30 November 2010

Playing Combat Doctor on TV

FORT IRWIN, Calif., Sept. 27--The media circus has successfully hopped from Forward Operating Base ("FOB") Denver to FOB King, where tomorrow morning we'll split up and hitchhike to opposite ends of the battlefield. The visiting TV crews have milked the remaining desert daylight to record their first video postcards home, and now we're stumbling around the logistical hub of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division (2-34th BCT) in search of some more stories before bedtime.

FOB King is the temporary National Training Center home to the 334th Brigade Support Battalion, a unit comprising the brigade's transporters, maintainers, and medical professionals in its respective "Alpha," "Bravo," and "Charlie" companies.

The medical company, affectionately known as "Charlie-Med," is one level of care up from the "aid stations" found in the warfighting battalions. Out there, the medical mission is to patch 'em up good enough to get them here. There's a pharmacy here, and an X-ray machine. In addition to trauma specialists, Charlie-Med also has behavioral-health and physical-therapy professionals on staff. If they can't fix you here, they stabilize you and get you as fast as they can to an even higher-care hospital.

We roll into Charlie-Med's emergency room to find nothing but bright lights, clean floors, and a crew ready to go off-shift. The medics are game, however, to run through an impromptu full-speed training event while on camera. "It'll be hard to go back to 'real world,'" one of the journalists says later. "There's a story every step out here. Back home, we have to chase them."

Staff Sgt. Laura Schlitz of Osceola volunteers to be the patient, a simulated lower leg amputation. Looking on as the cameras are rolling, Staff Sgt. Jessica Beswick winces and chuckles with every needle stick that's attempted on her colleague. "She's so small, they're having a hard time finding a vein," the Iowa City soldier explains. "It's good training, particularly for working on Afghan patients."

After the simulation, one of the journalists asks a hard question, one about the possibility of losing patients.

"We tell people we do everything we can do," says Capt. Sean Bigler, a physician's assistant from McCook Lake, S.D. Bigler is in charge of the team receiving this evening's simulated patient. "We try to give them hope, we try to give them the faith that we will do everything that we can do to help them." It is a moment of realism and reflection, but one that quickly evaporates with a cheerful, confident smile.

That smile persists, by the way, even after Bigler realizes that his cherished University of Nebraska flag--he's a graduate--has been reversed by some Charlie-Med pranksters. Someone observes that Husker handwriting looks an awful lot like prescription pad scribbles.

For the record, Bigler says that, for show purposes, he would've chosen a different patient. "We should have gotten one of those big, beefy Midwestern Guys. We could've rolled him around the dirt and gotten him messy," says the doc. He nods toward the cameras, eyes gleaming. "Of course, what I really want to do is direct ... Doesn't everyone?"


Want to see more of this training event? Check out print and video stories from KCRG-TV9/The Cedar Rapids Gazette here, and from WHO-TV13 here.

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