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April 1, 2006 1:52 PM   Subscribe

Stitching Together Lives Torn Apart. In a war with no fixed front, military hospitals in Iraq are closer than ever to the places where American troops are felled — most often by roadside bombs, but also by rockets, mortars and gunshots. Many of the most seriously wounded would have died in previous wars. In Vietnam, soldiers often bled to death before reaching a hospital. Because the wounded in Iraq are evacuated so quickly, 96% of those who make it alive to the Balad and Baghdad hospitals are saved. On the battlefield, medics are better-prepared. The lowliest grunt is given specialized lifesaver training. New blood-clotting agents and improved field bandages have helped save lives.
The amputation rate in Iraq is double that of previous wars. Many soldiers face the rest of their lives without arms or legs, or with severe brain damage. The LATimes special reporting: The Lifeline (graphic photo), part one of three.
posted by PenguinBukkake (20 comments total)

 

Ouch, Eide.

Me-fite digaman actually wrote a great story about this in Wired Magazine, Feb 2005. Read here.

From his article:

The good news is that fewer GIs are dying of their injuries than in any modern conflict. In Vietnam, one out of every three soldiers hurt in combat was shipped home in a body bag. In Iraq, it's one in eight. Credit the use of body armor and a dramatic increase in the speed of the Air Force's evacuation chain - the relays of Black Hawk helicopters and transport jets that ferry the wounded from the front lines to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, where soldiers receive care before being sent on to hospitals like Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC.

The bad news is pain. The injuries suffered by those who survive are more severe than in previous conflicts. High-velocity bullets, rocket-propelled grenades, and so-called improvised explosive devices cause tissue damage that is particularly excruciating. Although Interceptor body armor and Kevlar helmets are highly effective at deflecting AK-47 rounds and RPG shrapnel away from the "kill zones" of the torso and head, soldiers' arms and legs are left unshielded for the sake of mobility. The success of body armor has had the unintended effect of creating a new class of survivable physical trauma. Operation Iraqi Freedom has become a war on the extremities - a litany of exploded muscles, shattered bones, and severed limbs.

While the process of extracting injured troops from combat zones has been streamlined, the methods for relieving their agony during evacuation has lagged. Until recently, the military's approach to pain control hadn't changed much since the days when the battlefield anesthetics of choice were rum, ether, and narcotics. "In the Civil War, the answer was general anesthesia and morphine," says Chester "Trip" Buckenmaier, an acute pain specialist at Walter Reed. "Two hundred years later, we can do things that doctors then would never have dreamed of - but the answer to pain is general anesthesia and morphine. We're still in the Dark Ages."

posted by bukharin at 2:23 PM on April 1, 2006


What?? This can't be true! I just read an article in Newsweek about "what the soldiers see" which featured a picture of happy marines jumping off a waterfall.

Do you mean... the marines really aren't jumping off of waterfalls with rainbows and bunnies?



...but....msnbc has the photos right there... that must be what war is like for the marines....
posted by Raoul.Duke at 3:27 PM on April 1, 2006


Sorry....right here
posted by Raoul.Duke at 3:28 PM on April 1, 2006


The marines do see waterfalls with rainbows and bunnies, but that is mostly due to blunt trauma to the head.
posted by b1tr0t at 4:32 PM on April 1, 2006


I'm sure we're using all this super medical technology on the tens of thousands of innocent civilians that our occupation is directly or indirectly blowing up. Right?
posted by squirrel at 4:48 PM on April 1, 2006


I just read an article in Newsweek about "what the soldiers see" which featured a picture of happy marines jumping off a waterfall.

The same photo essay that showed a marine kicking down a door in Fallujah?

But feel free to cherrypick to make your point. Nothing bad has ever come from that.
posted by Cyrano at 4:51 PM on April 1, 2006


Just out of interest is there any stable democracy besides Japan where the western world has come in and installed it?

To me it seems like installing democracy in a country rarely works. People have to take it themselves either peacefully or by force so they appreciate the freedom and work hard to make sure living under a dictatorship or an opressive political regime never happens again.
posted by Talez at 4:56 PM on April 1, 2006


In other news, grass is green.
posted by squirrel at 5:14 PM on April 1, 2006


Intalling a democracy. Right. They can't even get Democrats and Republicans to work tegether in unison.
posted by snsranch at 5:21 PM on April 1, 2006


To me it seems like installing democracy in a country rarely works. People have to take it themselves either peacefully or by force so they appreciate the freedom and work hard to make sure living under a dictatorship or an opressive political regime never happens again.

Stable democracies were created by the United States after World War II in Japan and Western Europe because those countries were completely devastated, their infrastructure and economy completely wiped out. The US, on the other hand, had nothing to rebuild, and was rolling in wealth. So, we offered massive gifts of money to these defeated countries to help them rebuild, so long as they pledged to always be our allies and to be free-market capitalist "democracies." (Other countries who received aid got them in the form of long-term loans that they are still struggling to pay off and which has drained their national resources so that they remain and will always remain "developing countries" ripe for the harvesting of raw material by developed nations.) So yes, theoretically, if a country is completely destroyed and you offer them a lot of money to rebuild, you can create a stable democracy... but Japan and Germany had long been coherent nation-states with national identity, their sectarian and racial tensions already resolved one way or another... As for a country like Iraq, drawn arbitrarily by British imperialists, held together for years only by a strong-arm dictatorship (supported by the US with weapons and cash to defeat Iran, need I say), when you rip out its central nervous system and allow for a vacuum of power, all you're going to have is major instability and attempts by rival border countries like Syria and Iran to build influence there. Iraq seems to have no sense of itself as a country (as the Germans or Japanese do) but instead as rival religious and tribal factions who have in some cases been warring for centuries and who now have an arena for open power struggle. Each situation is unique and there is no formula, but let us say that our policy towards nations depends a great deal on our particular economic and strategic needs in the region.

As for appreciating freedom and working hard to make sure no oppressive regimes happen again.... Americans could use a lesson in this themselves. When a people feels insecure, as in the case of Iraq, or in the states after 9/11, or in Russia after the revolution and civil war and famine, or in Germany after WWI and massive inflation and unemployment, they will all too easily bow before a regime that promises security at whatever cost.
posted by bukharin at 5:23 PM on April 1, 2006


The same photo essay that showed a marine kicking down a door in Fallujah?

Yes. But the widely, widely distributed Newsweek magazine, the magazine that published the article "what the soldiers see", decided to use that happy, waterfall picture.

Do you wonder why they didn't feature a body-filled ditch, burnt corpses, downed marines, or any other things that soldiers really see?

Call it cherrypicking, or just realize that the American public is so hopelessly fed bullshit day in/day out....
posted by Raoul.Duke at 6:03 PM on April 1, 2006


I'm sure we're using all this super medical technology on the tens of thousands of innocent civilians that our occupation is directly or indirectly blowing up. Right?

squirrel, a family friend is an Army Reserve doctor who's done three tours. They do treat Iraqis under certain criteria (this is not word for word): a) when they're not busy with our own; b) when the patients need an advanced trauma center that Iraqi civilian hospitals cannot provide; c) when the patients are well enough to be moved. They do a lot of orthopedic work, helping with limb amputations and so forth. Also, they do outreach to Iraqi civilians providing basic medical care.

Google "Balad+Iraqi.patient" and you'll find numerous stories.
posted by dhartung at 7:08 PM on April 1, 2006


The amputation rate in Iraq is double that of previous wars.

That may be true for 20th Century wars. From The Boston Globe:
Data compiled by the US Senate, and included in the 2005 defense appropriations bill in support of a request for increased funding for the care of amputees at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, reveal that 6 percent of those wounded in Iraq have required amputations, compared with a rate of 3 percent for past wars.
A War Amputees blog post (source), also mentions that 6% of Iraq-Afghanistan wounded are amputees.

However, the Civil War was numerically and proportionately America's deadliest conflict, with 600,000 to 700,000 dead among a national population of 32 million (less than 1/9th of the current U.S. population.) Of the 2.5 to 2.75 million Union* soldiers who participated in the war, roughly 360,000 died (more from disease than combat) and 280,000 were wounded. Of those wounded, about 11% were amputees. From Medical Care, Battle Wounds, and Disease:
Of the approximately 175,000 wounds to the extremities received among Federal troops, about 30,000 led to amputation; roughly the same proportion occurred in the Confederacy.
...
Contrary to popular myth, most amputees did not experience the surgery without anesthetic. Ample doses of chloroform were administered beforehand; the screams heard were usually from soldiers just informed that they would lose a limb or who were witness to the plight of other soldiers under the knife.
...
While most surgeons were aware of a relationship between cleanliness and low infection rates, they did not know how to sterilize their equipment. Due to a frequent shortage of water, surgeons often went days without washing their hands or instruments, thereby passing germs from one patient to another as he treated them. The resulting vicious infections, commonly known as "surgical fevers," are believed to have been caused largely by Staphylococcus aureus and Streptococcus pyogenes, bacterial cells which generate pus, destroy tissue, and release deadly toxins into the bloodstream. Gangrene, the rotting away of flesh caused by the obstruction of blood flow, was also common after surgery. Despite these fearful odds, nearly 75 percent of the amputees survived.
*No disregard intended towards Confederate casualties—blue or gray, everyone bleeds red—but Union records were more accurate.
posted by cenoxo at 9:11 PM on April 1, 2006


That's as may be, cenoxo, but I don't think many people would think much of the argument, "Hey, we're doing better than the 1860s."
posted by Target Practice at 12:50 AM on April 2, 2006


I wonder what concept have these people of war, now that they have experienced it.

Somehow I hope that the jingoism and delusions were sweeped away by losing a limb, but I wouldn't bet on that.
posted by elpapacito at 1:54 AM on April 2, 2006


Because it's worth mentioning, well, as often as possible:

Current number of reported civilian deaths in Iraq (i.e. surely a low estimate): 33,814 - 37,936.

Current number of coalition casualities: 2537.

Current cost of the occupation: ~$272.172bn + ~£3bn-£5bn(?) (or ~$1trillion-$2trillion?) + US/UK reputation.

Iraq_has_functional_government?: Gay immigrant abortion!
posted by Drexen at 5:23 AM on April 2, 2006


Target Practice said:...I don't think many people would think much of the argument, "Hey, we're doing better than the 1860s."

Neither do I: the greater tragedy of any one war is no justification for any other. However, the fact that the Civil War had a higher percentage of amputees (at 11%) refutes the idea that Iraq (at 6%) has double the amputation rate of previous American wars. Not true: just dig a little deeper into history.

One major point of pb's FPP is that improved training, equipment, and medical care have caused a higher percentage of American casualties to survive combat in Iraq. Until wars are no longer fought (or started), that definitely qualifies as "better."
posted by cenoxo at 12:24 PM on April 2, 2006


Call it cherrypicking, or just realize that the American public is so hopelessly fed bullshit day in/day out....

Oh, I'll grant you that. And I haven't seen the dead-tree Newsweek version yet. But I know that the soldiers and marines over there do find the occasional moment when they can forget where they are and what they're doing and can actually find a little bit of fun among all the mess. It's just as real as the burned bodies or downed marines, and I don't see the harm in showing it along with the nasty stuff.
posted by Cyrano at 6:45 PM on April 2, 2006


I used to take some meagre comfort in the death toll being significantly lower than in Vietnam - it sort of suggested things weren't as dire. This kind of takes a fair chunk of wind out of that sail - the death toll doesn't reflect the intensity of the war very comparitively.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:57 PM on April 2, 2006


No, I think that Raoul.Duke is still cheryypicking and probably willfully misrepresenting. He completelly missed the ironic comment about nothing bad has ever come from cherrypicking. "You can call it cherrrypicking, but I call it truth.", said Cheney about the WMD intel the administration presented to the nation (this is not literal). Anyway, the article is specifically about the photographs taken by GIs and not specifically about what soldiers see. If the photos that Newsweek ran seemed disproportionately about fun and sightseeing, then it just maybe, just maybe might be the case that the photos taken by the GIs are themselves disproportionately about fun and sightseeing.

I don't doubt that the US gov. is slanting the news we get out of Iraq. Until I see more evidence, I don't think this Newsweek article is an example. And can I repeat the underscoring of the folly of confirmation bias?
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 6:38 AM on April 3, 2006


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