I had hopes for a much more upbeat blog this week, but the “gods” of War just aren’t cooperating. Well, it was actually a pretty good week until early Friday morning. We had a few patients each day – nothing overwhelming and nobody died. Then I heard a knock on my door at 0100 Friday. I had just gone back to my room after transferring a patient who suffered a broken foot (he couldn’t get out of the way of a Humvee) when I heard a knock on my door and Cheuk Hong (one of our Trauma Surgeons) yells in, “There was another helo crash, 7 miles from our FOB, and we’re getting anywhere from 6-14 casualties.” I immediately think he’s joking, so I don’t answer. Then he knocks again and yells much louder, “John, did you hear me?” I open the door and see Cheuk dressed in his scrubs with his OR hat and goggles on and I immediately realize by the look on his face that he ain’t kidding. So, I quickly throw on my sweats (going commando btw) and scrub top and try to mentally prepare myself for what I’m about to see…AGAIN! When I get to the trauma area I hear someone outside the door say, “I don’t know how many are coming, but they’re asking for extra fire extinguishers at the site.” My heart immediately sinks in my chest. As bad as it is treating a trauma patient its even worse when they are burned. It’s one of the most nauseating things you can ever experience. Luckily, I won’t have to go into that here because all the casualties were removed from the helo before it caught fire. We then find out that it was an Osprey that crashed. There has been a lot of controversy about the Osprey since its inception into the military arsenal and this crash was not going to help its image (you can Google it for more info).
***WARNING***there is foul language throughout the rest of this Blog.
The first wave of casualties began to arrive and the first guy through the door got my across the room diagnosis of “He’s fucked up!” His left leg was bent in ways it ain’t supposed to bend. Joe Theismann had nothing on this soldier. He also had multiple other fractures and lost a lot of blood. He was the most severe “live” casualty and was taken to the OR shortly after his arrival. The second casualty comes to my bay. He’s a young soldier who would fit right in with the Carrolltown crew. His right foot was bent 90 degrees inward and it was purple. As with any trauma, we proceed to cut his clothes off and his first words to me were, “Get my Copenhagen out of my right thigh pocket. I just got it in the mail yesterday and I don’t want it to get thrown away.” The guy was just in a helo crash, his foot is a mess and all he’s concerned about is his snuff. Can you say Differ Joe? So, we get some pain medicine on board and reduce his dislocated ankle (pull it back into place) and place it in a splint. He’s stable, so I begin my head-to-toe assessment to check for any other injuries. While I’m doing that they bring in another patient – CPR in progress. The young soldier arrives with a tracheotomy in place (a hole cut into the front of his neck so he can breathe) that was done at the scene, blood covering his entire face and head and an Army medic doing chest compressions. My patient turns his head to see who it is and yells, “No fuckin’ way! That’s my best friend, I’ve deployed with him three times! NOOOOO!!!!!” After several minutes of CPR, we can't get his heart to beat again and he is pronounced dead. The guy I’m taking care of just stares up at me and I see a few tears run down the side of his face. What do you say to someone in that situation? I just rubbed the top of his head and said, “Let it out man.” He didn’t. He bucked up like you would expect a soldier to, but I fear for his future psychological well-being. This war is awful!
The night continues at a frantic pace as more casualties arrive. Not long after the first soldier who passed away was taken from the FST another young female was brought into the very same bay - also with CPR in progress – an eerily similar scene that also ended with her not making it out alive. This time, I had a few of the corpsmen stand between my patient and her so he could not see what was going on. We later found out she was a civlian who was recently married with a young child back home. This was not a soldier dying for her country; this was a young civilian with so much to live for. Did I mention this war is awful?
The next patient that I took care of was not as severely injured, but he has a great story. All patients who arrive after suffering a traumatic injury have a rigid collar placed around their neck to protect their cervical spine (to prevent paralysis). I think I mentioned above that all trauma patients also have to have every piece of clothing they are wearing cut off so we can fully assess the extent of their injuries. This also includes jewelry. Well, this patient was wearing a St. Christopher medal around his neck that did not have a clasp so it had to be taken off over the collar around his neck. He was stable, so I and another corpsman tried for a minute or so to get it off, but it kept getting caught on his collar. So Cheuk says (you know Cheuk, the guy who woke me up), “Cut the fuckin’ thing off!” This soldier looks into my eyes and says, “My Grandfather wore this necklace in Korea and my Father wore it in Vietnam, please don’t cut it off.” I immediately looked at Cheuk and said, “We are NOT cutting this off!” And after a little more maneuvering and some help from St. Christopher, we were able to remove it without cutting it off. I wanted to walk out right there and bawl my eyes out, but I couldn’t. There were more patients to take care of.
After a few additional, less severely injured, patients came and went we began to clean up the carnage and transfer our last patient (the first patient who came in and went to the OR). We saved his life. He received so much blood that the blood that is currently keeping him alive is no longer his own. I love this team I'm on!!! I looked at my watch and it was 0800. I knew it was too late to call Judi, but I can’t tell you how much I wanted to. I think, if I can’t talk to my wife I might as well do the next-best thing and certainly what she would do in this situation – eat. So, my new favorite corpsman, HN “Bring in the Noise, Bring in the” Funk brought me back some fresh fruit from the DFAC for breakfast. I still can’t get over the quality of fresh produce we get here. Dave Cymbor would be soooo jealous. My breakfast consisted of the following: two kiwis, some cantaloupe, a granny smith apple, two plums, strawberries, grapes, an orange and some watermelon. When I was done eating I walked around the FST trying to unwind and piece together some of what had just happened. There was no way I was going to try to sleep. Then I went to the gym and did 40 minutes of cardio. Boy did my feet hurt when I was done. After that, I came back and took a shower then went to the MWR (the place where the computers are) to check my e-mail and peruse Facebook to see what new stuff Samantha Rezk posted at 2 o’clock in the morning.
When I was getting ready to leave I looked across the room into the Green Beans coffee shop that shares the same building with the MWR and for some reason I decided to get a cup of coffee. I almost never get coffee from Green Beans, but I felt like it for some strange reason this day. I was the only one there so I decided to strike up a conversation with the guy working behind the counter; which is odd for me because I’m not the “strike up a conversation with a stranger” type. Anyway, it turns out he’s from Kenya and he signed a 2-year contract to come to Afghanistan to make coffee. I asked him his name and his reply floored me when he said “Elvis.” I said, “No way!” then I proceeded to spell it, “E-L-V-I-S? Your parents named you Elvis?! I don’t believe it!” He opens his passport and shows me the picture below. Now for those of you who don’t know it, there’s not a bigger Elvis fan that I know than Judi. I looked back at him and told him I had just had a very difficult night, but he just made my day. Thanks Elvis!
Elvis’s Passport Photo
Flags at Half Mast to Honor the Fallen from the Crash
Please Pray For the Families They Left Behind