Wounded soldiers today have a far better chance of surviving serious injury than their counterparts in previous conflicts. Developments in medical treatment and technology mean that catastrophic injuries can be treated more quickly and effectively.
For the UK military, the war in Afghanistan was a particularly formative experience. This conflict involved 456 deaths and the serious injury of many more. The nature of the fighting meant that gunshot wounds and blast injuries caused by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were particularly common.
Medical support rapidly evolved during this conflict. Soldiers were equipped with easy-to-use first aid kit, emphasis was placed on rapid treatment and evacuation and high level care was provided at the hospital at Camp Bastion, the main British base in Afghanistan. More specialist surgical provision was concentrated at the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine in Birmingham, with further facilities for rehabilitation.
Here we give an overview of what happened when a soldier was seriously wounded in Afghanistan – from the moment of injury to coming to terms with the consequences – through the experiences of soldiers and medics themselves.
Corporal Andy Reid was serving in Helmand Province, Afghanistan with 3rd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment when he was involved in an IED blast on 13 October 2009. His injuries resulted in the amputation of both his legs and his right arm. In this film interview clip, Andy describes the moment he was wounded and the bravery of a fellow soldier in providing first aid.
When a soldier is wounded, time is of the essence. In Afghanistan, the UK military placed enormous emphasis on providing instant first aid within the ‘platinum ten minutes’ and onward evacuation by helicopter to the medical facilities of Camp Bastion within the ‘golden hour’ after injury.
When casualties were stable enough, or if their injuries required urgent specialist care, they were flown back to the UK. This stage in the medical chain is explored in this photograph by artist David Cotterrell, who spent time in Afghanistan in 2009 observing aspects of British military medical care. His images atmospherically convey that, for the sedated and unconscious casualty, this journey is often a hazy memory.
This haziness is described in the audio clip by Lance Corporal Nick Davis, who lost a leg and sustained serious injuries to his hip in an IED explosion in Afghanistan in 2009, when serving with 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards.
'I slightly came round a bit, I couldn’t open my eyes'
Hospital: Wing Commander Teresa Griffiths
British casualties needing further care after injury in Afghanistan were evacuated to the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine (RCDM) in Birmingham. This is the main specialist medical hub for the British armed forces in the UK, providing a level of surgical and general care not possible in a war zone.
In this interview clip, Wing Commander Teresa Griffiths describes the role of the RCDM in Birmingham, where she served as the officer in command of nursing between 2010 and 2013.
For serious casualties, the next stage in their journey is rehabilitation. In recent times, the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre (DMRC) at Headley Court in Surrey has been the UK military’s main facility for providing follow-up care to casualties. It has become particularly associated with British soldiers who have suffered life-changing injuries in IED explosions in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2018, the main UK military rehabilitation centre will relocate to Loughborough.
In this film interview clip, Corporal Andy Reid talks about the prosthetic legs he was given at Headley Court after injuries sustained as a result of an IED blast in Afghanistan in 2009.
Coming to terms with injury
Coming to terms with injury
Medical advances have meant soldiers have survived catastrophic injuries that previously may have been fatal. Yet there are still huge challenges, both for the soldiers coming to terms with life-changing injuries and for military and civilian medicine in providing long-term care and support.
Lance Corporal Nick Davis was seriously wounded in an IED explosion in Afghanistan in 2007. As a result of the blast he lost his right leg at the knee and he sustained serious injuries to his right hip. During his rehabilitation, he agreed to sit for a portrait that fully revealed the extent of the damage to his body.
In this audio clip, Nick reflects on the nature of his injuries, his feelings about the painting and what he hopes it will achieve.