The Nurse Job In Afghanistan Combat
This excellent video illustrates the challenges faced by nurses and
other medical professionals practicing emergency medicine in combat zones. This team was
part of MERT unit serving in Afghanistan as an element of the NATO contingent. Not exactly your typical travel nurse assignment.
“The MERT team is a medical emergency response team, essentially it’s a highly specialist
team comprising a doctor, a nurse and two paramedics, who are designed specifically to treat
seriously injured people in the area of operations,” said Major Simon Le Clerc, MERT Doctor.
The team have just taken an emergency call. A bomb has gone off in Gereshk, north east from
their base at Camp Bastion, Helmand province. “Essentially what we do once we land on scene
is one of the team will get off and liaise with any medics on the ground to try and quickly
see what number of casualties and what type of injuries we’ve got,” added Le Clerc.
The team land near the blast site. They pick up two dead victims, a British soldier and an
Afghan interpreter, along with two other injured soldiers, one British and one Afghan. The
team are reliant upon the injured to have already been administered the basics in first aid,
by their fellow soldiers.
“For the MERT to do their job well it’s important that the guys on the ground do their
basics well, i.e., get the tourniquets on immediately and get them on nice and tight, get
the morphine administered, get their field dressing on and secure, and just an accurate
handover to us when we land on. That certainly makes it easier for us,” explained MERT
Emergency Nurse, RAF Sgt Hayley Vendyback.
“They’ll load the patients on so the sickest are nearest to the doctor and the more minor
towards the rear. So we will get them onto the aircraft and get out of there as quickly as
possible and then start administering treatment as quickly as possible after that,” said Le
“MERT are tasked to pick up either ISAF casualties, local nationals, Afghan National Army
and Afghan National Police. The local nationals if they’ve been injured as a result of our
conflict then they will be entitled to air medevac,” said nurse Vendyback.
As are the insurgents, whom these doctors treat under the Geneva Convention.
“What we do on the MERT is we actually move the hospital to the patient. The care is being
delivered much quicker than it used to be in terms of evacuation chains. So we deliver an
anesthetic room and an emergency department, to the patient, and initiate that treatment
immediately,” said Major Le Clerc, the MERT Doctor.
“We can give very strong pain killers, we can anesthetize patients, we can do surgical
procedures if necessary, we can triage patients for a large extent of experience that we’ve
got on the team, and we can give blood, to patients who are bleeding to death long before
they get to hospital,” Le Clerc added.
He continued, “It’s very sad when people are killed particularly when we’re out here
supporting an operation that’s trying to help the Afghan people. To be honest you try not to
focus on it too much, you know that next time the phone goes or your pager goes you may well
be going to the same thing again. We see an awful lot of it, and it never gets any easier.”
“I don’t think you can ever quite numb off to the job, I think as soon as you’ve numbed off
to it your perhaps in the wrong job, but for me personally is just to support the guys on
the ground, give them morale that we will go back to them and pick them up,” explained Sgt
Hayley Vendyback, the Emergency Nurse.
“I think for us, what keeps us going is the fact that we do make a difference and we feel
that we make a difference, and we need to support our guys on the ground and that’s what
we’re here to do, and we’ll be here for as long as they are,” said Major Le Clerc,
Original story by William Bonnett in Afghanistan for the NATO Channel.