30 July 2009

"They did all that for my son?": Coalition medical personnel team up to save lives - and to support each other

The intense scene at Camp Bastion, the British base in Helmand Province, Afghanistan:

The pace of the surgeons’ work is extraordinary. “If we hear there is a ‘T1’ casualty coming in — a double amputation — then we pretty much know this patient is going require 20 units of blood, a surgical team on standby, intensive care and early medevac access,” he said.

“We may have a pair of consultant surgeons operating on one limb, a pair operating on another limb, a pair operating on the head, the belly, the neck. It’s incredibly intense." ...

There is a general team of five surgeons, working with another three orthopaedic surgeons. With anaesthetists, emergency doctors and junior doctors, there could be 20 staff working on a single patient.

A surgeon at work in Camp Bastion field hospital: 157 wounded arrived for treatment in one week. Photo: Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images.

In a recent case I'm familiar with, a surgical team of Brits, Americans, and Danes worked together to save the life of a young British Soldier at Camp Bastion. The Landstuhl-based Acute Lung Rescue Team flew to Afghanistan to bring him back on a dedicated aircraft - not to Landstuhl, but for specialized treatment at a German civilian hospital. (Followup story here.)

Told about the entire process, his Mom tearfully exclaimed with gratitude and amazement, "They did all that for my son?"

However, the high operations tempo can take a toll on the medical personnel, too.

The surge in British casualties in Afghanistan has left Army surgeons so exhausted that an American surgical team has had to be drafted in to help.

Extra British plastic surgeons have also had to be sent out to the field hospital along with additional x-ray technicians and specialist nurses.


“Recently because of exhaustion among our surgeons an American surgical team from elsewhere came to reinforce the hospital at Camp Bastion,” Surgeon Rear Admiral Lionel Jarvis, assistant chief of defence staff (health), disclosed.

Colonel Peter Mahoney, defence professor of anaesthesia and critical care at the Royal Centre of Defence Medicine at Selly Oak in Birmingham, gave a graphic description of the emotional strains suffered by the British medical staff at the Bastion hospital.

“It has been very stressful dealing with all these young people, cutting away the camouflage (uniform) that you know is one of your own. It’s very distressing,” he said at a press conference at the Ministry of Defence to launch the latest casualty figures.


However, the Bastion hospital was not only treating wounded British personnel, [Dr Kate Harrison] said. The medical teams were also dealing with injured Americans, Danes and Estonians serving in Helmand as well as Afghan troops and civilians. The hospital treats “enemy patients, too,” she added.

A related story out of Camp Bastion (via Greyhawk) involves two brothers in Afghanistan - a journalist and a Soldier.

Body armour and bags packed, I was waiting in Camp Bastion, the British base, counting down the hours until we were due to fly and worrying about whether I would be able to understand the Jocks’ thick accents.

Jim, recently arrived in Afghanistan as a second lieutenant in the Rifles, was on another operation.

The telephone in the camp’s media tent rang and I was called in. I thought it would be the press team querying an article I had written.

“I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your brother has been badly wounded in an explosion,” said a voice I did not recognise.

The stories of our Heroes and those who care for them at all three links are well worth your time.

Followup on the British Soldier's medevac: The needs of the one...

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