I thought I would find out what all the fuss was about and start watching Breaking Bad. So I switched on Series 1 and the first episode was ok. I watched episode 2 until almost the end and then BOOM!!!! For those who haven’t seen it basically they kill someone and to get rid of the body they place it in a bath and pour hydraucloric acid over it which just burns everything away. Now I know what hydrauclric acid does to most substances but what I wasn’t expecting was to see the remainder of the body contents including blood and internal organs falling through the ceiling and splattering onto the floor and surrounding walls.
Once I realised what was actually happening I felt sick to the stomach and it made me want to vomit, my heart was pounding and sadly my mind wandered back to the internal organs I had the displeasure of seeing in Afghanistan in my role as a MERT paramedic. Prior to these tours I only saw trauma something close to this in horror movies. I knew my role would entail dealing with traumatic injuries but nothing prepared me for the real thing, not even the superb simulation training & the realistic Care Under Fire training using Amputees in Action. The sight of brains from severe head wounds, open abdomen wounds with intestines hanging out or feeling a patients lung inflate against my finger after I had cut a hole in their side and shoved my finger through it to aid their breathing. The majority of traumatic injuries we treated were damaged and torn flesh wounds following complete amputations or mangled limbs. These were mostly red from the catastrophic bleed with black parts which were segments of debris and dirt from the blast.
As clinicians we knew this was our job but it still didnt protect us from any reaction we might have there and then or afterwards. It wasnt just the sight or severity of the injury, it was also the smell of the blood, that coppery smell which would embed itself in my nostrils and I could almost taste it. It was also the smell of the military kit we had to extract and cut off the casualty in order for us to check for further injury. It was ensuring we maintained the casualties dignity at all times because their life was now in our hands and they were completely helpless. It was the emotion I would feel towards those with the most severe injuries, knowing they had a heck of a fight on their hands to survive. For those who sadly lost their manhood it used to hit me the hardest. A lot of the casualties where concerned more about “do I still have my bollocks” then losing their legs. Seeing young lads who had suffered traumatic permanent damage to their genitals was so sad. I know I should not think about these things but I just couldn’t help it. I believe it’s one of the worst things that could happen to a man and some of those soldiers were so very young.
As I mentioned, as medics it was our jobs. Sadly though for the other members who make up the full MERT crew (aircrew, regt & engineers) they were witness to probably the worst thing they could see without having anywhere to escape. I remember there was a mass casualty shout and our crew picked up 4 severely injured american soldiers. Just prior to wheels up the ground callsign dumped an extra stetcher onboard with a body covered in a blanket completely. Due to the kinetics and noise on the ground we cannot just assume the casualties are KIA until we haved checked them. I had to stabilise my casualty first as he was bleeding badly. The ‘hero’ as we called those killed in battle was placed directly behind me and blood from underneath the stretcher, as well as my casualties blood was pooling around my knees. I turned around once my casualty was stabilised to check our hero and had the shock of my life. The blanket had blown away slightly from the casualty and the severity of his injuries were very clear, as was confirmation he had obviously sadly past.The blanket had covered the fact that most of his head and one shoulder where almost detached completely. It was clear our hero had taken the full impact of the blast. I had no reason to look for any further injuries. Sadly the rear crew gunner had eyes on the injuries and she was just staring at it. I quickly replaced the blanket and taped it to the stretcher to ensure it did not blow away from the casualty again. Later on she admitted that the sight of our hero had affected her.
Throughout this shout and the whole tour my knee pads were constantly soaked in blood. My combat boots and trousers as well as the forearms and cuffs on my combat shirts where always splattered or soaked in blood. The stench of it will always stick with me and there is absolutely no way I will ever walk into a butchers shop anymore!!
Seeing the blood splatter from the ceiling onto the floor and splashing the sides of the wall in Breaking Bad also reminded me of what the floor of the Chinook was like following a gruesome shout. Whoever stayed on board following the casualty transfer to Camp Bastion Role 3 hospital had to clean up the cab area of used dressings etc. The engineers would then come onboard and clean up all the blood that had spilled, I always felt sorry for them having to do this. The Chinook had to have special matting fitted to the floor due to the fact the blood was seeping into the joints of the airframe causing problems. I do have to say though that the rubber matting also helped my aging knees!!