An injured soldier is rushed to Role 3, a military trauma hospital.
Life and Death in Kandahar begins with an urgent alert. Incoming wounded are on their way. Now, the questions begin: How many are there? What are the injuries? How soon will they arrive? As the medical staff gathers critical information, trauma bays are prepped and ambulances head out to meet the medevac helicopters.
This winter, the fifth estate cameras were granted four weeks of unprecedented and exclusive access to the NATO trauma hospital at the main military base in Kandahar Province. The ‘Role 3' is one of the busiest trauma hospitals in Afghanistan and it has been under Canadian command for two years.
Serving at Role 3, trauma hospital
Many of the staff are career soldiers – medics, nurses and doctors – responding to the request of the Canadian government and heading to Afghanistan on a 6-month long tour. "I trained my entire life for this," says Capt. Neil Pritchard. "I am a great believer in the fight against terrorism. Do I believe in an attempt to stabilize this country? Sure if we can do it."
Dr. Rakesh Patel treats 8-year-old Izatullah.
Civilian doctors and nurses can also work at the hospital, usually for a six-week tour. For them, it's a crash course in treating injuries they might never see at home. Their reasons for going there are complex and individual.
"It sounded like a neat idea at the beginning", says Dr. Rakesh Patel, an ICU specialist from Ottawa. "…kind of neat to work in a war zone, but then…you ask yourself, well, what's it really going to be like…Can I walk the walk? So part of coming here I suppose was, I suppose, in a way, self-discovery."
allegiance to the Hippocratic oath
Seven days a week, 24 hours a day, the medical personnel are ready to care for whoever comes through the Role 3 doors. The treatment, the staff says, is the same for everyone. It doesn't matter if the patient is Canadian or coalition soldier, a local soldier, an Afghan civilian caught in the crossfire or a Taliban fighter. The allegiance to the Hippocratic oath prevails.
Eight-year-old Izatullah with his grandfather.
Some of the toughest cases, though, involve children. When 8-year-old Izatullah arrives at the Role 3 after a bomb rips through his village and brutally injures his face, staff work quickly to save his life. "It was a critical injury, it definitely was," says Major Terry Ratkowski, the maxillofacial surgeon who operates on Izatullah. "He could have lost his airway and basically suffocated due to the injury itself." However, after several surgeries, staff know Izatullah must return to his village and they are not sure if they will see him again.
Wherever you stand on Canada's Afghan mission, you will want to meet these remarkable professionals, captured with unprecedented intimacy and candour, as they work under constant pressure at the cutting edge of modern warfare.