U.S. Army Lt. Col. Charles Foley gets ready Tuesday to leave his home in Poland to go to Fort Devens, Massachusetts. He will join his unit as a general surgeon to help fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

LEWISTON — When Dr. Charles Foley wasn’t performing a skin graft or facial reconstruction, he was tending to his flock of sheep and herd of cattle at his Poland farm.

Sheila Foley dropped her husband, Charles Foley, off at Fort Devens in Massachusetts on Tuesday. Submitted photo

But when the 57-year-old plastic surgeon and farmer got his orders this week to report for duty as a general surgeon, the lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve already had his bags packed.

He had heard his unit, the 399th Combat Support Hospital, was being called up. The length of his tour, like predictions for the length of the novel coronavirus pandemic, is indeterminate, he said.

He was shipping out to help fight against an invisible enemy called COVID-19, he said Tuesday as he drove to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, northwest of Boston, to join his unit.

Until this week, Foley had worked at Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston to assist trauma patients with facial fractures and help cancer patients in need of reconstructive surgery on their breasts, faces, necks, mouths and skin.

Where he’ll be going, which was still uncertain Tuesday, he’s likely to be doing general surgery or caring for COVID-19 patients, he said.

In either case, Foley said he had gladly signed up with the U.S. Army knowing this day might come.

Charles Foley spends time with some of his animals on his farm in Poland on Tuesday. Submitted photo

“I have knowledge and skills that they require, so I’m happy to provide that,” he said. “That’s my give-back to the United States.”

He has no illusions about the risk.

“I’m definitely concerned about contracting the virus” he said. “It goes from a possibility to being a probability for me.”

But he’s stoic in his assessment.

“I’m also a healthy person,” he said. “I’m physically fit. I don’t have any other medical problems. So, in theory, my ability to fight coronavirus should be good.”

Asked about the national shortage of personal protective equipment worn by medical providers to keep them safe when dealing with COVID-19 patients, Foley said: “I’m going to trust that the Army will be taking good care of us.”

Sheila Foley calls for one of her four horses to come and eat at her family farm in Poland on Tuesday. Foley and her two sons are taking care of 12 lambs that are 10 days old or younger and numerous other farm animals while her husband, Charles, is deployed to New York. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Had he stayed at CMMC, he said it was possible he may have been called upon to do something similar to his Army posting if the number of COVID-19 patients were to increase at home.

“My practice was already down to cancer patients and emergencies” he said.

All elective surgeries at the hospital had been canceled in anticipation of caring for more coronavirus patients, he said.

“The schedule was fairly light and that freed us up to do other things, as needed,” he said. “Right now, there isn’t a big surge in patients, so everybody’s kind of waiting to see what happens.”

Foley’s greatest regret is having to leave his wife and their farm.

“There’s an awful lot to do on the farm,” he said, “so I was a little disappointed because I wanted to be home during lambing season. And as spring planting comes, the equipment needs to be repaired.”

Sheila Foley and her 16-year-old son, Andrew, tend to three lambs at the family farm in Poland on Tuesday. Foley and her two sons are taking care of 12 lambs that are 10 days old or younger and numerous other farm animals while her husband, Charles, a surgeon, is deployed with his U.S. Army Reserve unit to assist in stemming the spread of COVID-19. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Sheila Foley said goodbye to her husband Tuesday at Fort Devens, then drove three hours back to Attwood Farm & Kitchen on Poland Corner Road where she’ll look after their 10 Hereford and Simmental cows, dozen sheep and new lambs.

“It’s a lot of work,” Charles Foley said. But, he added, “farming is a passion for both of us. So while it’s busy and a lot of work, it’s something we want to do. So that makes it pretty easy.”

When they do it together, that is.

Now that he’s gone, it’ll be a greater challenge, Sheila Foley said.

“Right now, it’s lambing season so we have 12 lambs and two more ewes that are due any day now,” she said. In the past 10 days, five ewes have given birth.

The challenges of farming without her husband grew even greater recently as the coronavirus gripped the state of Maine.

Sheila Foley, right, and her two sons, Sam and Andrew, walk out to tend the cows on the family farm in Poland on Tuesday. Foley and her two sons are taking care of the farm while her husband, Charles, a surgeon, joins his U.S. Army Reserve unit to fight the COVID-19 pandemic. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

“Under normal circumstances, we have a great community,” she said. “But we’re all really trying to be good about isolating ourselves,” she said. Although plenty of people have offered to help, she has been reluctant to say, “yes,” because she can’t take the risk of contracting the coronavirus.

“There’s no way I can get ill right now with trying to take care of all the animals and all of the planting that needs to be done and the normal springtime cleanup chores,” she said.

In addition to caring for the livestock, she makes baked goods and keeps a garden that yields vegetables that she turns into products, such as salsa, that she sells to the public.

“I am blown away by the response we have had from people looking for food,” she said. “Farms in Maine are finally being recognized as a true local food sources and I am so happy to be able to provide food to my neighbors with what we sell.”

But she does have some help.

Her two sons, 16 and 18 years old, are “stepping up to the plate,” and helping with the farm work, she said.

They spend half of their time at the farm, when they’re not with their father, and have been spending more time helping out as Charles Foley was readying to ship out.

Sheila Foley tends to two lambs at the family farm in Poland on Tuesday. Foley and her two sons are taking care of 12 lambs and numerous other farm animals while her husband, Charles, a surgeon, joins his U.S. Army Reserve unit in battling the COVID-19 pandemic. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

To add to their worries, Sheila Foley, like her husband, is in the military.

She’s served for 23 years in the military and is in the Maine Army National Guard, which could mobilize and call her to duty.

“It’s a possibility” Sheila Foley said. “So that’s even more reason why my boys are helping out and are trying to understand everything they can about the farm.”

Their next-door neighbors, who also are farmers, have offered to help out if necessary, she said, as they have done in the past when both Charles and Sheila Foley have been called away for weekend drills with their respective units.

Charles Foley said that while he’s gone, he’s comforted by the fact that his wife is holding down the fort.

“She’s also a soldier and it’s nice to know that I have a solider at home who’s got my back and who’s got the farm,” he said.

And, Like her husband, Sheila Foley is a medical professional. She works per diem for express care clinics in Augusta, Gardiner and Waterville as a physician assistant, but has taken some time off to cope with things on the farm, she said.

While he’s gone, she can’t continue to work her 12-hour shifts while her bottle lambs need to be fed on a 4- to 6-hour schedule, she said. She’s lucky to have an understanding administrator and a lull in patients at the clinics, she said.

She and her husband plan to stay in touch by video chatting often, she said.

“And I’ll send him daily lamb photos, because it always makes both of our days better when we send farm photos to each other,” she said.

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