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You may ask yourself what on Earth a physician does in a war zone. I certainly did as I donned my body armour and climbed aboard a TriStar, helmet at the ready and weapon safely locked away in the hold. As I set off for several hot months in the desert, I envisaged being the poor cousin to the trauma surgeons: little did I expect to see quite so much medicine, let alone a wealth of neurology. Here's a snapshot of my time away.
The majority of UK Forces serving in Afghanistan work from Camp Bastion (figure 1). Based in Helmand, the camp is supposedly the size of Reading (UK) and about as exciting (figure 2). Far from home, far from anything, in fact, this was to be my home for the next few months. I had come to work in the military ‘Role 3’ hospital, a large corrugated steel assembly whose simple exterior belied the high-tech equipment and dedicated staff on the inside (figure 3). I was to be the medical registrar. Yet, as with all military jobs, the need to muck in was to prove essential.
Before being cut loose on patients, I had to acclimatise. Oddly, this involved disembarking a darkened plane in the dead of night, which did anything but orientate me. After a night in a sleeping bag, the real work began: days of lectures and training modules, including time on the ranges to ready my weapon. Unlike smarter medical registrars, I had opted for a rifle rather than a pistol. The folly of my ways was soon made clear—with an increasing threat from ‘green on blue’ attacks (ie, attacks on allied troops by insurgents disguised as members of the Afghan police …
Competing interests None.
Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.