Be careful what you wish for…
Today’s blog about the symptoms of PTSD will cover intrusive memories, flashbacks and helplessness.
Tonight I am psyching myself up for a trip to Budapest tomorrow. I’m delivering a talk on my journey with PTSD at the First Responders Symposium. It is important to me to be fully prepared in order to reduce as much anxiety as possible so I have written the full journey down. I’m catching a train direct from my home town to the airport. Ive already checked in so I only have to get through the gate. Once I’ve landed I am being met by a taxi so no hanging around. Thankfully im staying in the same hotel as the symposium so that will be much easier. This will be my toughest challenge yet but I WILL do it!!! Whilst prepping my presentation it brought back a whole heap of things but I have to do this in order to try to ‘dilute’ all this.
Whilst thinking through what I will be talking about I could almost smell the desert and feet!!! That was one smell I could have done without. When we picked up the injured the team would check for other injuries so we would take their footwear off. I say footwear instead of boots because it wasn’t only military we picked up. Afghan feet absolutely honked!!!!
Apart from the reminders for my presentation it has been all over the media about the British troops now leaving Afghanistan. It has been a stark reminder of how tragic it has been with the 453 faces staring at us in all the newspapers. Our heroes, fallen in battle serving their country, our country, R.I.P. Sat in the crewroom on shift and the radio sat on the side makes a clicking noise and my heart almost jumps out of my chest!!! Then the dulcet tones of a male welsh accent utters the words: “MERT and MERT FP you have an urgent medivac, acknowledge over”. Then the fire alarm siren goes off alerting the whole team there was a shout. By then however our team, the RAF Regiment, the aircrew and support team had already scrambled out of our crew rooms and running towards the waiting chinook. My heart is pounding due to the 300 yard run across to the chinook but also for the unknown we had just been called out to. As we don our body armour, helmets and knee pads the whistling sound of the chinook starting up rings out. We attach our radio headsets and await further details whilst the rotor blades begin to turn….
We are about to take off and confirmation comes in on our casualty; 1 Cat A, IED, brit, amputations, no further details. With this information we prepare for the worst. Giving sets are drawn up in rediness for cracking open the blood products we carry on board. The equipment required to gain instant access and carry out an emergency intubation is also prepared. The casualty arrives on board and laid down in front of us. I made the mistake of looking at his face. This is something I try not to do because it becomes personal. His face was so grey and his eyes were black and shining like glass. He was completely shut down, so very sad. The team commences work to try to save him. I instantly drill a needle into a bone in his shoulder to enable access for drugs and blood products. The doctor flushes in the drugs in order to put him to sleep and then the giving sets are attached and blood products pushed through. Work continues throughout the flight back to try to keep him alive. His injuries were really very severe and I kinda knew the outcome there and then, you just know. We prepared the casualty for landing, dropped him off at ED and then drove back in silence back to the chinook to help clean it up. Shattered, drenched from the heat and the shear effort to try to save him as well as feeling numb and sad because you know he wont make it. The poor lad lasted long enough to say goodbye to his family back in the UK before passing away….
This poor lad is just one of the many faces staring back at me from the 453 photos placed in the media. He looked completely different but I recognised his eyes. I wish I didn’t know his name and I wish I hadn’t looked at his face. That image, amongst others, will always stay with me….
Being in the RAF was something I thought would be forever. Being a clinician was a wish come true. Initially I wanted to be a nurse but I was unable to transfer so I applied to be a paramedic and was accepted. Working on the NHS ambulances was brilliant and the calls were really diverse. Being an RAF paramedic was something completely different. There was only really one type of casualty and only one type of place – a war zone! Most of our casualties had lost limbs in explosions or had been shot. Our casualties were military or Afghan villagers, insurgents and children. It was dealing with the children that I found so very difficult because they should not have been caught up in this. I also struggled with treating insurgents because they had been injured trying to set up something to kill one of us. You just have to switch off and fix ‘the body’ because that’s what we do but it isn’t easy.
I found my last tour the hardest because a lot of our effort was futile. Working on casualties when you know they won’t make it was so very hard to deal with and accept. However, our job is to try to keep them alive until we arrive at the ED so the surgeons can take over their care. There was so many emotions and personal battles involved with this job and just writing it now is almost as real as it was back then. His face will never leave me.