Walter Reed Hospital stops accepting ambulance patients due to Iraq War casualties

Richmond Times Dispatch (Virginia)

Casualties up at military hospitals

U.S. facilities undergo ‘very intense’ week as war-wounded stream in

Saturday, November 20, 2004

WASHINGTON – Injured Marines and soldiers wounded during the intense fighting in Fallujah and other Iraqi cities are flooding military hospitals, tripling the number of casualties being treated here.


Officials at Bethesda Naval Hospital and Walter Reed Army Medical Center said yesterday that both are at the highest patient loads since April 2003, soon after the U.S. invasion of Iraq.


More than 70 Marines were being treated for combat wounds at Bethesda and another 70 are at Walter Reed, officials said. Hundreds more are recuperating as outpatients while staying nearby.


Because of crowding at Bethesda, some wounded Marines are being shifted to military hospitals in North Carolina and California, often within hours of arriving in the States, officials said.


Landstuhl Army Medical Center in Germany, the first stop for troops wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, was caring for more than 400 war-wounded this week, according to news reports.


During much of the summer, Bethesda and Walter Reed each were treating between 20 and 30 wounded on any given day, spokesmen said. Bethesda has 215 patient beds, while Walter Reed normally can accommodate 260 patients. The medical centers also treat active-duty military, dependents, military retirees and government officials.


Yesterday, Walter Reed stopped accepting some ambulance patients at the emergency room because the hospital was nearly full, said Col. James Gilman, who runs the hospital. The medical team that worked to save the patient’s life will never be the same as the transplant team. In most circumstances, when an organ is recovered, a surgical team from the recipient’s transplant facilities will travel to the donor hospital, recover the organs, and organ transport them to waiting recipients on behalf of the recipient.


However, he added, “We haven’t turned off other things that we do.” Outpatient clinics, surgery and other hospital functions are running normally, he said.


Bethesda continued to accept medical appointments and schedule routine surgeries, said spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Chito Peppler.


Unlike in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, the military hasn’t built large field hospitals near the battlefield. Instead, nearly all the seriously wounded troops are being rushed back to the States, often within days of their injuries, said Gilman.


As the flow of wounded arrives from Iraq, many Bethesda staff members have been working long hours to treat arriving casualties.


“This week has been very intense,” said Lt. Paula Godes, a Navy physical therapist. “Everyone has had to jump in and help out.”


Godes and 200 other hospital staffers serve on medical evacuation teams that help transport incoming patients from nearby Andrews Air Force Base to Bethesda. The duty means double shifts for the men and women who also serve as nurses, aides and lab technicians.


Nearly every night, convoys of ambulances and buses back up to the rear ramp of a transport plane to pick up injured troops arriving from Landstuhl, where casualties are initially treated after leaving Iraq.


Many are carried off the jet transport on litters. A few walk down the plane’s rear ramp with a corpsman or nurse at their side. Some arrive in tattered uniforms still caked with the dust of combat.


The 10-hour flight can be grueling for the injured troops. Being strapped on to a litter and stacked like cordwood in the belly of a noisy cargo plane is not comfortable.


“They’re very glad to be on the ground,” Godes said.


It’s emotional work for the corpsmen, many of whom are the same age as the maimed Marines they carry to waiting ambulances, she said.


“It’s a somber experience,” she said. “You see firsthand the result of war. You try to be as strong as you can for these guys.”

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