Going to See the Wizard

Going to See the Wizard is what we call it when you get the opportunity to take a tour of the Flight Control Tower here at the Air Field. Some friends and I were lucky enough to have a connection, giving us access to the tower. We met up with Dave, a former Navy Air Traffic Controller who now works as the supervisor of the Control Tower here at KAF. He was a very nice, older man, who obviously enjoys being a tour guide in addition to his current job.

To access the control room of the seven story tower, you have to climb up 14 flights of stairs because there is no elevator, only a utility hoist up to the top. We definitely got our workout! The building of the tower was funded by NATO and was just completed the end of March. Prior to this, the tower was essentially a shack, one-quarter of the size of the new tower with several blind spots. The new tower provides for better visibility and operational control.

The tower is staffed 24/7 by 3-4 staff members employed by ATC Midwest, a company contracted by NATO. One person is assigned to Ground Control, one is assigned to Air Traffic Control and the third person is responsible for administrative tasks and paperwork.

While we were up in the tower, we were able to see a C-130 take off, several helicopters practicing take-offs and landings and two RAF Tornados (British jets) take off. I went out on the cat-walk outside to watch the jets take off and they are so loud that you can feel your lungs rattle inside your body. I will miss the sound of the jets when I leave KAF; no matter how many times I have heard it and watched those jets take off, it is still exciting each and every time! And there is no where in the states that a civilian person can be that close to a jet taking off.

The visibility was so good that we could see all of the mountain ranges on all side so of KAF, even the ones in Pakistan. We could also see outside of the base into Kandahar city. I took a picture of the mosque that is just on the other side of the wall. This was a really great experience and I am grateful to the Midwest staff members for allowing us to temporarily intrude on their world.

New Life at KAF

Well, everyone, the other night I had a baby!

Our pediatric intensive care doctor came in even though it was his night off and asked me if I would be willing to be the nurse for a 16-year-old Afghan female and her soon-to-be born baby. Special Forces came upon her in a village and, supposedly, she had been pushing for several hours with no results, so they called it in to the Role 3. Because one of our doctors here is actually an OB/GYN specialist, he was excited to accept a patient that apparently needed a c-section. I have no postpartum experience except for a 3 week rotation in nursing school almost 13 years ago and I did a 3 week rotation through a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit as well. I have cared for one neonate since nursing school at Naval Hospital Bremerton a couple of years ago, but sure, it sounded like something new and exciting! Besides, after being surrounded by so much tragedy including the recent injuring of almost 20 people here on base and the death of a young Army soldier from a rocket attack, it would be nice to bring a new life into our hospital.

So at 10:32 pm, a 5 lb 12 oz boy was born into the world via c-section in our OR. My friend Brenda was a Labor and Delivery nurse for 16 years before becoming an ICU nurse, so she was in the OR assisting with the delivery. She brought him out to me and his father was very ecstatic that it was a boy. He clapped and had a huge smile on his face. The child’s grandmother was there too and she also was full of smiles. Shortly after the baby came out, the mother followed. She looked very young too me, not even a day older than fourteen, but the family said she was sixteen. Supposedly the husband was twenty-five, but he looked well into his 30s. The Afghans do not really keep track of age the same way we do. They have a different concept of time, so who knows what their real ages are.

Momma was definitely exhausted, probably from all the pushing, but baby was perfect! We were not sure if he would even be alive because no one could tell us exactly how long she had been pushing, but everything went well. For the first hour after birth, the baby was very active with his big, dark brown eyes wide open, looking all around! He never cried, even when I had to give him four different injections with needles!

Later, once we got momma and baby settled and baby fed, we let dad and grandma into the ICU to be with her. Next to the bed where we had them residing, there is a big cart full of clothes, toys and toiletries that people donate for us to use on our patients. Well, grandma discovered the cart and began shopping! Pretty quickly she had a new pair of sunglasses, gloves, and socks as well as shaving cream, razors and deodorant. At one point when I came to check on the baby, the father was wearing a pair of women’s white gloves. It was pretty funny.

All-in-all, it was a pleasant change from what we usually have to deal with in the ICU here. In fact, we have one of the rocket attack victims in the ICU and he wasn’t doing too well that night. Several of the members of his unit were at his bedside all night and some of the females were crying. They heard about the birth of the baby and I let them come see him. One of the women said, “Thank you. That really helped me feel better.” It was pretty amazing to see such a small bundle bring so much excitement to our hospital.

Birthday

I actually had a nice Birthday here in Afghanistan, spread over two days! My birthday began in the middle of working a night shift in the ICU. I was caring for a 10 year boy with severe nausea and vomiting after having his stomach repaired. He had a fragment wound to his stomach from an IED blast. He was so cute and we kept laughing, trying to figure out what we were saying to each other in our own respective languages. He was only allowed small sips of water, but one time, when I had my back turned, I caught him sneaking out of bed and grabbing a water bottle from the bedside table. He poured himself a new cup of water and feverishly guzzled it down! Then he just looked at me with a big smile on his face. He would try to have full conversations with me as if I understood exactly what he was saying. He went from feeling very sick to looking 10 times better by morning, so he helped keep my spirits up when I had to pick up a second patient who had his brains blown up by an IED.

Once off work, my friend Brenda and I went to the Dutch restaurant called All Season’s Café where she treated me to dutch pancakes. Unfortunately, they were all out of syrup and the pancakes weren’t anywhere near as good as Dutch Mother’s in Lynden, WA, but it was nice to sit and chat on this sunny morning and, hey, what else can you expect in Afghanistan? At least pancakes are an option. Then I went home and slept for a few good hours. On my way to work, I stopped off at one of the jewelry shops on the Boardwalk where, a couple days earlier, I had seen a necklace I really liked. The shop owner had actually set aside the necklace for me, “just in case you decided to come back for it,” he said. I guess he knew I liked so much that he assumed I would come back to get it. It is made of Topaz pear-cut stones with small Tourmaline teardrop shaped stones in between and then uncut garnet, my birthstone, running up each side to the back. All three of these gems are mined here in Afghanistan.

After my jewelry purchase, I went to work only to find out that I was given the night off because they had enough nurses! My friends Sherry and Sydney, both getting off day shift, took me back to All Seasons for Near Beer and cheesecake. We sat on the overstuffed leather couches in the middle of the restaurant and chatted for a while. I showed them my necklace and, Sherry, who has become somewhat of an expert at buying jewelry around here, said that she thinks I got a good deal!

Later that night, back in my room, I was able to talk to Thomas, who was working in Seattle because it was daytime there. This is when I received the best birthday gift yet; Thomas told me that his request for a transfer to the Bellingham area was approved and the official report date is set for February 28th! This means that we are permanently moving back to Bellingham to live in our beautiful home again! I will miss many things about living downtown Seattle, but we can still go stay one weekend a month in a really nice hotel for much less money than it has been costing us to pay both rent in Seattle and our mortgage in Bellingham. Besides, we can now start thinking about starting a family!

The next day, Friday the 7th, the birthday celebration continued. I started my morning at the gym and then went over to the British compound to their coffee place where Sherry, Sydney and I sat outside in the 65 degree sunshine and dipped Biscotti into Cafe Mochas. It was very nice and relaxing. Then we hit the jewelry stores again, just to look and see if there was anything else eye-catching. No one bought anything, but it was still fun to look! I went back to my room and Skyped with Thomas for about an hour and a half even though it was the middle of the night for him. I then rested for a couple hours before getting ready for a birthday party at the hospital for Sherry, me and one of the male Dutch nurses.

The party was great because CDR Beasely from Trauma grilled up the most tender, delicious-tasting chicken I have had in the past 5 months. He also made Paella with shrimp that was so yummy I had to go back for seconds. Our friends also had several ice cream cakes made for us by the ice cream shop on the Boardwalk. Lots of people came from all areas of the hospital, including the Dutch nurses. And after we were all done eating, several of us went out to the flight line and smoked Cuban cigars and warmed our hands over the grill as we watched the jet engines light up the sky as they took off for a night mission. Eventually, as the temperature dropped into the 30s and we became chilled to the bones, we began dispersing and wandering back to the warmth of the NATO dorms.