How I became a ‘Casualty’
As usual I woke up before my alarm went off; I laid in my sleeping bag thinking about the day before me. The previous day had been taken up with briefings and rehearsals. The company commanders where present, which included the platoon commanders and sergeants. All the attached officers and seniors, we sat and we listened to the plan for the three day operation.
Two large patrols were to move out to preordained areas. The first patrol was to leave at 0430 (this was the patrol I was in) and we were to move in by foot. The teams were then to split again. Our sniper team moving north onto some high ground. The second team moving south and covering a major intersection on a road. The second patrol, by air, was to leave later at 0830; this would include the command element.
We had an in-depth briefing about our plan. There was a plan for everything. From a lost solider, to a crippled air frame, we knew exactly what needed to happen should an incident occur. Every man knew his role and understood their responsibilities within each patrol. We drilled down into the medical evacuation plan with great detail. The reason behind this? Every man needs to have confidence in a simple plan. He needed to know that he was going to treated and if need be flown to hospital. From a personal perspective, I also needed to know a few things.
How long I was going to be with a casualty in the worst case scenario?
How much medical equipment I was going to pack?
After the brief, I had taken my time repacking my personal equipment. I checked all my medical equipment and then rechecked it. It was essential that I knew where everything was in an emergency. I didn’t want to panic under pressure.
We were going to be out for about two to three nights so I had to make sure I had at least my fleece and a spare pair of socks. I didn’t have a huge amount of space for personnel kit, medical kit took priority.
Whilst waking up I contemplated for a few moments more before I turned off my alarm and slipped out of bed. I was careful to quietly put my clothes on, as the other two were still sleeping. On my way out of the CAP (Company Aid Post) which also doubled up as our accommodation, I picked up my breakfast. Outside I lit some Hexy, which is the solid fuel we used to heat up water. I put it on our little razed fire pit which we had built using empty ammunition tins. While my scoff was heating up I made best use of my time by trotting round the compound and making use of the ‘toilet’. By the time I had walked back around to my scoff it had been boiling for some time, and it was ready to eat. So I sat down in the dark found my spoon and tucked into my breakfast of sausage and beans. I used the hot water to make a nice mug of hot chocolate. The rest of the blokes were up and carrying out their own morning routine. I sat there watching them walking to and fro from the toilet area. No one wanted to crap themselves on the first ‘contact’ with the Taliban did they?
I finished up my breakfast and made sure I cleared up after myself. I got on all my equipment, which must have weighted more than 50 kilos. Walking over to the front entrance I found that I was one of the first ready to go. I sat on the floor and made small talk. The team drifted over in ones and two’s as the patrol formed up. But, our interpreter had decided that being in his bed space was far more important going out for a long walk. It occurred to me much later that his lateness probably saved my life.
Eventually he joined us and we moved off in single file, one man behind the other. I was somewhere in the middle of the snaking group as we patrolled away from the safety of our base. I have scant memories of those few minutes. We hadn’t walked that far when my world changed for ever. I had activated an improvised explosive device beneath me.
Everything went black.
Whilst I was unconscious, which was only a few seconds, I remember asking myself a few things. Visually I remember it was like being in the Millennium Falcon. All these stars rushing past me like some sort of hyper drive space flight. I asked myself a few questions. Was I injured? Was anyone else injured? Could I treat them?
I woke up and found myself on the floor where pain had become my new reality of pain. The air was full of dust, my ears where ringing and i was screaming. I was spitting sand out of my mouth. I remember feeling a whole bunch of different emotions. I felt angry, alone and guilty. Selfishly, one of the first things I screamed was ‘’no, no, no, why me? I realised almost straight away that that was an awful thing to say. That meant that this should have happened to someone else. I continued my rant “I hate this fucking country’’. I was leaning on my right side with pain coming from every part of my body. I had never felt so alone in my life. At that point I needed someone near me, not necessarily to treat me. I needed to tell them something. I needed to tell someone how much I loved my wife, that I was going to miss her. That I was going to wait for her. The hardest part? I wanted to tell her that she needed to get on with her life without me.
The dust was still falling and it was still hard to see. I heard someone shout ‘’MEDIC’’? I replied ‘’I am the fucking medic’’ Some one shouted ‘Oh shit’. Our situation had just become more complicated. Looking back I wasn’t a priority yet, in fact I was on the bottom of the list. Loads of things had to happen before I became important. As I remember there was a brief firefight which needed sorting. Also they needed to work out what had happened. Where the casualties were and how many needed treatment. Also they couldn’t just walk up and start treating me they had to clear a route. There may have been more explosive devices near by.
Eventually I was surrounded by moving bodies. My helmet was removed then my blast glasses. They must have realised my right arm was injured, something I did not know, and the strapping on my Bergan was cut off me. I later found out that I had a lucky escape.
I have spoken to one of the guys who was the first soldiers to help me. ‘M’ told me that he felt proud that he could treat me and I’m extremely privileged that he was there to give me aid. He mentioned that I wasn’t in a good way and I know that he has had to deal with those images ever since.
I asked him to explain what he remembered of my injuries. I remembered almost everthing apart from what my left leg looked like. ‘M’ said.
“You won’t remember but I was the first responder to you on the ground after the incident in Afghan. I was the man in front of you on that patrol. Your right leg was gone above the knee. Left leg de-gloved from below knee to ankle. You also had trauma to the man sack and right arm.”
I later found out that I had landed a few feet away from another device which had it exploded would have killed many. ‘M’ also had enough explosives in his rucksack it would have killed or injured half the patrol. I had indeed been lucky.
‘M’ told me that I was talking about my wife back at home and that we had married a few months before. I know that ‘M’ gave me a full body inspection to see what else I had injured. I wasn’t particularly helpful during this process. I was having angry outbursts and tried to sit up whilst they where trying to sort me out.
As I lay on the floor and knew I was in shit state, I offered no help to those who were treating me. I couldn’t really talk as I had a mouth full of grit. I felt detached from what was going on around me. A soldier broke out his canvas stretcher which I lifted onto. I watched in my detached state as I my ruined body was stretchered back up to the Patrol Base. I had made it to the first stepping stone. One of the young soldiers on my right started to struggle under the weight he was carrying. I watched him trip and I fell out of the stretcher.
‘’Get the fucking medic back on the stretcher’’, fair one I thought face down in the grit again. I didn’t fully understand what had happened until ‘M’ told me what happened.
“If you don’t know the reason you were dropped on the lightweight stretcher. The blast gave me trauma to my left ear, I was also hyperventilating as a result. This made me come crashing to the floor every time I stood up. Someone else took over from me on the stretcher and a young guardsman supported me back into patrol base.”
Before learning these details I had made light of that situation, which is something I regret. I wasn’t fully aware of everything which was going on around me.
It seemed to take us ages to get back up to the Patrol Base. I was thinking we had only been patrolling for about two hundred metres when I had got hit. Why was it taking so long to get back.. Perhaps I was thinking about it too much, maybe we had gone a different route. I didn’t know and ultimately I had no control in what happened to me. My life was firmly in other peoples else’s hands.
My fellow medic, a professional soldier called ‘KG’ and a more senior medic called ‘Mac’ treated me. Without a shadow of a doubt these two men saved my life that day. I can’t express in words how to thank them.
Later, I found out the Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) had been called out earlier and was already in the air. An Afghan National Solider had been shot in a different location. My wounds were considered worse so they diverted the MERT to our location. It was pitch black, so the blokes were firing schmoolies in the air. These are rockets which light up the night sky and then drift down on a parachute. I could see and feel some of the treatment that was going on around me. I noted with some humour that the tourniquet on my right leg had been put over my knee pad. I shook my head and thought ‘I didn’t teach you that’’. I also remember the pain of having the tourniquet applied to my leg leg. It was incredibly uncomfortable.
Once the medic’s where happy with what they had done the banter started and I had made it to the second stepping stone.
At the time I knew that I had lost my right testicle. I believe at this point that it was hanging down my right leg, although I may have made this up in my mind. I asked, my medic, ‘KG’ whether anything else had been damaged. He replied that everything was fine and that I shouldn’t worry, I kept on asking for reassurance. In the end I said ‘’ Are you sure? If you’re lying I’ll hunt you down and kill you’’. Not that I was in any condition to carry out this threat and at that point had bigger things to worry about. I still think about that conversation with a whole lot of regret and guilt.
Soon after I had made that odd statement the MERT arrived with its usual fanfare. My eyes were covered and the sleeping bag was held down across my body. As the helicopter landed a hot wash of air swept over me. After being loaded into the helicopter, a short hand over was given to the lead clinician. I had made it to the third stepping stone.
I felt the helicopter take off and someone shouted into my ear that we would only be in the air for about ten minutes. My new carers worked over me and checked all the treatment that had been given to me on the ground. It seems ridiculous but I felt that I was being asked stupid questions, so I raised my left arm in the air. If it was up, I was conscious, if it was down, I was unconscious. As a result I am sure I missed something that was important to my treatment.
After my short flight we landed back at Camp Bastion. I was carried off the Chinook by the fire crew who worked on the camp. I was loaded onto a waiting ambulance and once again strapped down. I tried to spot someone who I knew but was unsuccessful. This was another short trip and I arrived at the entrance to the Emergency Department. My stretcher was put onto a gurney, a two wheeled contraption to move stretchers. I remember I was then pushed into the emergency treatment room. At this point my new medical team descended onto me like a ‘plague of locusts’. I was stripped naked and had things attached all over my body.
I turned to this beautiful female nurse and asked ‘’ Please can you put me to sleep’’. I later found out that this ‘beautiful’ nurse was in fact a bloke from the Royal Navy with a beard. It’s funny what you mind does and which bits it makes up to fill gaps. I was now crying because I was in so much pain. I thought I had been put to to sleep but that didn’t happen until I was wheeled into surgery.
I had made it to the final stepping stone but I was now not a medic anymore, I was now a patient.
It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.
― Theodore Roosevelt