RAMADI, Iraq — Call it good timing or bad, but medic Merit Draven found himself at the center of Camp Ramadi’s largest medical emergency Thursday when a routine visit to the camp’s health center coincided with a deadly suicide attack at a nearby Iraqi police recruiting center.

Draven, a specialist with Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 54th Engineer Battalion, 130th Engineer Brigade, was escorting a patient to the camp’s “Charlie Med” health center for physical therapy when an emergency call went out to all medics on base to help treat more than 30 injured Iraqi police volunteers. Draven quickly slipped on a pair of rubber gloves and went to work treating wounds, assessing patients and drawing blood from the crowds of U.S. soldiers and Marines who volunteered to donate during the emergency.

Capt. Dirk Remensnyder, commander of Charlie Medical Company of the 2-28 Brigade Combat Team, said the call to medics was part of the center’s mass casualty plan.

“Anytime you get numbers that high, it’s overwhelming,” Remensnyder said. “But we always preplan for the worst, and this was probably the worst we’ve ever seen.”

That preplanning also provided for a “walking blood bank” of personnel who had arranged to give blood during such a crisis.

Scores of medics throughout the camp came running to help the medical center’s doctors, but Draven was among the first on the scene. A former combat infantryman and emergency medical technician, Draven said he had seen his share of medical emergencies before Thursday, but none as large.

For Draven’s part, the Sonora, Calif., native said he had barely pulled on his gloves when the first five patients were carried into the medical center, one with a missing leg and another with severe burns. Two of them were rushed into surgery as another 10 patients were carried into the center, filling all available beds.

Not long after that, another 20 patients arrived and were placed on litters in front of the center.

The first patient Draven focused on was an Iraqi man whose upper chest was studded with shrapnel and who appeared to have a badly broken right lower leg. The medic reached out and grabbed the collar of someone next to him and directed him to bandage one of the patients nearby, realizing afterward that the person he grabbed was a junior officer.

Draven said he noticed that the skin of one patient’s arm appeared to be pierced with ball bearings from the bomber’s vest.

As he treated his original patient, he said he noticed that the man was having difficulty breathing — the blast had punctured his chest, allowing air to enter the chest cavity and preventing his lungs from fully inflating. After checking with a medical officer, Draven “decompressed” the patient by inserting a needle and catheter into the man’s chest. The trapped air escaped with a “whoosh” and the man began to breathe more easily.

Over the course of the emergency, Draven said he treated eight patients with major injuries, including a blast victim who also had problems breathing due to internal bleeding. Like the first patient, Draven helped drain the chest cavity of blood by making an incision between the victim’s lower ribs, allowing a physician to insert a large plastic tube that drained the fluid.

After treating so many patients, Draven said he left the center and began walking to his vehicle when he saw a large crowd of soldiers standing around or laying on mattresses. They were there to give blood and said they needed Draven to help draw it.

In all, Draven said he drew blood from eight donors and gave four IVs to patients. He noted with pride that he didn’t miss a single vein that afternoon.

“I didn’t miss a single IV stick or a single blood draw stick,” he said.

By the time he had finished, he was surprised to see that six hours had passed.

“During the whole casualty part, the time just flew by,” he said.

Stripes in 7

around the web

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up