Canadian Afghan Hospital the best in Afghanistan

Ramshackle-looking Canadian base hospital works miracles on Afghan wounded

at 15:35 on June 25, 2006, EST.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) - Despite the hideous burns that cover his body and the charred skin that hangs from his blackened face, Rozi Khan is going to make it.

A week ago the skinny, energetic Afghan police officer was on patrol near Spin Boldak along the Pakistan border when his vehicle was blown apart by a roadside bomb.

Then a better fate intervened. Instead of being sent to an Afghan medical facility, where he almost surely would have died, Khan was whisked to the Canadian-run hospital at the coalition base in Kandahar.

"I'm starting to feel much better after seeing the doctors and nurses here," said Khan, 40, gesturing with his bandaged hands in a ward filled with wounded Afghan soldiers.

"They were so nice. I am getting healthy again."

The 19-bed hospital made of old plywood and canvas tents looks deceptively ramshackle. Garish paintings and graffiti drawn by the U.S. troops that captured the building from the Taliban in 2001 still cover some of its walls.

A raw board with the letters "ICU" scrawled in black ink is nailed to the entrance of the intensive care unit.

But inside Canadian doctors and nurses run the place with an efficiency that would rival any major trauma unit in Toronto or Vancouver.

"You see more penetration wounds in two months here than you will see in your whole career in Canada," says Lt.-Cmdr. Peter Clifford, an emergency surgeon from Esquimalt, B.C.

The small but fully equipped hospital is very busy, with staff gliding around the crowded rooms with a grace and purpose that one officer called a medical ballet.

It was here that six Canadian soldiers were treated last Thursday after they were wounded in separate roadside bomb and suicide bomb attacks.

The troops were quickly stabilized. Four of the men were then airlifted to hospital in Germany for longterm care and to free up beds for future casualties.

Late Saturday night, wounded American soldiers were flown in by helicopter following a firefight near Panjwai.

While these casualties capture headlines, the vast majority of the wounded - about 90 per cent - are Afghan National Army troops and Afghan National Police officers.

The care they get here is better than anything they could ever hope to receive in most Afghan hospitals.

"These people are very resilient," said Lt.-Col. Jacques Ricard, the commanding officer of medical services. "They do not complain. They just let us work on them. They are tough."

The staff, which includes some doctors and nurses from other coalition countries, work up to 12 hour shifts, but can be called in whenever there is a flood of casualties.

With clashes with the Taliban more frequent, the staff have been working full out for weeks to deal with all the wounded.

"They are coming in wave after wave, and they are increasing," said Ricard, a 26-year army veteran from Quebec City, his face lined with fatigue.

"They are giving everything that they have. They are being squeezed like sponges."

Most of the doctors fly into Kandahar for intense two-month tours of duty. Many of the nurses and other technicians are here for six months.

The Canadian Forces faces a shortage of hundreds of medical staff, and plans to use signing bonuses to sign up more recruits.

But those who volunteer to work in Kandahar are people who want to serve their country and help people, he said. They want to make a difference.

"People actually care," he said. "That's why the people are showing up. They think this is something they actually have to do."

Maj. Sheila MacLean, the head of nursing at Kandahar hospital, said the type of people who do well here are those who thrive under pressure and can handle the unexpected.

When the troops radio in casualty reports from the field, the staff at the hospital don't have much time to prepare.

They also face the challenge of treating badly wounded Afghan soldiers who can't speak English and must communicate through an interpreter.

"It's the uncertainty of what's coming through the door, the trauma," MacLean says. "It wears on them."

The payoff is the camaraderie that forms when people work hard together under difficult circumstances, she said,

There is also the satisfaction of watching badly injured patients get better.

"They are working hard in challenging conditions away from home," she said. "And the standard of care is phenomenal." (external - login to view)

I think this is a good topic that shows the goodness of Canadians in Afghanistan.
The Canadian Health Services Branch has been badly undercut for decades (thanks to the Government), having many of our Base Hospitals in Canada closed, and seeing a lot of our skilled troops head to the civy World. In theatre the men and women who provide medical services are among some of the most valuable boots we have on the ground. I'm friends with several medics in the CF, one of which was approached last summer (whilst I was in Afghanistan), by the U.S. Army to come serve with them. She's a Corporal right now with 1 Field Ambulance, but they said they'd make her a Staff Sergeant in the States due to her trainining that she's received up here. She turned them down via the phone in the same conversation where they made the offer. Citing she was Canadian, and was committed to the defence of this nation, regardless of what rank she was or how much she got paid. We put out some excellent medical staff, and it's nice to see they're being credited.
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