Ground Hog Day

The best way to describe life around here is like Ground Hog Day because it is the same thing day after day . . . work, sleep, eat and the forecast is the same every day . . . hot and sunny with lots of dirt in the air. The smell of sewage is the same every day and the sounds of the jets flying over head as well. So how do you keep from going crazy or getting depressed?

Well, last night, two of our enlisted Corpsmen and a contractor from a company called Avenge, met up to play their guitars together. They played old-style country music while people gathered around to enjoy the music. The contractor, who led the makeshift band, was an excellent singer as well as guitar player. He could actually make up a whole new song right on the spot, the chords as well as the words! He would make up funny songs about being deployed to Afghanistan and the smell from the poop pond. He sang some Janis Joplin, Patsy Cline and Jonny Cash among other things. It was a nice way to break the monotony of things around here.

We also like to goof off in the ICU on slow nights. We do what’s called Deck of Card Physical Training. Everyone gathers around in a wide circle. Each person picks an exercise they would like to do; some do push-ups, some do sit-ups and some do squats. The dealer throws out a card to each person and the number on the card is the number of push-ups, sit-ups or squats you have to do. If you get a 5 or lower, you are dealt a second card to make it harder. Face cards are worth 10, Aces worth 11, and Jokers are 15! The deck has been altered so that there are 6 Jokers! Of course, if you get an Ace or Joker everyone moans because you have to do so many. If you are dealt several face cards in a row, you will be sore!

We do this every two hours throughout the night, as long as we aren’t busy. It has become so popular, we now have people come from other areas of the hospital to participate! By the end of the night, each person has done approximately 200-500 total push-ups, sit-ups or squats. I usually alternate between two different types of exercises because I am not strong enough yet to do that many of just one. However, if we keep this up for several months, I should be able to do more as I get stronger!

We also keep stuffed animals around the ICU to entertain us and, on occasion, the laundry delivers us the wrong scrubs. Instead of the military scrubs, we get brightly colored ones. I like to wear those when they are available, to try to brighten up the place a little! Here is a picture of me sporting an extreme weather hood. We were laughing because of how big it is compared to my head; it was made for a giant! I don’t think I will be wearing that around base when it’s cold!

The Bazaar

Every Saturday there is a Bazaar out on the edge of base where locals bring their goods to sell. A few of us night shift workers decided to meet at 10:45am in order to get to the Bazaar right when it opened at 11:00am, so that we would have time to go back and try to get some sleep in the afternoon. As we approached the area where the Bazaar is located, we came upon a line of people at least a ¼ mile long! We didn’t care though, because we had managed to drag our sleep deprived bodies out just for this, we were not going to turn back like we saw some people doing. Instead, we waited in line until almost noon before we were able to gain entrance. We had to show IDs and had Military Police verify that our weapons were not currently loaded before we were allowed into the area. The KAF Bazaar is set up very similar to a a market with each vendor’s wares carefully sprawled out for easy viewing either on the ground or across tables. I hadn’t seen so much color in one place since I arrived to KAF. Just like a flea market, the Bazaar was full of a combination of junk as well as treasures. Dealing with the Afghan vendors was just like going to Tijuana, Mexico. They start with an outrageous asking price, you ask for half that, they say, “No,” you begin to walk away and then they come running after you with a price somewhere in between your asking price and

their original asking price. At least I felt like I got some good deals.

They sell everything like bootlegged movies and fake brand name purses. They sell lots of jewelry and scarves made from many different types of textiles. There are machine made and hand-made rugs and most are very expensive. Marble bowls, cups and vases are a common item for sale as well. They sell beaded belly-dancing outfits, which their women would never be allowed to wear, and you have to be a size zero to fit in them! I don’t know who buys them, but they are very pretty. They also sell Hookas, the device one uses to smoke tobacco, or in the case of the Afghans, opium.

I also enjoyed the Bazaar because it was an opportunity to get a little more exposure to the culture, as we are not allowed to go outside the base. It is only Afghan men and some of the older boys, approximately ages 10-14, that you see at the Bazaar. If the women interact with people from the western culture, they are considered impure, so we never see them. They do not even come visit their children in the hospital because they are not allowed to interact with us. Only the fathers, and sometime just a male family friend, are the ones who come to see the child. However, they stay the entire time the child is hospitalized. They sleep on the floor just to be nearby. They are very dedicated in that respect.

Bitter Sweet

September 16-17 was bitter sweat. It was bitter because we lost our first American soldier in the ICU since we arrived here. We spent three hours trying to resuscitate the soldier after his MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambushed Protected Vehicle) was hit by an IED. You probably ask how someone in an MRAP, which is meant to protect its occupants from things like IEDs, could end up so critically injured. Well, the problem is that the Taliban is getting smarter. We build bigger and stronger vehicles and then they create IEDs that cause bigger explosions. Unfortunately, the MRAPs are no longer invincible. Most of the occupants were only bruised up a little, but the driver and the Gunner were admitted to us in the ICU. The driver will be okay; he just suffered a concussion and collapsed lung, which was fixed by placing a tube into the lung, called a Chest Tube. We stabilized him and began preparing him for transport to Germany. But the Gunner sits up in the turret, manning the gun of the up MRAP, and is the most exposed, so when they were hit by the IED, he took the bulk of the blast right in his face and head. By the time we got him in the ICU his brain had herniated, shifting half of it over to the other side of the skull. This is not compatible with life. We still attempt full resuscitation and at least try to keep the person alive long enough to fly them back to Germany where their family is flown for free by the U.S. military so that they at least have a chance to say goodbye.

The sweet part of the night came later when it was time to load up the driver of the MRAP onto a C130 out on the runway to fly him to Germany. I was offered the experience of assisting the Air Force Critical Care Air Transport Team (CCATT) with transporting the patient via what we call the amBusulance, because rather than transporting by ambulance, the Air Force uses an old bus that has been gutted of its seats. Instead there are metal rings hanging from the ceiling that the transport gurnies can be attached to, allowing for easy transport out to the plane.

The bus driver backed the amBusulance right to the ramp that led up into the C130. It was still dark out because it was only 2:30 in the morning. Four people line up on each side of the gurney to lift it out of the bus, then the two middle people on each side step away and four people, two in front, two in back, carry the patient up into the plane. The plane is set up so that the gurney slides right into a rack system running down the middle of the plane. The rack on this C130 held two patients, one on top of the other and then a gurney with supplies on the third level above the patients. The staff that makes of the CCATT sit in seats that line the walls of the C130 so that they are directly facing the patients during flight. It was really neat and I secretly wished I could have gone with them to see what it’s like. They fly around to the different Forward Operating Bases (FOBs), picking up patients; KAF was the last stop tonight after hitting 5 other bases.

The other exciting part of my shift occurred just as the sun was rising around 5:00am. We heard that there was going to be ramp ceremony out on the flight line for the Gunner we lost in the ICU. A ramp ceremony is a final salute to the fallen soldier as they load him into the plane to begin his journey back home. Everyone forms two lines, one across from the other, standing at attention and leaving enough room in the middle for the body to pass through on the gurney. The chaplain usually leads the procession and then the body passes through with a flag draped across. We perform a salute, slowly raising our hand to our forehead. The salute is maintained until the soldier passes all the way through the line. We then slowly drop our hand down to our side. The chaplain then says a prayer. Once the prayer is said, we are dismissed.

Several of us wanted to go pay our respect and take one of the survivors from the Gunner’s unit out to pay respect as well. We wheeled him out onto the flight line in a wheelchair only to be told that the flight had been delayed and that the ramp ceremony would not be until later in the day. The man looked so disappointed. I looked at him and he just said, “I am cold. Can we go back inside?” One of the Commanders who came out with us began pushing him back across the flight line toward the hospital. Just as dawn was beginning to break, down the runway came three jets. They were so close and so loud we had to plug our ears. As the jets passed by, I could feel their vibration rattle my insides and see the radiant orange glow of the engines as they took off! I couldn’t help but smile because it was so exciting to be that close, nothing you would ever be allowed to experience in the States due to safety regulations! Once the third one cleared the runway, I looked over at the Gunner’s buddy and I saw that even he was smiling and at that moment he said, “Wow! That was really cool!”

Dirty Laundry

Our first day here at KAF we were issued laundry bags. These laundry bags are only big enough to fit one pair of uniform pants, one uniform blouse, a couple t-shirts, a couple pairs of socks, bras and underwear, and one pair of exercise shorts. If you want to wash sheets or towels, you can’t have anything else washed because those items take up the whole bag.

For security reasons we cannot bring any bags into the dining facilities (DFAC), including laundry bags. This is frustrating because the DFAC is almost half way to the hospital, but if you need to drop off laundry, you have to walk all the way back to the Dorms after dinner to get your laundry and lug it the mile walk to the hospital. In order to get there before my shift starts at 6:45 pm, I have to go to the DFAC at exactly 5:20pm to be one of the first in line for when it opens at 5:30pm, take almost no time deciding what to eat, wolf down my food, speed walk back to the Dorms to get my laundry and speed walk to the hospital. You have to go behind the hospital where there are drop-off bins for the laundry. There you sign a list indicating when you dropped off your laundry. By the time I walk into the ICU to start my shift, I am drenched in sweat from all the rushing around. It really is a pain in the butt.

Approximately 48 hours later you can find your bag with your clothes all washed and folded in the pick-up bins which are next to the drop-off bins back behind the hospital. Sounds great having someone else do your laundry, huh? Only problem is, if you don’t write out a complete list of everything in your bag and submit it with your laundry, items will disappear. Also, they don’t separate whites from colors, so anything that is white eventually becomes and grayish-brown color.  Lastly, your clothes always smell like they were left wet in the washer for a couple of days, you know, with that musty smell. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that the company handles the sewage treatment, porta-potty care and garbage disposal here as well.

I decided to Google the company, because there is nothing better to do with my free time, only to discover that Ecolog is a German company accused of smuggling drugs out of Afghanistan. Not sure what has become of this allegation except that NATO is investigating and, meanwhile, Ecolog denies it’s involvement.

There are self-service laundry trailers available on base where you can separate out your whites from your colors and use detergent to make your clothes smell nice. Some people choose to do all their laundry there, some choose to do some on their own and drop some off for Ecolog to do, and then there are those of us who only have one day off a week and don’t want to spend half of it doing laundry, so we put up with the stink. I will wash my new white and pink sheets that I received from my dad and stepmom in the self-service trailers so they smell nice and stay white, but otherwise it’s off to the drug-smuggling, poop-smelling, color-running launderer for my clothes!

Common site around the base


Yesterday we were handed our September schedule and it is the schedule from hell! We will be working 72 hours per week and when you are working night shift, that’s rough. I was really upset about this and feeling very frustrated with my leadership due to a lack of explanation for why this change, when the schedule that we had was working and if we needed more people, we would call them in. Now instead of having people on call, they just want us to be there.

But, tonight, we have already had several rocket attacks and the past two nights they have started earlier, at change of shift. So now they send them two or three in a row right when every one is getting off work and outside, walking back to their lodging or to dinner. I realized, while I was lying on the ground twice within a 45 minute period, scraping up my knees and elbows, that this is just the beginning. Ramadan will be over and things are going to heat up. That’s why they want us to be ready at the hospital.

I think it has finally hit me, on this anniversary of 9/11, that this is war and we are here fighting in honor and in memory of those that were lost that day. I will complain no longer and focus on remembering what’s important in life . . . our family, our friends and our freedom. Thank you again to everyone who sent me care packages and to everyone that is supporting me, especially my husband.

9/11 Moon over KAF

Shopping and Dining at KAF

Went shopping with some of the girls on the boardwalk today. There are several jewelry shops with really nice jewelry, but very expensive in the hundred’s of dollars. But there is one jeweler who also has a really cool coin collection. We spent quite a while looking through all of his thousand year old coins. It was like being at a museum. He has some very neat stuff. We alsovisited the bookstore on the boardwalk. This shop is hardly ever open and is very small; it’s inside a small Conex box (a 20 ft x 40 ft shipping container). But, the bookstore owner has several books on the history of Afghanistan and Islam. He also sells books in Arabic. My one friend is really in to reading translations of Arabic poetry, so he has actually special ordered some books for her. He also sells boxed sets of Television shows like Dexter, House, NCIS, and movies. I want to get a DVD player for my Netbook so I can watch movies. He sells the sets for only $18, ones that are $89.99 in the states!

We also had lunch at a Dutch restaurant here behind the Boardwalk because we all slept through lunch. One of the downfalls of working nights is that you miss meal-times. In the Dutch restaurant they serve sandwiches and burgers. You order at the counter and wait for your number to be called, but there is a nice sit-down dining area. I briefly felt like I was actually somewhere other than Kandahar Airfield, well except that everyone was in uniform. But it was nice to just sit and chat for a while.

It is still hot here during the day, but once the sun sets, you can just barely feel a slight coolness lightly cutting through the warmer air. The evenings have become very pleasant here now and I wish I could just sit outside and enjoy it, but unfortunately it is not very safe to be outside at this time of the evening. Lately there has been an increase in rocket attacks and the prime time has been between 8 pm and midnight. We had three right in a row the other night. I usually try to be back in my Dorm room by about 8:30pm just to be safe, although the other night, my roommate and another ICU co-worker decided to venture out to the “Far-East” dining facility because they have really good chicken stir-fry. While we were eating the rocket attack alarms went off and we had to drop down on our bellies under the tables. Once the “All clear,” is called, we had to get on our cell phones and call into the hospital to report that we were okay. It’s probably a lot like the “Duck and Cover” drills during the Cold War days.

The food here in the dining facilities (DFACs) is like eating every day in a hospital or college dormitory cafeteria. Some days are better than others and occasionally they serve something you haven’t tried yet. Each DFAC has it’s own specialty, but the lines for those are really long. The Cambridge is the Brit’s DFAC and it’s specialty is the Curry Bar, which is really good, but there is always a long line because the Indians and local Afghans prefer to eat curry dishes. The Luxemburg is the Dutch DFAC and it’s specialty is odd salads, deserts and strange looking sandwich meats. They usually have some of the better hot dishes. The Niagara is one of the American DFACs and it usually has typical American style dishes like chicken, fish, potatoes and some sort of beef. The Far-East DFAC’s name is somewhat deceptive because the only thing Asian that is served there is either beef stir-fry or chicken-stir fry, otherwise all the other food is pretty much the same as the Niagara, but the chicken stir-fry is great! The Harvest Falcon DFAC is in South Park, the U.S. zone and you have to have a U.S. military ID card to go there. They serve all your fattening, unhealthy American food like corn-dogs, mac-n-cheese, fried chicken, hamburgers, fries, apple pie, etc. It is about a 25-30 min walk from the NATO Dorms past the poop pond, so we usually only go there once every other week. There is no cafeteria at the hospital, so they bring food in from the Luxemburg DFAC because it is the closest one to the hospital. The problem with this is that you have to eat whatever they bring, if you want to eat. That’s why I asked for healthy snacks in my care packages, thank you!

All Work and Very Little Sleep

It’s been several days since I have written anything because I have been so busy working nights and then trying to sleep during the day. The work here is different. I am not sure how much I should say about it because I don’t want to depress everyone. I have to say that I have very mixed emotions about what I am doing here. Even though what is happening beyond the perimeter of KAF may not be supported by the American public and leads to multiple deaths a day, what we are doing here at Role 3, I think, is something important. We are attempting to put people back together as best we can and allow them some quality of life back home. If it weren’t for the excellent trauma, surgical and intensive care talent that we have here, I know many of these wounded people would not survive.

However, there is a lot the general public has no clue about in regards to what is going on over here. Heck, I didn’t even have a clue and even being here, I still don’t know what it’s really like to be on the frontlines. What I do see is children. We have more pediatric patients than adults. Sadly, they are injured playing in areas laid with mines or IEDs or the Taliban throws them out in the middle of a gun fight with coalition forces and then blames the coalition forces for shooting them. However, it is amazing how resilient these kids are and how quickly some of them recover from serious injuries.

Every day here is a busy day and we never officially have a day off. If you are not scheduled to work, you are on-call and have to carry a beeper around. I got called in last night to work, on my night off, from 7 pm until 3:30 am because we had so many patients in the ICU. It wasn’t until we transferred two patients to the Ward floor and packed up two others to be flown back to Europe that I was able to leave. Then, I haven’t been able to sleep well because we have had 5 Rocket attacks in the last 36 hours! Every time that happens we have to come out of our rooms and knock on everyone’s door, account for everyone and call in a Roster to the hospital. I am getting very frustrated that I can’t get any sleep. Even dinner was interrupted by a rocket attack. The dining facilities are not rocket-resistant like our Dorms, so everyone had to crawl under the tables and stay there for two minutes until they called, “All clear. All clear. All clear.” Luckily no one has been injured.

Well, on that note, I think I will finally try to catch some zzz’s. Goodnight from Kandahar.

This is the nicest view on the entire base.