Bloody Reality: War and Medicine – Camp Bastion

Posted: April 3, 2009 in British Forces, Military, Soldiers, War
Tags: , , ,

dchelmand_01_g2f_1125_011-2441Today, on this Friday evening, I feel like apologising for writing what I write. The military gay erotic fiction, for titillating with what is very real and very horrendous right now, especially in Afghanistan. I feel the need to state that despite appearances, I am always hyper-aware of the danger to trivialise what should never be trivialised: human life. Mental and physical health, fear, pain.

I aim to never trivialise any of this in my writing.

I won’t make a statement, I never will make a statement, of what I truly think or think not about war, about soldiering, about taking on a job that to civilian standards is seen as … no. I won’t comment. Over the years I have learned that there is no black and white. In Britain, becoming a soldier is choosing and taking on a job. It is voluntary, it is as much a choice as any other job is. No one is forced to become a soldier, and everyone should know what they are letting themselves into. But do they?

I am not pro, I am not contra, but I understand.

I am full of compassion and respect for each and every individual, whatever their choice might have been and for whatever reasons.

The Guardian: In 2008 the artist David Cotterrell went to Afghanistan to observe the work of military medical staff at the main field hospital at Camp Bastion. His diary and photographs, now on show in London, are a harrowing reminder of the cost of war.

Do me a favour and read the below, the reality and not my stories, just for today. Read it. All of it. And look at the gallery.

[The soldier] is taken to Resus. Awake, in pain and bloody. The doctors adopt varying roles. One doctor stands with a nurse and an administrator at a lectern taking notes of every observation. Others direct the x-ray team, manage the unwrapping of the field dressings, check the vital signs, look for internal bleeding and try to calm the soldier. He is young; I suspect, a Commando.

His right leg has been bandaged in three field dressings – each one can absorb a litre of blood. His foot is unwrapped and clothes are cut away. It strikes me that all the kit fetish that follows the FOB [forward operating base] postings is discarded. The boots, the webbing, holsters and DPM are cut into pieces, and deposited into a black plastic bag for incineration.

The most obvious injury is to his foot. Bone and flesh hang from its centre. The heel protrudes about 2in below the base of his sole.

The x-ray explains. There are no fragments of shrapnel. The force of the blast has travelled through the armoured vehicle into his foot and, with devastating effect, has forced the bones from the base of the foot upwards. The neat lattice of bone and tendon has been rotated and pushed away from his heel. The anaesthetist is beginning his work. The soldier keeps shouting “Sir!” as he deliriously looks around “Don’t take my legs,” he appeals. “Have I got my legs?” He doesn’t believe the doctor who reassures him.

I find myself cold and sweating profusely. I struggle to stop myself fainting. I must not faint. His right leg has multiple fractures and the knee is crushed. His left leg is also broken.

He is still conscious as they wheel him to theatre. The surgeons wear gowns over their DPM and plastic covers over their desert boots. The soldier is put to sleep, and intense but unhurried activity takes place to untangle the mess of bone and skin. Pieces of bone come off the base of his feet in the surgeon’s hands. He cuts away the last bits of muscle and skin symbolically attaching the bone fragments to the soldier and places them in a steel tray. The foot is emptied of dead tissue and takes on the form of a near empty bag of skin. The toes are still attached and have the appearance of some remaining circulation. I pray that the surgeons will decide that the foot will survive.

Despite their appearance, the surgeon suspects that they are no longer salvageable. One of the doctors suggests to me that the best case for him will be to lose the lower part of his right leg. I listen quietly but am horrified.

By 15.30, the operation is nearly complete; the wounds are left open and packed with gauze. No amputation will happen here. They will allow the soldier to return to Britain as he is. The decision will be made in Selly Oak. Two more injured patients are waiting for theatre.

Copyright © David Cotterrell, 2008

Photo from Guardian’s War and Medicine Gallery. Copyright © David Cotterrell, 2008. Without Permission.

  1. Nick says:

    ITV recently did a series of programmes following some TA medics from the NHS on tour in Afghanistan, which was equally hard to watch and showed the horror of the injuries the soldiers recieved. The surgeons said, thats another young man with no legs, and listening to a young man who had just lost both legs wishing they had let him die was heartbreaking.
    I wish we lived in a world where this didnt happen.

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