Reporter's Notebook: At combat hospital, singular focus helps patient recovery
September 15, 2006
ORGUN, Afghanistan — If doctors were forbidden to marry, like Roman Catholic priests, the standard of care would likely shoot way up, according to one doctor living like a monk now: Lt. Col. Floriano Putigna, an emergency room physician at the 14th Combat Support Hospital at Bagram Air Base.
Despite the fact the hospital is situated in a rambling plywood shack, despite the fact the equipment is lesser than that of a Walter Reed, despite there being no neurosurgeon on staff, very sick patients do very well here, Floriano said.
“Our CT scanner’s old, we have a lot of obstacles. But people who have terrible severity scales, who would die in the U.S., live here,” Floriano said.
Asked why, he gave two reasons. “We don’t really think a lot about liability. You can be aggressive. It’s pure medicine,” he said.
But the top reason, he said, was the attention doctors were able to give patients in that setting.
“We don’t go home to our families here. You do rounds 10 hours a day. You can catch things. It’s attention to detail. The real success in medicine is paying attention.”
Moment of SilenceForward Operating Base Orgun-E is in the middle of the fight of the war on terror — in Patika province, Afghanistan, just a few miles west of the Pakistan border.
But the reason for its existence — the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, D.C., by Osama Bin Laden and al-Qaida — went largely unnoticed five years later.
At the precise moment on the anniversary of the attack — 5:16 p.m. local time — a siren sounded to mark what was supposed to be a moment of silence. But there was little reflection and a lot of confusion.
Soldiers walking around the Spartan base kept on walking. Afghans working on the base assumed the siren denoted what it usually did — a rocket attack — and headed for the bunkers. The siren blared for what seemed like several minutes, then a voice came over the loudspeaker.
“All clear,” it said.
The Smoothie DietTo the soldiers scattered throughout Afghanistan’s remote forward operating bases, where C-130s can’t land to resupply, there is no Baskin Robbins. There is no education center, no pizza shop, no jewelry stands, no rug bazaars.
What there is for soldiers at some FOBs is a gym and vast expanses of dust, heat, blast barriers and dirt berms to look at. They use dining facilities where the food’s not so hot, highly limited and prone to running out.
“We run out of milk a lot,” said one soldier stationed at an FOB in an eastern province.
Most of the good things — the food, the shopping, the wireless Internet — are at Bagram Air Base near Kabul. The soldiers who rarely get to “Baf,” as it’s called, think of it as a sort of paradise.
“When I go, it gets ridiculous. I have like five smoothies a day,” a soldier said.
“We were supposed to go on a mission that stopped there and another unit took our mission. We were so angry,” said another.