(Left) Master Sgt Trevor Pittman (Centre) Dr Marc Shaw and (Right) Squadron Leader Steve Hall (NZ Air Force)

  • The time is around 2000 hours – our Malaysian Colleagues are having their celebration of EID which is the equivalent of our Christmas. Leon comes across to me and says that he has just had word of a serious injury to one of our American Colleagues. ‘A neck injury is coming in within a half hour’, he says. So, we prepare for the injury in the best way that we can. The patrol that the man is with is quite far away and we are not able to get too much detail from the initial radio contact. He arrives and we step into action: history of ‘was in a patrol vehicle travelling at 55 kms / hr, with the usual ‘in car’ prevention – seatbelts and the like. The vehicle crested a hump in the road and the patient sitting in the back of the vehicle whacked his head on its roof. Due to the unexpected nature of the impact, the patient’s head then slammed into the back of the seat in front and the side window on his left. He was pretty seriously knocked around, and the first response of the team on patrol was to stabilise his head so that no further injury could occur. For me, as the Doc, the serious part was that our man had developed reduced movement in his left hand and pain on the left side of his neck radiating down to the left arm. This was a pretty severe discomfort. Although he denied being knocked out, there was significant evidence that he had developed concussion. My concern was that our patient has sustained a fracture of the cervical spine in the neck.
  • Well, with such a diagnosis as a possibility, we then had to get our man to a higher medical facility for radiology and further neurological assessment. Now was the time for me, as the Doc, and for Leon, Blue and the other members of the medical team to ‘step up’ and prepare the case for evacuation to Bagram. It was time for me to report to the US Command about our patient, their soldier. I addressed them with the standard ‘we have a situation here…’ and then proceeded with the objective assessment of their warrior.  I then continued to tell them exactly what was going to happen and how it should pan out with their help in ordering a casevac. At this stage I got a bit ahead of myself and threw in a few newly learned acronyms by mistake but the US officers were very tolerant of my errors an then proceeded to throw in a few of their own. I was on slippery ice here – but fortunately no one noticed my improvisation, such was the intensity of the communication. An aircraft was ordered up and it was arriving quite soon.

  • Blue, Leon and I readied our patient for the flight by considering the further practical issues such as how the man would travel and with what medical support, pain relief, intravenous support and the like. Good pragmatic medical sense.
  • Then we get the word that the aircraft is overhead and whoosh, we hear it. I get around some guys to help me (Sqd Ldr Steve Hall, Allan Kelly and Master Sgt Trevor Pittman) and we truss our patient up in a blanket and with a ‘silver heat-retaining blanket’ around him. On a stretcher and spinal board he goes, and then onto our portable ambulance we transfer him down to the nearby airstrip where the plane has just landed, in the dark. Brilliant stuff!
  • Fortunately not a very cold night tonight. We wait on the airfield for the plane to come up to us. Meanwhile deployed on the field are our troops to secure and protect our airfield and the perimeter of the aircraft. THIS is very impressive – they have strategic points covered and are there waiting for my patient. We get the word from the Sgt-Major and drive off to the ‘airframe’ (Army talk for ‘an aircraft’) in the distance – we cannot see it at this time, just hear it! We travel with out headlights on and see before us dust rising but no plane – it is in the darkness. We are aware of something huge in front of us. An occasional speckle of LED lights presents itself to us. An about turn and then a quick reverse back to the down-ramp at the back of the plane. I look around and am so impressed with the professionalism that I see before me. In a perimeter around the craft and with hot aviation fuel odours in my nose, there are a number of persons, fully armed and with aviation helmets on, on either side of the ramp. They are guarding our presence. I grab my corner of the stretcher and up the ramp we go to deliver the patient. One of the medics comes over and I give him the update ‘We have a situation here …’ They are happy with my presentation, and with a quick ‘farewell’ to our patient I head back down the ramp to our vehicle. We drive off into the dark, with the aircraft quickly disappearing. Just the sounds of the props remain.
  • Back down the airfield just in front of the camp entrance we pause and wait for the plane to take off. Shortly after, it does – night-time take off and very impressive. The whole imagery of the evening with our patient and the transportation of him to the aircraft was something that will never leave me – VERY professional and absolutely exciting to be part of!
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