12 November 2009

Number of incoming wounded to Landstuhl hospital remains high

Chaplain (Cmdr.) Joseph Sheldon comforts a wounded inbound patient from Afghanistan last week at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany. Photo: Ben Bloker / S&S.

Landstuhl staff busy as Afghan fight intensifies

By Seth Robbins, Stars and Stripes
European edition, Friday, November 13, 2009

LANDSTUHL, Germany — On a drizzly, frigid morning, about 20 injured servicemembers were unloaded from buses at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.

Some walked off. Others lay on gurneys covered in green blankets that had kept them warm on the long flight from Afghanistan. As the hospital staff eased the wounded off the buses, the mood grew solemn, as it often has lately.

“Hey ‘Devil Dog,’ how you doing?” asked a staff member as he pushed a sandy-haired Marine through the hospital’s front doors.

The number of combat-wounded troops from Afghanistan treated at the hospital has spiked during the past three months. Doctors from Landstuhl — the first stop for the wounded from the war zone — saw 163 troops with battle injuries during August, 152 in September and 109 in October.

The uptick coincides with some of the deadliest months for coalition and NATO troops fighting there. A record 72 were killed in August, 61 in September, and then 62 in October, according to independent Web site icasualties.org.

“It has definitely been busier the last few months than it had been six or nine months ago,” said Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Raymond Fang, Landstuhl’s trauma director.

Soldiers, airmen and Navy medical personnel unload wounded inbound troops from Afghanistan last week at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. The hospital has seen an uptick in wounded patients from Afghanistan in recent months, coinciding with a heavy number of deaths in the country. Photo: Ben Bloker / S&S.

The number of combat-wounded from Afghanistan in August was the highest of any month since the war began in 2001, statistics show. Still, the hospital staff is not as busy as it was when fighting in Iraq was at its most intense, such as the “surge” and Fallujah’s battles, Fang said. During the surge in May 2007, there were 326 war-related inpatients at the hospital, and during the first attack on Fallujah in 2004, there were spikes in April with more than 400 war-related inpatients and in November with about 500.

Taking a tactic from the Iraqi insurgents, the Taliban are using crude but powerful improvised explosives. As a result, the number of troops in Afghanistan injured by roadside bombs has swelled, Fang said.

“The [bombs] cause polytrauma, which include blast injuries, burn injuries, and penetrating injuries from fragments,” he said.

The general surgery team is shouldering the brunt of the work as a result, Fang said. These surgeons, who have backgrounds in trauma care, are able to treat several different injuries and coordinate care with specialists. The time surgeons spent in the operating rooms has also climbed these past months, but Fang and his team were ready, with systems already in place to handle the influx of wounded troops.

Read more at Stars & Stripes.

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