Sunday, April 12, 2009

Medics Turn Aid Station Into Afghan Emergency Room

Outside Forward Operating Base Blessing here, combat medics serving with 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, spend every morning combing through a crowd of sick or injured Afghans desperate for medical attention.

"This is their [emergency room]," Army Spc. Danielle Lafoille of Manistique, Mich., said. "If something happens, this is where they are going to come."

Since arriving at Blessing in July, the 1st Infantry Division soldiers have treated more than 4,000 Afghans, some walking as long as two days for treatment.

Although they've mostly handled minor ailments such as cuts and runny noses, the aid station soldiers have seen their fair share of major injuries.

"We see burns, lacerations; we do get gunshot wounds, major bone breaks. Just a huge variety of things [like] you see in the local U.S. trauma room," said Army Spc. Timothy Lickiss, a combat medic from Chester, Calif.

They also see ailments that are unusual in the United States.

"Right now we're treating two patients who had hot tar spilled on them during an industrial accident," said Army Spc. Jeremy Shepler, combat medic.

"He was only wearing sandals," one of the station's two physicians said of one of the patients. "If this was the U.S., he would have been required to wear rubber boots and gloves. Now he's just lucky he's going to keep his feet."

Because of occupational safety regulations and vaccinations in the United States, Shepler said, medics here see many ailments they don't see at home. "If they had a higher standard of hygiene or health care, a lot of these illnesses would be removed," he said.

Although U.S. servicemembers have been working with Afghan physicians since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, many clinics in Konar province still do not have the knowledge to properly treat these types of injuries, causing many villagers to turn to the Americans for help.

"[The local clinics] are great at some things, but then they'll miss some simple things," Shepler said. "They may have the technology to do X-rays, but they end up applying bandages like tourniquets."

With only one surgeon and one physician's assistant, the aid station is not always able to provide higher levels of care. If necessary, the soldiers will evacuate the injured Afghans to other bases with better facilities.

As the end of their deployment nears, the soldiers know they have made a difference among the Afghan people.

"They come to us knowing that we have the knowledge and experience to make sure that they get better," Shepler said.

(author Army Sgt. Matthew C. Moeller serves with the 5th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.)
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