So I thought I would tell you guys about a tough day in the life of MERT – one of the worst shifts I have experienced. I was on a 24 hr shift with Anouska, Simon and Brian on one of the longest days ever!!!!
Apart from checking all the kit on the cab the day had been pretty steady. I spent a bit of time with Brian and the RAF Regiment FP lads going through scenarios. This was Brians first full shift on his own and boy was it a baptism of fire for him!!! Once the training had finished we went back to the crewroom and ‘relaxed’ waiting for a shout. During our time in the crewroom we would carry out some training, watch films and whatever else we chose to do.
So it was around 4 ish and we hadn’t had a call all day which I was always glad about. Some of the crew would complain of boredom at not having a shout all day but to me it was the best outcome. I didn’t have to go on a shout and no one had been hurt. One of the aircrew chaps came into the crewroom to inform us we had a cab change. This was always a delight for us…NOT!!! It was all hands on deck to move everything from one chinook onto another because the previous one had received a shot after being fired on during the last shout. Im glad I hadn’t noticed this whilst out on the ground. There is always a risk these days for sure, too many thumbs down shouts. So we carried out the cab change as quickly as possible and secured everything. Normerly we are protected from a job during these cab swaps but we try to carry it out quickly because it meant we couldn’t provide medical cover available for the guys on the ground. Once we had carried out the change we returned to the crewroom and put on a film ‘Kick Ass’ and from the little we saw of it, it was quite funny. However while it was on the padre decided to visit. Normally if we had visitors we would switch the film off but he said he was visiting to chill out with us for a while and to leave it on!! I was squirming in my seat as the film played because there was lots of swearing and rude comments. I thought it was a bit disrespectful seeing as the padre was there but he seemed to love it!!!
Unfortunately the padre turned into a jinx because the radio shot into life “MERT & MERT FP you have an urgent medivac, acknowledge over. Anouska grabbed the radio and we ran leaving the padre to finish the film. We ran the couple of hundred metres to the cab which used to turn into a race with FP, and donned our kit whilst the aircrew started up the Chinny. We were called out to 2 casualties who had received frag wounds, one of them to the head which was not looking that great. My casualty appeared to be ok but you cannot take any risk because you don’t know where the frag has gone. We have been called out to frag wounds in the past which we thought had been pretty minor but as we neared landing the patient went off on us due to a piece of shrapnel severing an artery. The fragments were made up of allsorts including bolts, basically anything the insurgents could find to cause damage. Thankfully the patients remained fairly stable throughout the flight back and on handover to the hospital.
Normally following a shout the lead paramedic of the day and the doctor or nurse would transit with the patients to the hospital for handover, whilst the rest of the team and the aircrew return for refuelling and to replenish the medical consumables we had used. However on this occasion there was no time to retrieve replacement med kit because as we pulled up to the chinook we received a further call out. The doctor and I jumped out of the wagon dragging the oxygen with me as well as my osprey which was blooming heavy!! It was a rush and I was gagging for a drink. Thankfully we had a box on the chinook with spare consumables for cases such as this so we dived into that for replacement kit. There was also water on the cab but it was warm and not very palletable. In fact I cannot face drinking water now since serving in Afghanistan.
The second call was to a single patient, one of our own lads who had obtained a head injury due to the weapon on his landrover spinning and hitting him. He was pretty stable and when we landed Anouska and I left the cab to escort him into ED. During the drive back to the cab we received a radio message from FP informing us we had yet another cab change. I couldn’t believe it, what were the chances! As we approached the chinook they were still midway through the cab change. I was about to jump out of the back of the landrover when I heard the dulcet tones “MERT & MERT FP you have an urgent medivac, acknowledge over”. I turned to Anouska and said “We are in the middle of a f*****g cab change, give us a break”!! I was absolutely shattered and now wasn’t feeling too great. Apart from this we hadn’t had chance to drink or eat anything. Although we are normerly protected from shouts during a cab change it transpired pretty quickly that it was a mass casualty situation so it was all hands on deck. So we rushed the cab change, had yet again no time for a kit replenish and didn’t have time to secure the kit as we had to take off. Apparently they had 13 stretcher patients, 4-5 had passed away and various walking wounded. All the casualties were Afghans who had been in a market place when a suicide bomber arrived. Some of the 13 were extremely critical and included a child already in cardiac arrest.
I wasn’t looking forward to getting off the ground to assist further but I had to. The US Pedro’s had commenced the triage as they had arrived on scene first. MERT was known for having the most clinical expertise due to having an anesthetist etc on board whereas the Pedro’s did not. The team initially thought we would be taking the stretcher patients due to the fact we had the expertise on the cab and could hold more patients than the Pedro’s who could only carry 2 stretchers. However it soon became apparent that 3 of the casualties had life threatening head injuries and needed to go direct to Khandahar if they where to stand any chance of survival. Our chinook was the only airframe which had the reach to make the journey so we took them. I settled my patient to the stage where only routine observations were required. I checked the rest of the team and they did not require further assistance. I struggled to try not to be sick and my head was banging. At one point I had to stand up because I was about to vomit all over my patient. That would really not have been a good day for that patient at all. It was so funny during the flight because as you may recall we hadn’t had enough time to secure the kit before we left. Well, although it shouldn’t be funny the spinal board kinda slipped and almost fell on Brian. I’m still smiling about it now, sorry Brian! I was so relieved to be landing in Khandahar but when I looked out there wasn’t an ambulance in sight. I was fuming, maybe a bit too unhappy but it had been a very long run of shouts. We couldn’t really wait around so I had to run about 300 mtrs in full body armour and helmet to reach the ambulance guys and tell them we need the patients taking off the helicopter.
Finally we dropped the patients into the hospital and made our way back to the flight line to await the return of the chinook from refuelling. I felt so ill and I just couldn’t keep it in anymore and vomited there and then!!! All the way back to Bastion I was really ill and had to take my helmet off. Between the risk of being shot down and the helmet pushing into my head which was throbbing I thought I would take my chances. The guys were laughing at me but did have a little sympathy for me bless em. As soon as I walked off the helicopter I threw up 4 times whilst walking back to the crewroom. We had been on the go for almost 8 hours but it wasn’t over yet as we had a lot of medical supplies to replenish. We all worked together to do this and then we returned to the crewroom. However we still couldn’t stop there because we had all the patient report forms to complete. We hadnt had much to eat or drink but it was too late to try to find some food as it was past one in the morning. Anouska played mum and made us all hot chocolate before bed though 😆
It seemed like we hadn’t been to sleep long at all before we received another shout – I had very tired torrets as I sometimes did with a night, or very early morning shout. I have covered this call on a previous post, it’s the one where Brian and I had to form part of the firing line in order to retrieve our casualty. The escort aircraft had been RPG’d during this call but thankfully it didn’t hit, that’s how hot the landing zone was!! We picked up one casualty who had been shot in the hip but would hopefully do ok.
So that was one shift I recorded in my operational journal and im tired just writing it!! Also as I write my heart is pounding again pretty much the same as being there at the time. My mouth is watering and I feel quite sick. This is one of the shouts I keep dreaming about and having flashbacks from. There are others and I will cover them throughout this blog. I won’t write about them one after the other though because as you can image it affects me and would not be great for my recovery. One step at a time eh….