War doctor David Nott: ‘The adrenaline was overpowering’

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As his book detailing his time volunteering in Sarajevo, Gaza, Syria and beyond is published, the NHS surgeon talks about what it takes to work in a war zone

• Read an extract from David Nott’s book War Doctor

What first inspired you to become a war doctor?
Two things. The first was Roland Joffé’s film The Killing Fields, which had a huge impact on me when I saw it as a trainee surgeon. There is a scene in a hospital in Phnom Penh, overrun with patients, where a surgeon has to deal with a shrapnel injury – I wanted to be that surgeon. The second big spur was watching news footage from Sarajevo back in 1993. There was this man on the television, looking desperately through the rubble for his daughter. Eventually he found her and took her to the hospital but there were no doctors there to help her. I thought, “Right, I’m off”.

What was that first experience of war like?
As a young man, jumping off the aeroplane and running for cover, then hopping into a bulletproof vehicle and being taken at high speed to the hospital was Boy’s Own stuff, just how I wanted it to be. It was perfect. The adrenaline was overpowering and the amount of endorphins in your head – I felt like I was floating on air and could do anything. Then to be able to help people as well, having your own operating theatre, it was wonderful. Of course, then I wanted to replicate it all the time. Once I had tasted that, I couldn’t stop.

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