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War Nursing

RN writes:

I want to share my experience as a nurse taking care of wounded coalition forces and insurgents near Baghdad, Iraq. It was the most meaningful thing I ever did and the most horrible. I carry mental scars that I hope will heal.

11 military nurses and I deployed to a field hospital just outside of Baghdad in Jan 2005. The stress levels and workload we carried were incredible. We staffed a 75 bed ward with just the 12 of us, around the clock. A normal patient load was 13 to 16 patients each (Gasp). We took care of patients with traumatic amputations, chest tubes, bullet wounds, drowning victims, children and infants who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, prisoners…and we did the best we could. Did we give good patient care? By stateside standards a resounding no! We worked six 12 hour shifts each week and we were just plain exhausted. We were attacked by missiles and mortars daily. I became convinced I was not coming home; that I would never see my husband or children ever again…especially after a missle landed 10 feet away from me…and it did not detonate!

The Iraqi patients threw urine and feces at us, and spit on us (and those were the “good guys”). One nurse was bitten. Three of us were sexually assaulted (we were the only females on the base who were not armed and were easy targets). We cared for patients in tents, with minimal medical equipment, and we saved a lot of lives (1100 patients in 4 months). Some we couldn’t…and we cried.

One patient, a middle aged obese Iraqi woman did not deserve what fate handed her. She was a mother and a wife, and just wanted what each of us wants out of life – to keep her children safe, and love her family. As you can imagine, work is hard to find in Iraq right now, and people need money to eat. My patient had a daughter who spoke English. Her daughter gained employment as a translator for the Army. The insurgents planted a bomb just outside the family’s front door to discourage others from doing the same. My patient stepped out her front door (she thanked her gods repeatedly that it was not one of her children) and lost both her legs and her right arm. We saved her….but only temporarily. She developed infection after infection. We did as much as we could for her, but in the end, had to send her to the Iraqi hospital in Baghdad; which had few staff members and few medications. I know we sent her off to die somewhere else.

Events became interconnected there. An Iraqi National Guard Major led his men into a skirmish where American soldiers were slowly being picked off. He saved them. The insurgents planted a bomb in the Major’s house. He was killed; but a visiting female relative, a 1 month-old and a 3-year-old survived (all others in the house were killed). The 3 survivors were severly burned. The newborn and the mother spent several weeks with us and both were discharged healthy but scarred. The 3-year-old died after 6 weeks. We were devistated. Fast forward a couple of weeks. Coalition forces captured the insurgent who planted the bomb and shot him 3 times in the process. We saved him. I wanted to hurt that man, at the very least I wanted to withhold pain medicine, food, etc. But I did not. None of us did.

An Iraqi soldier/patient began touching one of my young nurses inappropriately. I had a gun placed against his head while I explained to him that touching was not allowed. I help people, I don’t hurt people.

I have been home 4 months now. I do not laugh easily any more. I don’t sleep.

If you know a nurse that went to Iraq, be kind, invite her out for a cup of coffee…and listen if she wants to talk about the horrors she lived through. Help her heal.

Wow. Think of this next time you have a bad day at work.

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Whew. Thank you for sharing. So many of us will never understand, but by telling your story, you help us to at least glimpse into what happened and recognize that we cannot wrap our minds around it. Bless you.

Thank you. We back at home can’t even begin to fathom how difficult your job is – but we admire and respect your efforts, pray for your safety, and know that you give all.

Thank you!

I can’t get the letter re: working with the Iraqui people to print off codeblog. Can you help?

Wow, thanks for sharing your story with us. Take care of yourself. you make us proud of what you have done. Thanks again.

i hope healing will come sooner…

Amazing story. Makes me proud to be a nursing student.

Sounds like a synopsis of the reasons I left general surgery. I kinda liked trauma but it was draining. Did you see much trauma before you went to Iraq? Take care.

getting ready to go back to work at a military hospital after being a sahm for the last 3 years.my husband is a marine-we thank you for your sacrifice-none of us will ever fully understand the depths of hell you have seen.god bless you!!

I would imagine it is the most difficult type of nursing–to be in a war zone. Somehow, the idea of war does conflict with the mission of nurses and doctors, doesn’t it. Especially in a war such as this one, where the purpose and reason of being for this conflict is so disputed and vague. Thank you for sharing your story. It brings home the reality of what war is really about.

Thank you for performing such a difficult and unselfish service. May you and yours have many blessings.

Thank God for my cushy office job!! I wanted to be a military nurse during Viet Nam but my mother died and my brother was already in the Navy in Viet Nam. We thought it would be too much for my dad to bear.

I could have done it 35 years ago but to read about Iraq and stories like this, I know I could not do it now. Thank you to all who do!

Geena, I’m a health editor at Glamour magazine and am looking to contact the author of this piece. Can you get me in touch? Thanks! Sunny

What you went through was unimaginable. my thoughts are with you.

Even while reading that letter, I pray that I have the experience to go. I feel that I can help others get through it. Say prayers that I can go and help those who truly could use it, and to keep another female, a mother for instance, at home with her children.

May God bless you and your family.Your experience made me realize there is a war out there and I should be thankful there are people like you who makes it possible for us to enjoy our freedom.

I am a tired old nurse. The Iraq nurses story needs to be told . I can write it .anyone interrested ?

You are amazing. We need nurses like you! I’m very fascinated of what you did! -a living heroe

I know there are may grateful people for all that you have done even if it may go unsaid. Thank you so much!!!! I am so proud of you and hope that I can be half the woman that you are

i am an rn with 25 years experience and would like to go to Baghad to help

You are amazing… May God Bless you and keep you safe, You are a True Hero….

I was deployed to Afghanistan and had some similar experiences. War sucks but the worst part is that it seems no one wants to stand up and fight for the nurses and the patients. There are reasons that overtime is limited- we cannot be compared to people who work in other jobs where the expectation is 6 12 hors shifts per week. Too many errors occur. Not good. I have been back fo 8 months and still have trouble wiht my anger and have sleep issues- I am hoping time will heal. Good luck to you

Thank you for sharing this true account, and the stories of other nurses and patients which you felt should be told (and that I will not forget). I appreciate the fact that you revealed to us the true and real aspects of the war in Iraq, as horrible as they are. It takes LOVE to be able to share this information with us who should know what’s really going on in war zones in distant places. LOVE CAN HEAL emotional wounds. I hope that you will be healed mentally and emotionally as you continue to love others, and by the power of the Lord Jesus Christ.

So, what brought you to the hospital today?

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  • profileI am Gina. I have been a nurse for 15 years, first in med/surg, then CVICU, inpatient dialysis, CCU and now hospice. This blog is about my experiences as a nurse, and the experiences of others in the healthcare system - patients, nurses, doctors, paramedics. We all have stories!

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