By Capt. Mike McCarten, commanding officer of the NATO Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit, Kandahar, Afghanistan. McCarten is a U.S. Navy family physician and aerospace medicine specialist.
I command the NATO trauma hospital south of Kandahar City, the NATO Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit (MMU) staffed with 225 men and women from Navy Medicine. To them, the scenes in the hospital trauma bays are familiar: crowds of emergency room doctors and nurses, surgeons and technicians all feverishly attending to a fallen Soldier or Marine. I was caught off guard one day when, rather than our trauma docs running the show, our pediatric intensivist, Capt. Jon Woods, was at the head of the bed. Except for Dr. Woods, the crew was wearing blue operating room gowns and masks, indicating this was a case of infection rather than trauma. Heading up the crew with Dr. Woods was Lt. Cmdr. Dana Phillips, a reserve component (RC) Nurse Corps officer from Newark, N.J.
The patient that day was a very ill 8-year-old Afghan girl with pneumonia and meningitis. As work on the child proceeded she went into cardiac arrest without warning.
In his typically calm voice, Dr. Woods said “please start chest compressions.” As the team began compressions, Lt. Phillips asked a hospital corpsman to “go to the intensive care unit (ICU) and get help” in an equally calm voice. Within minutes three ICU nurses arrived, each stepping in to assume control of crucial tasks: managing the airway, starting another IV, drawing blood, administering the meds, etc. What unfolded over the next 20 minutes was the most professionally managed pediatric code I’ve witnessed in my 30-year medical career. It was readily apparent to me that Dr. Woods knew exactly what to do with each turn of events. It was equally apparent that each of the assembled nurses was similarly adept in their professions as each step of the way required more and more sophisticated interventions. As the resuscitated child was wheeled to the ICU, I realized that all three ICU nurses were, like Lt. Phillips, from the RC: Capt. Mary Daack from Meriden, Kan., Capt. Todd Bahl from Snohomish, Wash. and Cmdr. Julie Wetmore from Lincoln, Ill.
The role of the RC in Kandahar cannot be overestimated. One third of our hospital staff, including 80 percent of the nursing staff, is from the RC. Every corps of Navy Medicine has been represented on the Role 3 staff by RC members. The RC comes to deployment with a seasoned set of skills, each with tremendous depth of experience and maturity and each with a ‘can do’ attitude that significantly contributes to our outstanding success. It is no exaggeration to say we can’t do this without the RC.
For more information about practicing medicine with the Navy Reserve, visit http://www.navyreserve.com/careers/healthcare.html