Seven Australian specialist medical officers at the forefront of their chosen fields are continuing Australia’s contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.
An Australian Specialist Health Group (SHG) has contributed to the US-led facility since May 2012.
The group provides much-needed services and they also gain valuable skills by taking part in emergency medical situations not normally experienced back in Australia.
Emergency physician and Royal Australian Air Force Reservist Wing Commander (WGCDR) Andrew Rosengarten said there was still a steady stream of work despite less operational activities in the area.
“We’re experiencing things we just don’t see at home,” he said.
“Not everything we do here is combat related though; we also deal with everyday medical problems.”
Perioperative nurse and Royal Australian Navy Reservist Lieutenant Jen Evans said the work was different compared with medical facilities back home as they often worked as teams to follow the patient through their treatment at the facility.
“We provide damage control surgery in the first instance and stabilise the patients before moving on to their next location,” she said.
“Because of the shorter stay, we remain with the patient through their different stages while they are here at the Role 3 hospital.”
Combat operations throughout the area over the last decade have seen the facility gain a considerable knowledge base and evolved clinical-practice guidelines that can only be learnt first-hand.
Intensive Care Unit nurse and Australian Army Captain Timothy Hughes said they had a well-refined system from the lessons learned and will take much of that back to Australia.
“Here we are able to bring our experience back home and impart our knowledge to our junior people,” he said.
Along with combat-related injuries there are the common non-combat related injuries and illnesses.
“We see procedures such as appendix removals as well as treatment for more common things like stomach bugs, headaches and broken limbs,” Captain Hughes said.
There can often be a language barrier and most other nations will provide an interpreter when required, although the team agrees pain symptoms can overcome the language difficulties.
Despite a shift work roster, personnel are on-call 24/7 with pagers and phones should an emergency arise.
Lieutenant Evans said they had all been woken up in the night or called back immediately after a shift had ended because of an emergency.
“Regardless of the time or when you finished your shift you drop everything and get back,” Lieutenant Evans said.
“Although you don’t want to see some of what happens, it is a great experience professionally and always gets the heart rate up.”
Lieutenant Evans says she’s been involved in some interesting procedures too.
“We’ve operated on military dogs here which is something I had not expected to experience when I left Australia.”
The present SHG comprises anaesthetist Wing Commander Bruce Paix, emergency physician Wing Commander Andrew Rosengarten, general surgeon Squadron Leader Michael Rudd, perioperative nurse Flying Officer Louise Cole; perioperative nurse Lieutenant Jen Evans and Intensive Care Unit nurses, Lieutenant Tara Muscat and Army Captain Timothy Hughes.
The tight-knit Aussie team agreed a lot of strong relationships have been made along their way as well as the usual “Aussie” banter which has included teaching their international colleagues Australian slang and enjoying their attempts to use it.
The current SHG rotation completes their mission in early August before handing over to a new rotation later this month.
Imagery is available on the Australian Defence Image Library at http://images.defence.gov.au/S20142096.