Dr. James Carroll is looking forward to returning to the place where he was trapped for more than four months.
From August to December 1990, Carroll, the chief of pediatric neurology at Georgia Health Sciences University, was among the Americans suddenly trapped in Kuwait when Iraq invaded. They were allowed to leave just before the first Persian Gulf War erupted. Now he is returning for six months to help treat patients and to do some epidemiological studies.
Carroll kept a diary of his time trapped in Kuwait as a kind of letter to his wife, Shirley, in part because he feared he would not see his family again.
On Aug. 2 Carroll was awakened at 3 a.m. by low-flying planes and “distant booms, which become closer and more regular,” he wrote in the journal. Later, a lab tech called to warn him not to go outside the villa where he was staying.
“Doctor, there is war,” he was told.
When he made it to Mubarak Hospital, the emergency room was filled with injured Kuwaiti soldiers and other soldiers trying to hide by taking off their uniforms and putting on patient pajamas.
“They succeeded only in looking like soldiers in pajamas,” Carroll wrote.
The Iraqis soon began taking hostages to use as human shields. Carroll twice was offered a chance to flee across the desert but decided not to risk it. Both escape attempts failed.
He eventually took refuge in the U.S. Embassy, where the Iraqis were trying to cut off the water supply and where eventually the food choices dwindled essentially to rice and tuna. Carroll insists now that he was not physically deprived.
“We did have adequate food, not what we would have chosen,” he said. “And we had water. We had generator power, even though the Iraqis had cut off the electricity. But we had generator power and would have movie night. So physically, it wasn’t too bad. It was hot during the day. We had no air conditioning, up to 125-130 degrees. We kind of learned to get along with that.”
It was tougher psychologically. About two months into the ordeal, Carroll wrote, “I tried to be optimistic, but there is no reason for it.”
Now, he says, “It was more mentally trying, by far, than physically.
“The part that was spiritually trying was that we didn’t know if we were going to get out alive. There wasn’t much good news. Nothing was happening that showed any signs of getting us out. And we were surrounded by people with guns and gas canisters and tanks.”
In fact, at one point, they began “preparing for war,” he wrote in his journal, stocking medical supplies, food and water in the basement, piling sandbags around windows and sealing holes with plastic “in an attempt to keep out any poison gas.”
Carroll regularly stood guard duty, but “we are here only to notify everyone if the Iraqis decide to come in,” he wrote. “We have no way to stop them.”
If the war had broken out while they were still there – the actual fighting began a month later – Carroll now says “they probably would have come in after us to use us as shields.”
Carroll’s journal also reveals a strong reliance on faith and prayer, and he said he has “a lot of positive memories of it because it was really very much of a spiritually affirming experience. The blessings of the Lord were evident every day.”
He remembers thinking about Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
“I was confident the Lord was in control,” Carroll said. “I just wasn’t sure the outcome would be immediately favorable to me.”
His family had lived in Kuwait since 1988 as Carroll took a sabbatical from Medical College of Georgia, and he felt fortunate the rest of the family was back in the U.S. when the invasion happened.
He returned shortly after the fighting stopped to see whether he could salvage anything from where they had been living.
The Iraqis “took a lot of our stuff, including our wedding pictures,” Carroll said.
During his return to Kuwait, Carroll, an expert in cerebral palsy, will explore its causes in the Middle Eastern country.
“Cerebral palsy is present everywhere,” he said. “In the U.S. we have our own list of causes that are pretty well defined. But in Kuwait, they don’t know what the causes are.”
It will also be a chance to work with Kuwaiti colleagues, some of whom Carroll has known for more than 20 years.
“It’s just like completing a circle for me to go back for somewhat of an extended period,” he said.