HH: Professor Hanson, before we talk a little bit about Libya and where we find ourselves this week with the war and other things, tell me a little bit about the quality of the health care. Even though drugs weren’t available, were you confident in the surgeon’s skills?
VDH: It’s a very big divide there, Hugh. The surgeon himself had, was very good. And there’s a group of surgeons that have either been trained in Europe before Qaddafi thirty years ago, who are still there, and have trained other surgeons. So he knew how to deal with a ruptured appendix pretty well, and he especially knew how to clean up the area around it, and he knew which drugs to give. But the backup, the anesthesiologist, the post-operative care, the hygeine, masks, gloves, all of that is something comparable to probably the 1920’s in the United States, if that. That’s why I sort of decided that while I had been given a second chance because of the skill of the surgeon, that even though I should probably be in the hospital a little longer in the States, by day four I thought I’d better chance it and see if I can get home any way I could.
HH: Did you get any pain killers along the way?
VDH: No, I didn’t. As the doctor told me when I left, he said you in the States take pain killers…and in sort of broken English, he told me you’re not going to have any constipation or gas.
VDH: If you can tough it out, you’ll heal quicker.
HH: Did anyone have any aspirin?
HH: No aspirin?
VDH: No aspirin. They don’t have Advil.
HH: This is like the Civil War. You’ve been to Andersonville, Professor.
VDH: I have. But you know, I couldn’t think of a worse thing, now sitting back and being in a Red Crescent clinic in Libya, getting a ruptured appendix, and being told I had about five hours before I was a goner. But now that I look back at it, just meeting the people who came, the doctors, the nurses, the U.S. Charge d’affaires, people from the Libyan government who thought that maybe I was a captive audience that would hear their spiel about Libya, it was all a very valuable experience.
HH: Did Col. Qaddafi drop by?
VDH: No, but his minister, one of his minsters of education did. And he wanted to insist that I understood that Col. Qaddafi was an experienced person in the Middle East, that there’s a radical change in Libya, that…I guess if I could term, sum it up, that where they had been going didn’t get what they wanted. And after…they don’t really want to admit why the change is happening, that it has anything to do with Saddam’s fate. But they do want to emphasize that all of the existing issues from Lockerbie to the Bulgarian nurse scandal, to the terrorists…they can all be resolved for the greater good of relations with the United States.
HH: So you’re lying in a Red Crescent hospital, having had anesthesia-free abdominal surgery of a major sort without any post-surgery anesthetic, and Col. Qaddafi’s education minister comes to talk to you about resolving Libya’s many outstanding difficulties with the West?
VDH: (laughing) Well, I did have…I was knocked out with a type of gas. I don’t know what type it was, but after that, I didn’t have any pain. It was a strange experience.