The Lasting Wounds of War
Roadside Bombs Have Devastated Troops and Doctors Who Treat Them
By Karl Vick
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, April 27, 2004; Page A01
While attention remains riveted on the rising count of Americans killed in action -- more than 100 so far in April -- doctors at the main combat support hospital in Iraq are reeling from a stream of young soldiers with wounds so devastating that they probably would have been fatal in any previous war.
More and more in Iraq, combat surgeons say, the wounds involve severe damage to the head and eyes -- injuries that leave soldiers brain damaged or blind, or both, and the doctors who see them first struggling against despair.
For months the gravest wounds have been caused by roadside bombs -- improvised explosives that negate the protection of Kevlar helmets by blowing shrapnel and dirt upward into the face. In addition, firefights with guerrillas have surged recently, causing a sharp rise in gunshot wounds to the only vital area not protected by body armor.
The neurosurgeons at the 31st Combat Support Hospital measure the damage in the number of skulls they remove to get to the injured brain inside, a procedure known as a craniotomy. "We've done more in eight weeks than the previous neurosurgery team did in eight months," Poffenbarger said. "So there's been a change in the intensity level of the war."
Numbers tell part of the story. So far in April, more than 900 soldiers and Marines have been wounded in Iraq, more than twice the number wounded in October, the previous high. With the tally still climbing, this month's injuries account for about a quarter of the 3,864 U.S. servicemen and women listed as wounded in action since the March 2003 invasion.
About half the wounded troops have suffered injuries light enough that they were able to return to duty after treatment, according to the Pentagon.
The others arrive on stretchers at the hospitals operated by the 31st CSH. "These injuries," said Lt. Col. Stephen M. Smith, executive officer of the Baghdad facility, "are horrific."
100 killed, 600 wounded.
And the Iraqis have 800 dead and god knows how many wounded.
Our war in Iraq is not going well, except to the White House.
posted by Steve @ 10:04:00 AM