This week I heard a radio interview with David Wood. A journalist since 1970, Wood is currently the senior Military Correspondent for the Huffington Post where he covers military issues, foreign affairs, and combat operations. He was talking about “Beyond the Battlefield”, a 10-part series that he recently wrote for the Huffington Post, exploring the challenges faced by severely wounded war veterans upon return home.
In contrast to the appalling numbers of war-related deaths faced by our military way back in history, thankfully today relatively fewer troops are being killed in combat – due to a combination of better technologies and equipment to protect them, as well as much improved medical care.
On the flip side, however, it seems that the enemy’s ability to catastrophically injure servicemembers in battle is increasing. In 2009 there were 86 US soldiers who lost at least one limb in combat, while in 2010 the number had increased to 187. Additionally from 2009 to 2010, the number of servicemembers who lost multiple limbs tripled from 23 to 72.
On The Battlefield
Wood told an amazing story about Tyler Southern, a 22 year old Marine who lost both of his legs and his right arm in Afghanistan in May 2010 when he stepped on an improvised explosive device. His close friend James Stoddard, a 19 year old Navy Corpsman, was now faced with attending to his first combat casualty.
Southern survived his horrific injuries, defeating all odds. This was largely thanks to the lifesaving actions of his friend James Stoddard who applied tourniquets to the stumps of his three injured limbs and his mangled left hand. He also inserted a breathing tube into Southern’s throat to maintain an open airway, and administered intravenous fluid.
The young Marine was flown to a nearby military hospital where he was stabilized before being flown to a US military hospital in Germany. Somehow he survived the journey, despite flatlining on the way. Concerned that he was not going to survive, a decision was made to fly him home to the US, essentially so that he could die with his family.
Thankfully that didn’t happen. Tyler Southern survived his wounds, and despite everything that he has been through, he strives to see the silver linings and to maintain humor, saying “I have the world at my prosthetic feet. It’ll go well.”
Beyond The Battlefield
Inevitably the increase in such severe, complex injuries leads to multiple-fold consequences. In addition to the emotional and physical effects on the patient, they present challenges for military medical personnel who deal with such injuries on and off the battlefield, as well as for their loved ones.
Although we naturally celebrate the fact that so many individuals can survive despite their horrendous injuries, we cannot forget that these wounds last a lifetime. In addition to losing one or more limbs, servicemembers may have experienced an array of additional problems like traumatic brain injury, facial burns, infections, and inevitably deep depression. The issue of how we can best care for them even when the war is long over is one that we cannot afford to ignore.
It’s Veterans Day today. Please thank a servicemember if you get the opportunity.