‘A little more closer to hell’
Capt. Maureen Pennington, director of nursing services at the NATO Role 3 Multinational Hospital at Kandahar Air Field, believes that medevac crews carry a quiet burden, one they aren’t often willing to share with outsiders, and she worries about what they see.
She senses the relief they feel when they hand over a patient and notices a slight drop in their head once the trauma team takes over. She knows they’re retracing their actions and wondering whether they did everything they could.
“You can’t even imagine what they go through. I think they have the weight of the world on their shoulders with all of the soldiers that they take care of,” Pennington said, adding after a brief pause, “That responsibility must weigh very heavy on them.”
While most of the medevac soldiers attempt to disengage their personal feelings from their work, some, like Lowther, let the swell of emotions wash over them. He can’t help but cry at times, especially when his patients are Afghan children. An endless stream of them, robbed of their childhood by poverty and war, make their way onto their helicopters.
Some have been caught in crossfire; others are simply victims of the brutal Afghan rural life.
Sometimes he calls the hospital to check on someone he’s treated. He’s one of the few who wants to know if they made it. Most can’t bear to know.
But even Lowther has a threshold. Recently, while other crewmembers were watching mission footage shot by an embedded film crew, he was overcome with a sickening pain and left the room. He can live it every day, but he can’t stand to watch it replayed.
Even those who try to disengage eventually think about what they see. Catastrophic blast injuries from IEDs that shred a body like nothing else. Gunshot wounds that cause a man to writhe as he pleads with a medic to help him breath or give him water.
Sometimes, the pain in the eyes of the soldiers gets to Morisoli.
He thinks about the journey they’ll have trying to put their life back together. He thinks about the families that will welcome them home. He can’t linger in his thoughts too long, though, because he knows that in the end, it just hurts too much.
He has to let go because he knows that tomorrow, or the next day, he and his crew will pick up another soldier who has lost his legs.
“This is a rough game, and I don’t care who you are, it’s going to affect you,” Role 3 hospital commander Capt. Mike McCarten said.
“They’re seeing things a little more closer to hell.”