various well-wishers, family members, and strangers wanting nothing more than to support their troops. There was so much coffee, and everyone drank so much coffee. This is where my coffee journey actually began. I started to mix hot chocolate in with hot coffee with random creamers only for the simple fact that I was exhausted and had little options for energy otherwise. I had no idea what I was doing. Then one day I staked my claim on one of the ceramic mugs in the kitchen. It was mine. Everyone knew: this is Dacia’s coffee mug. I became brave, and figured out how to go without the sweet hot chocolate mix. The recipe for Dacia’s coffee was 4 little creamer cups and 6 packets of sugar. This remained the standard for my remaining time in the third world country.
Coffee and cigarettes. We called it a Boston Breakfast. In the heat of a mass casualty situation, I remember walking swiftly passed the nurses’ station with my buddy holding up my mug. With a quick thank you, I grabbed it and drank as much as I could on my errand to retrieve supplies or relay a message before making my way back into the trauma bay. Many times, in the middle of the night when the last patient made it up to the operating room, the morgue, or wherever they were headed, we would sit in the gazebo and just stare off a million miles into nothing. Smoking and sipping. Occasional statements were met with a mumble of agreement, without making eye contact. In the winter we wouldn’t shiver while we sat outside; only if our sweat began to catch the cold, steam rising from our mugs and the backs of our shirts. Ultimately, coffee meant it was over. We had time to stop and smell the coffee as there aren’t many flowers in the desert. It meant that we made it, even though others did not. It also meant that we could regroup before the next disaster made its way into our care.
I carry this with me now. PTSD triggered by coffee. I still prefer ceramic mug to travel ones, with thick handles that hold the highest setting on the Keurig. Sipping coffee is motivating. Yes, you can attribute it to the caffeine and that is fine, but for me, it means that I have strength left to finish the mission. My missions lately are nothing to what they were nine years ago. I still work in a hospital, but it sits on American soil and my coffee and I are tucked safely behind a desk and in an office. I love coffee like I love that fifteen month stay in Iraq. It was horrible and nasty and was way too hot, but with the right recipe it was tolerable.
Dacia M Arnold
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