KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — In a country steeped in conflict, quality of life often takes a back seat to mere survival — a reality that’s no less true for the men and women of Kandahar Airfield’s Role 3 hospital.
Tragedy is an almost daily reality for the doctors, nurses and soldiers at the constantly busy multi-national medical facility, but they’re responsible for their fair share of triumphs, too.
More than two-thirds of the patients at Role 3 are now comprised of local nationals injured as a result of the ongoing strife, and a great many of them are children, said Col. Danielle Savard, the Canadian soldier in command of the seven-year-old critical-care hospital.
That makes the daily grind an emotional roller-coaster, she admitted.
“How hard is it? I think it’s pretty hard on everybody,” Savard sighed.
“We get attached to those kids. Those kids did not ask to be injured. They are innocent and they are all cute kids — most of them were playing when it happened.”
Since its inception in 2002, the facility has followed the same medical rules of eligibility that it always has — coalition soldiers get priority treatment. But slowly, as the conflict here has continued to grind along, those soldiers have become the minority.
Many of the young people seeking treatment have lost arms or legs to improvised explosive devices or unexploded ordnance.
These together form the greatest perils in a country known as the most heavily mined on Earth, and seem resigned to a fate all too common for them and their friends.
Often, however, they become emotionally attached to the doctors and nurses they receive treatment from, and manage to smile despite their circumstances.
“This is something I think people need to understand: life is the most beautiful thing that we are getting, the second one being healthy, and we’re trying to give them a little bit of their health back,” smiled Savard. IEDs have claimed the lives of hundreds of coalition troops since the fall of the Taliban in 2001. More than half of the 131 Canadian soldiers killed since 2002 have died in IED blasts, which are very often fatal, regardless of whether the victim is military or civilian.
“Every time there’s a life saved, that’s our bread and butter,” said Savard, a 24-year veteran of the Canadian military who has also served in Bosnia and Eritrea.
“To me, a miracle is seeing that kid laughing when they are coming here almost destroyed. I’ve seen little kids that we thought would be paralyzed, but the neurosurgeon did the surgery and did the miracle.”