Man Down

The other day I dug through the duffel bags of equipment I brought back from Afghanistan.  Afghan sand trickled out of my ammo pouches and everything still stunk of sweat, but the item that rendered the deployment most vividly was the “IFAK”–the Improved First Aid Kit. In the pre-2000 Army the standard-issue first-aid kit consisted of a gauze bandage smaller than the size of a coaster. The IFAK, by comparison, is a large pouch packed full of goodies: tourniquets, clotting agents, medications of various sorts, IV apparatus, and a variety of bandages and wraps.   There’s even a tube for inserting in a patient’s nasal cavity to keep the airway open.  Then and now, the IFAK was a material reminder of Afghanistan’s dangers.

The Army has also revamped first-aid training to face today’s threat.  In the old days, we practiced CPR endlessly, along with about a dozen other tasks that addressed a variety of predicaments.  These days, we focus on the injuries typically the result of an IED blast:  Traumatic amputations.  Severe concussions.  

I told you all that so I could tell you this: 

Today, while driving on the Garden State Parkway, I was one of the first responders to the casualty of a motorcycle collision with a deer.  As I brought my car to a stop and made my way to the biker, I flashed back to the times in Afghanistan when I approached the scene of a battle or an IED explosion wondering what I might find and preparing myself for the worst.  This morning, however, I felt vulnerable compared even to those desperate occasions.  Here, I had no IFAK, no radio, no weapon, no fellow soldiers, no combat medics, no “CASEVAC” or “MEDEVAC” plan.  I didn’t even have a first-aid kit in my car, and I questioned how I might provide help at all, if help was even needed.

Amazingly, the crash casualty was alert, not badly hurt, and not yet feeling much pain.   Besides a severe case of road rash, he complained only of an injured shoulder and hip.  Still, he lay prone on the side of the road, not daring to even take off his helmet before the ambulance arrived.  With not so much else to do, I did what I did in similar situations in Afghanistan:  I knelt beside the biker and began to talk with him.  I started with obvious questions, and once the biker’s answers confirmed he was OK, I kept the conversation going as best I could.

“How you doing guy?  Where’s it hurt?”

“Hey can you tell me what happened?”

“Where were you going?  Work?  Who’s your boss?  Hey let’s give him a call.”

“How ’bout your family?”

After a few minutes another guy with the same mindset knelt down beside me and helped maintain the chatter.  About five long minutes later a patrolman arrived and began the same litany of questions.  By now the biker might have been wondering why we were all being so solicitous, but I don’t think so.  He was a gabby type himself and semed eager to prove that he could hold up his end of the talk.

Our intent was to keep the crash victim conscious and calm.  We wanted him to know that people cared and were doing everything they could. In Afghanistan, it really didn’t matter what you talked about as long as you kept the patter going in the clearest, firmest, friendliest manner possible.  The concept seemed to apply here, too.

UPDATE:  This Washington Post story about combat medics in Afghanistan also describes the evolution of the Army’s medical procedures, equipment, and training in response to the current wars.

2 Responses to “Man Down”

  1. Chris Brown Says:

    Hey Pete,

    I guess a hero’s job is never done!

    Your entry reminded me of a former soldier whom I met last year. He had been an infantryman in the War in Iraq, and he said a number of times that he did not learn any skills or anything at all that he could use back here. He said that the Army taught him to kill and nothing else. He wasn’t complaining or bitter about it. It was just a statement of fact for him relayed in casual conversation.

    It’s good to see that you were able to take something so positive from your experience over there and be able to put it into practice.


  2. petermolin Says:

    Chris: Thanks, but I’m definitely no hero. I was thinking what a boob I was for not having a first-aid kit in the car. And the whole thing once more reminded me of how essential a helmet is if you ride bikes. The biker’s helmet was massively damaged in the fall, but better that than his head. -Pete

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