Thursday, 28 April 2011
Wednesday, 27 April 2011
So less than an hour left on my shift tonight, with the crackles from an electrical storm hanging over the mountains, I hear a voice weakly calling “hello? Hello?” into the office from our back door. I get up and make a move to the door as it swings open and in shuffles a soldier with blood dripping from his hand. He is sweating bullets and tells me he needs to sit down because he's so dizzy. So I pull out the chair at our second desk and run to get him some water as he drops his head to the desk. I ask him if he thinks he’s really going to faint and he says the water is helping. I ask him what happened and he said he was putting his helmet together and a screw went through his finger. I ask him if I can see his finger to assess if I need to take him to a hospital. He’s says he doesn’t think he can look at it so I tell him to close his eyes and just hold his hand out so I can see it. Gently I removed the paper towels he used and while I could see it was a good sized rip, it was obvious he wasn’t going to bleed to death on my floor. I told him to keep drinking the water and keep breathing deeply. I went over to see if we had anything better to use for bandages and I kept him talking to me the whole time. As he was telling me about what had happened it dawned on me that I probably should take him to the hospital for evaluation since he told me that it was a jagged rusty screw with WD 40 on it that went into his thumb. Sounds like maybe a tetanus shot to me! I was also worried about how woozy and sweaty he was so, better be safe than sorry. I quickly called another red cross station to cover our emergency message queue since I was the only one in the office, and together we walked to the car through this crazy lightening storm with the purple sky flashing like a strobe light every few seconds.
When we arrived at the hospital I took him in the emergency entrance since he had never been there before. Once we found a nurse, I made a move to head back to the office and as I turned to go he says “Hey wait… I don’t know how to get back!” Poor guy, apparently he was a transient trying to get to an outlying FOB and didn’t know the base. So I asked the nurse if he would have access to a DSN phone and she said yes, so I handed over our business card and said “I’m up all night, just call if you need a ride!” Once back at the office, I was just up and running again when an NCO from the soldier's unit came in and said, “I heard you took one of my guys to the hospital!?” I confirmed this and he said he would head over now to stay with him and bring him back. So I guess the whole thing worked out, but a bloody guy stumbling in in a electrical storm? Always something out here...
Tuesday, 26 April 2011
Quite the start to the day over here in Afghanistan, picture this… 15 min into my shift. I have just accepted an emergency message to work on and deliver, Ingrid is on the phone with someone who is trying to start a message on their uncle (which we do not do except with extraordinary circumstances) and one of our volunteers is in the office sorting through the at least dozen packages of abandoned mail that we picked up from the post office yesterday. As you may recall we have been accepting the abandoned care packages from the post office and shipping them out to the Forward bases, many of which do not even have a base exchange (any kind of store). Then iIn walks a contractor from Flour, agitated and in a hurry saying he needs to know exactly where to put our new books shelves… err bookshelves? Since Ingrid is on the phone I leave the case and go outside to realize that he is trying to deliver two 3x5 and 5x5 bookshelves for a joint project with the Green Bean coffee and the Pax Terminal to our tiny office instead of their respective locations at the Green Bean and Pax Terminal. Since I am not the lead on the project I couldn’t tell him where they needed to be taken at the other locations, but he is insistent that he is dropping them off here. As the situation escalates I go back inside and ask Ingrid if she can deal with the bookshelves and I will take over her call. So pandemonium ensues and she tries to figure out the shelves while I try and convince the person on the phone that we cannot pass this message for a non-immediate family member. Amidst all this, the volunteer is quietly trying to attract our attention. Since I’m preoccupied on the phone she finally manages to snag Ingrid from the book shelf debacle (which the guys are preceeding to unload onto our back porch…and mind you three men are struggling to move them).
The volunteer motions to Ingrid what she’s found in the box and suddenly a new sense of urgency settles over the room. Ingrid picks up the other office line, looks at me and asks, “Are you almost done there? Once I make this call we are going to have to evacuate right away.” Errrrr WHAT?! I distractedly manage to finish the call, peer over the desk and into the box…inside is a pale army green ammo box with the word “Pressure Release Valve – Do Not Open”. The thing could not have looked more dangerous if it had the words “bomb” written on it. I quickly started gathering my things from the office as Ingrid called the MPs and they told us to evacuate. We called the Baghdad station to cover our messages and then we proceeded to assemble our team and alert others out and about in the camp that they needed to evacuate.
Fortunately, we did not have to wait as long as we did with our other evacuation before the verdict came back…the box contained radios. Delightful! So after an hour’s fun, it was back to the office to set up shop again (and I suspect that will be the end of our accepting the abandoned mail!) and then Terra and I left to run some errands for the day. We went to the PX and picked up our pressed uniforms, some charcoal for a small BBQ we want to have, did some window shopping at the jewelry store and then headed to the post office to pick up the day’s mail. Once we arrived we realized that the shopping cart we had ordered to carry items around the hospital had arrived so we had to haul that mamma jahamba to the truck. Easily the best part of the day was the care package from my boyfriend that survived it’s multi-ocean trip from Scotland to the U.S. then back across the ocean and through the Middle East to Afghanistan. And still the Cadbury eggs made it! Because the APO label on my mailing address is technically a US address all my mail, no matter where it comes from in the world will go to the U.S. first before coming to me, hence the multi-trans Atlantic crossing.
Knock on wood things are quiet at the office now (and relatively uneventful – apart from the fact that I went to smell the new conditioner I bought at the PX…and ended up squirting it up my nose :-)
All in a day’s work I guess?!
Sunday, 24 April 2011
It is Easter Sunday!
We stayed about a half an hour before heading back to our festive office. We had been stocking up on Easter candy and spring decorations to make it look like the Easter bunny came over night and given the combat environment, I think we did pretty good! Since then I confess I have looked at the Country Living magazine mom sent me about 10 times today because it’s full of all these gorgeous green photos of plants and grass and professional dyed Easter eggs and it reminds me of Easters back home in the States.
Wednesday, 20 April 2011
Today I met our new volunteer at the hospital so that he could shadow me on a hospital visit. We had met a few weeks prior, both of us volunteering on a Medivac. After hearing about the work we did, he was very interested in helping out at the hospital as well. Today was a quiet day at the ward with only two patients who were asleep. There was far more activity in the ICU, where two of the three patients had been hit by an IED and were both missing their legs. We spoke briefly with the third solider who had a gunshot wound, but mostly today we chatted with the staff and did our best to provide them with an outlet to discuss their work, which really does take its toll.
After the hospital I picked up Ingrid and together we went to pick up the post which we had been tipped off the day before was going to be excessive…and that wasn’t a lie! There were at least a dozen boxes for the office and the team members (Mom sent more fudge and Easter candy whose weight in my stomach is keeping me trapped at my desk). The highlight of the mail today was easily the abandoned mail. We open the abandoned care packages that we receive from the post office to ensure that we are not shipping forward something inappropriate… like bottles of beer! Alcohol is against General Order #1 in theater and grounds for some serious repercussions. Because it was abandoned mail the Red Cross was completely innocent in the whole ordeal but the non-commissioned officer in charge (NCOIC) of the post office had to come over and document and take pictures. And the best part…? It had been shipped by a police department back in the States! The irony of the whole thing was pretty hilarious, and we managed to ship forward 5 care packages to outlying FOBs which was great.
Tuesday, 19 April 2011
The last few days have made for some fun at the Red Cross! On Sunday we hosted a Pizza Party for the ICW staff at the hospital. The Intensive Care Ward is the area where patients who are not critical enough to warrant a bed in the ICU but still require round the clock care, stay during their time at the Joint Command Theater Hospital. We work quite closely with the staff at the Ward, because these are the patients that we primarily visit at the hospital, typically conscious but unfortunately stuck in bed, often times with debilitating, sometimes life changing injuries. The members of this staff work so hard on the medical care of these soldiers, but also find themselves in the difficult position as the people the wounded turn to for moral support. That is part of our goal in visiting the patients is to provide a bit of relief for the hospital staff.
Yesterday also proved to be an exciting day at the Hospital as I was invited to watch a Purple Heart Ceremony. I happened to be in the right place at the right time as I ran into the military press representative who asked me if I’d like to watch. I wasn’t sure what to expect but the ceremony was not exactly what I had imagined. It was very informal and took place in one of the hospital hallways, but at the same time, because the General was presiding, all the military personell were at their most formal. It also wasn’t quite as I pictured because the two soldiers who received the award were obviously still suffering from their wounds, but they were doing their best to be as professional as possible for their ceremony and their General. Mostly though, I really had to actively stop myself from crying ( I was the only woman there and I would have shot myself if I’d actually lost it) but I couldn’t believe how emotional I found the whole experience. I couldn’t help but find the ceremony representative of all the soldiers I had seen and met since the start of the deployment who had lost their arms or their legs or their hands or their hearing, and I found myself wanting to cry for them and for the two who were being honored that day.
Saturday, 16 April 2011
Friday, 15 April 2011
When I came into work this morning I was pleasantly surprised to find out that I had been tasked to make dozens of Easter goodie bags for the troops from donations that we received. This cheery and somewhat mindless activity was definitely needed after the night we had last night at the Red Cross.
Many people do not know this, but in addition to passing Red Cross messages on behalf of families amidst an emergency, the Red Cross actually acts somewhat like a 911 emergency call to prevent suicides. Technically we refer to these “messages” as SPAs - Suicide Prevention Action. Essentially, if a deployed servicemember is communicating with family back home and expressing suicidal ideations, the family can call the Red Cross and initiate a chain of events to intervene and protect the servicemember. Our Red Cross station in Bagram will get a direct phone call from a station in the States briefly explaining the situation as well as the soldier’s personal information so that we can accurately identify both the military command and the servicemember. Once the correct command is located, we call and ask to speak to the highest ranking officer in the unit, whereby we explain the situation and ask that command locate and secure the servicemember, hopefully before any harm comes to pass.
Last night was just such a night here at the Red Cross, although circumstances were made even more precarious due to the fact that the entire computerized message system was inoperative at many stations around the world, including all the deployed stations. We had not had access to the system for two hours when we got a call from National Headquarters advising they had a SPA for us. Fortunately I was still in the office after my shift because my co-worker took the phone call from National and stayed on the phone with them to receive the information while I called the unit and spoke to the only night solider in the office who had never handled a suicide prevention action before. I talked him through what he needed to do while National was relaying the information to Kami who was relaying it to me while I was relaying it to the command all in an effort to ensure that this servicemember was located, secured and given help.
The worst part about SPAs however is the waiting…after we’d passed the information to command they act immediately on their end to get in contact with the servicemember’s actual unit and then to the servicemember himself. This leaves us at the Red Cross office on edge waiting for a call back to hear if we made it in time. I waited another two hours at the office to hear back from command, but by 3am they still could not give us any information and I was exhausted.
Although suicide prevention action is nowhere near as common as the regular emergency message we pass, every now and again a SPA comes through that jolts you into a actual life or death situation where your actions maybe save someone's life and provide them the help they need.
Thursday, 14 April 2011
Tuesday, 12 April 2011
Quite the start to the day over here… was awakened at 10:30am, still my “night”, by my team leader advising me to get dressed, walk out the BHut and turn left… the camp was being evacuated due to a suspicious package. Now wide awake I threw on whatever decent clothing I could find and stumbled out the steps. I headed left where I found some 40-50 people standing at the back of our camp, one of many that comprises the military base. Ingrid guided me over to the shade since it was like I had been stun gunned by the sunshine - with no natural light the BHut is always pitch black. I asked what was going on and she could only tell me that EOD had come into the office telling everyone to evacuate. Our other two team members had been out on errands at the time and ended up trapped on the other side of our camp.
We ended up settling into a bunker since it was cooler in the shade and somewhat away from the crowd since I was still half asleep. We were outside almost two hours before we were told there would be a controlled detonation in 5 min…meaning they were going to blow up whatever they found. Within minutes there was a popping sound and everyone started to move back into the camp but soon it became clear we weren’t going anywhere. Another suspicious “something” had been identified, and it was another half hour before another explosion went off. And this time the boom was big. Then we were given the all clear. We still have little information about what really happened and likely will not, but it was still quite the Good Morning Afghanistan.
I managed to get another half an hour of sleep, before I was back up and trudging to the shower latrine…only two find the water stunningly cold. I managed to just stick my head in to just wash my hair before it was back in the office for work. Then approximately 2 minutes into my shift we got a call from the post office advising there was an enormous amount of care packages that needed to be picked up NOW because there was no room for any new mail. So Ingrid, Terra and I went to the post office and schlepped almost two dozen boxes out to the car. From there it was a quick trip to the PX to turn in our uniforms for pressing and pay for a new month of internet (I’ve only been here a month??? ) and then back to the office where I have been fighting sleep since this morning!
Monday, 11 April 2011
Saturday, 9 April 2011
So despite the predicated craziness today might bring, the day ended up being just as exciting, but for very different reasons! About an hour into my shift, I went to try and get my picture taken for the flight line badge. The building is somewhere over by the PAX terminal but it was so crowded over there with people walking all around I couldn't find a place to park let alone look for the building. I had to actively try and not kill the pedestrains with my new stick shift driving ability (ie disability). After giving up on that mission, I went for my hospital visit which was fortunately more rewarding than yesterday and I left today at least feeling as though I had made someone’s day a bit brighter.
Then it was back to the office, where we had the scariest incoming ever. We didn’t even hear the explosion, I don’t believe it was near us but the urgency and quite frankly, terror in the incoming “voice” is what unnerved me the most. It was quite the shot of adrenaline. Then Ingrid and I went to dinner at 6pm only to realize that we were supposed to be having dinner with the Jordanians at the UEA dining facility. We halfheartedly attempted to reschedule, but when the officer came over to get us he said that he'd arranged for us to have dinner with the Commander of the UAE camp! So! Dinner round 2!
It was the strangest, most interesting dinner. Their English was quite good (two Jordanian officers and the UAE commander), but still a bit tricky. Unfortunately for me, I had to turn down the food to accommodate my allergy which I think disappointed them, so poor Ingrid had to eat dinner round 2 for both of us. Then it came up how Islam technically allows for up to 4 wives (and both Ingrid and I were thinking mmm where is this going?), but they really just seemed to want to tell us about it and explain the practice. They were telling us stories of their villages where they know of men with 4 wives and up to 36 children. We were told one story about a villager who had 27 children come across some kids in the road when he was driving and he scolded them to go home to their parents…when they were his! But they were wonderful to talk to and it was so incredible to have the opportunity to exchange stories and experiences. Then after dinner we went back into the officer's club for tea. They were so attentive and hospitable that it was proving very difficult to leave. So after tea they took us to the commander's house where we sat in his outdoor gazebo and he offered us the most sumptuous looking fruit and we sat on antique couches and discussed the history of the Red Cross. This, in addition to the fact that the UAE compound is gorgeous by Bagram standards…it actually has trees and vegetation and greenery!
Friday, 8 April 2011
It has been quite a day over here at the Red Cross. The vibe on the base is distinctly tense and wary as everyone awaits the result of the government budget meetings, the deadline of which is midnight tonight in the States. As you may be aware, if the budget is not reconciled then members of the armed forces would continue to work without pay (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-13015909). For us at the Red Cross, this means we may see a substantial increase in the number of financial assistance cases that we handle. Currently, if a servicemember needs a loan, his family in the States can apply through the military aid societies, but often a red cross message is initiated so that the deployed servicemember can give official concurrence on the loan. If this situation is not resolved by midnight tonight, our office is making preparations to assist in any way we can. This includes possibly working up to 12 hour shifts to support an increased case load if need be, as well as staying up-to-date on developments from the military aid societies. Depending on the outcome, I may have quite an update tomorrow!
On a different note, my wonderful mom sent over 8 bricks of homemade fudge which marvelously survived the ridiculous journey so I made up several plates full and brought them to the staff at the ICU Ward, the ICU and the CASF (which houses the ambulatory patients). The fudge was a huge hit since confections like that are pretty uncommon out here. I also had a really sad and somewhat disturbing experience in the ICU. There was a soldier who was awake, and was very seriously injured. He had lost both of his hands which meant I couldn’t hold his hand to express support, but when I moved close to talk to him it dawned on me that he had lost his hearing in the incident as well. Because he was lucid, he wanted to know why I was there, but because he couldn’t hear I couldn’t explain that I was simply there to support him. He was growing distressed that he couldn’t understand me and I was at a loss for how to communicate. This was one of those sad times, when no matter how much you want to help and no matter how good your intentions, I came away feeling that not only had I failed him,but I had almost made matters worse. Without language or human touch what do you do to express your compassion?
Thursday, 7 April 2011
Wednesday, 6 April 2011
Afterwards it was a quick trip to the post office to pick up mail, a long line at the Base Exchange to pick up our pressed uniforms and then back to the office. After about an hour at the office, I went over to do my hospital visit and today was a really rewarding experience as I was able to meet and speak with several of the patients who were on the inbound Medivac that I assisted with last night. They actually remembered that I was there and it was just nice to have a chance to chat with them and follow up now that they were stable and resting in the hospital. I also spent almost half an hour holding the hand of a very very sick soldier in ICU. He was heavily sedated and unconscious, he had been hit by an IED which had badly damaged his stomach organs and he was I septic shock. His body looked so miserable and the nurse said he could hear me so I stayed much longer than normal just so he wouldn’t have to be alone.
On a related note, we’ve been given approval to have a pizza party for the ICU staff and we are in the process of getting that event off the ground to honor their efforts which largely go unrecognized and unappreciated. It will also be nice to have the opportunity to social with the hospital staff because they often come across as unapproachable in the hospital, largely I suspect , due to the tragedies that they see everyday.