Kandahar lifeline

If there's anything that can fill a citizen's heart with pride, it's the unseen and unheralded work of the men and women in military hospitals in a war zone. As Canada prepares to receive the body of another soldier killed in Afghanistan, we are reminded of the role of medics in the field and the staff in remote hospitals.

The other night, I watched a riveting documentary about the Canadian Forces medical personnel and the work they perform in Role 3 Hospital in Kandahar. The hospital cares for Canadian soldiers, coalition troops, Afghan civilians and also Taleban prisoners.

The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation spent four weeks at the hospital and returned with a compelling portrait. The bare facts tell a story on their own: last year, Role 3 surgeons performed 900 surgeries. About 1,300 soldiers and civilians were treated at the hospital in 2007. 98% of the casualties treated there survived.

Some of the most challenging and difficult cases involve Afghan children wounded in bombings and the fighting. It's really a remarkable story.

The field hospital also has an adjacent walk-in clinic to handle community cases. The doctor in charge of primary care at the time the documentary was filmed was Major Sandra West. She also led the teams when trauma cases arrived from the fighting. Her age seems to be between 40 and 55. Formerly a senior doctor at an Ottawa military base, she went about her business in Kandahar with steely resolve and military efficiency. But she also seemed very compassionate. Gillian Findlay, the CBC reporter, asked her if she had children of her own. She said yes, she did. The conversation continued something like this:
"Are you like a mother to these soldiers?"

"Yes. Once a mom always a mom."

"What's it like when you lose one (of the patients)?"

A pause..."I think about their moms."

And then she turned away quickly because the tears were coming.

On the whole, the medical staff seemed sensible, kind and incredibly connected as a team. I sense that the Canadian experience is not unique. Every citizen of every country with forces represent in Afghanistan should get a look at the work of the medical personnel. This is the other side of war.

If you'd like to read more about the CBC documentary called "Life and Death in Kandahar," click here. The site has photographs, interviews and video.
Illustration courtesy of http://www.wpclipart.com/

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