By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, June 1, 2011 – The announcement over the hospital intercom blared the news: more casualties were arriving, many that the staff knew would need near-heroic measures to survive.
The Staff Sgt. Heathe N. Craig Joint Theater Hospital, one of the largest and best-equipped trauma facilities in Afghanistan, was preparing during that day last month for its next round of incoming patients.
It had been a busy day in what has shaped up to be a busy year for the hospital, Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Guillermo Tellez, the hospital commander, acknowledged.
Thirteen trauma patients already had arrived from throughout the Regional Command East area of Afghanistan. The operating rooms were bustling, tending to the needs of troops suffering the results of improvised explosive devices, gunshots and other battlefield wounds.
One soldier, suffering severe stomach wounds, had just lost his squad leader in an attack. “It’s tough hearing their stories,” said Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Vik Bebarta, the emergency room director. “But we take care of them, and try to help them realize that they can relax now, because they are in good hands.”
The night’s casualties were the latest of more than 2,300 trauma patients treated at the hospital during the first three months of 2011 alone, more than a quarter of them suffering the most severe “Level 1” traumas.
Walking through the hospital corridors, Tellez paused outside the room of a 12-year-old Afghan girl under his care. “Soldiers were walking along a trail and they found her,” suffering a traumatic head injury, he explained. “She had just been left there, so they brought her in, and we are taking care of her.”
Continuing the walk, Tellez strolled past another bed in another section of the hospital. The patient was hooked up to all kinds of medical equipment -- breathing tubes, intravenous feeding tubes, the works. His chances of survival, Tellez said, were slim. Unlike the other patients, this one had a patch over his eyes. A military police soldier sat next to him as night set in at the hospital.
This patient was a detainee, Tellez explained. He was picked up during an operation and brought to the hospital to receive the same level of care provided to every wounded U.S. and coalition service member and every Afghan security force member or civilian brought to the facility.
Caring for the enemy “can be hard,” he acknowledged.
“We know he may have been involved in hurting our own,” he added. No other country in the world adheres so closely to that ethical standard, Tellez said.
“Only in America,” he said. “It is truly what makes us special. We care for all.”