KANDAHAR AIR FIELD, Afghanistan — The coalition field hospital at this sprawling base is taking in more and more injured children from Afghanistan’s war-ravaged South, Canadian staff say.
While the multinational full trauma hospital couldn’t release numbers for security reasons, medical practitioners say they’re treating more children who have been caught in the crossfire, used by Taliban as human shields, or were wounded after playing with mines, or rocket propelled grenades.
“We’ve seen more injured children this year,” Lt.-Col. Errol Villeneuve, the hospital’s officer in charge of in-patient care, told CanWest News Service.
“At home we try to prevent kids from playing with matches. Here we try to prevent them from playing with mines.”
They’ve seen cases of children wounded by gunfire after insurgents placed them in front during firefights with coalition forces. It’s a strategy that makes fighting morally difficult for Western soldiers.
“They know we have a lot of difficulty with that,” said Villeneuve, who is from Quebec.
Staff at the hospital, including Canadians, British and Americans, among other nationalities, treat wounded coalition and Afghan soldiers, along with civilians injured during the war. They even treat insurgents, who are kept under watch by a guard.
“You’re seeing pretty much all trauma,” said Lt. Joanna Streppa, a Montreal nurse practising in Ottawa.
With coalition soldiers wearing protective flak jackets, helmets and goggles, most of the injuries at the hospital tend to be wounded, or severed limbs from gunshots, or improvised explosive devices.
“There are a lot of leg injuries here,” said Capt. Shell Ryan, a 26-year-old nurse, and Canadian Forces reservist from Edmonton. “In the six years I was working in Canada I never saw an IED blast.”
Despite new IED-detecting equipment, including the Buffalo and Husky trucks, along with RG-31 vehicles, injuries from the blasts continue to be as bad as ever because of increasingly aggressive insurgent tactics.
“I think the fact that we’re getting better equipment is helping us, but the Taliban are ingenious people,” Streppa said.
Hospital workers have made the transition from practising medicine in Canada, to medicine on the battlefield.
“You get desensitized,” Streppa said. “A gunshot wound for us becomes like a sprained ankle. It takes a lot for us to go ‘whoa.'”
The toughest thing for Streppa to see are car crashes. With so many injuries and fatalities because of the war, car crashes appear senseless, she said.
“This can happen anywhere, so it shouldn’t happen here.”
For the Christmas holidays, Canadian staff decided to partake in the Newfoundland tradition of Mummery. Women dressed up as men, and men donning feminine wardrobes knocked on each others doors and danced for candy treats.
“It’s mummery minus the alcohol,” Streppa said.
“We are doing everything to keep our spirits up.”