(This is a modified repost from Debbie Wilson’s Family Brain Injury Blog)
“The nurses can’t get away from the casualties of war,” said Mary Ellen Doherty, a Ridgefielder and professor of nursing at WestConn who co-wrote Nurses in War: Voices from Iraq and Afghanistan. “The nurses get post-traumatic stress disorder, too. You hear about the soldiers coming back with PTSD, but you don’t hear about the nurses,” she said. “Their job, day in and day out, is to take care of people—whether it’s the person who has no legs left, or the child that is burned, or it’s the guys in the Humvee and they went over an IUD and the whole Humvee blew and they’re missing arms and legs, and some of them are severely burned.”
The book was co-written by Dr. Doherty and her twin sister, Dr. Scannell-Desch, a retired colonel in the Air Force nursing corps, who is now coordinator of graduate and undergraduate studies at the Adelphi University School of Nursing in Pougheepsie, N.Y. It is based on the experiences of 37 military nurses serving in Iraq and Afghanistan—34 women and three men. Although the nurses quoted in the book were given invented names, the reports are first-hand—collected for academic research before the idea of a book took shape.
“The most powerful thing is the words of the nurses,” Dr. Doherty said. “I feel like we were the vehicle, but this is the nurses’ book.” The nurses witnessed carnage on a scale that only the battlefield can produce, and the book is filled with stories like this one: “We got a horrible call from the Marines, and we couldn’t really make out what they were saying on the radio except that they were very upset,” a Navy nurse recalls. “Anytime Marines get hurt, they are upset. But this was different; we couldn’t hear anything they were saying because there was so much screaming. The Humvees came around the corner, and we could see the patient’s head was all wrapped and bleeding profusely…Finally, we get this patient on the table, and we cut through the uniform, and we see breasts, and this is a woman Marine. She was the only woman in this unit, and had just gotten promoted to sergeant. A sniper got her, and blew off half of her head. There wasn’t much we could do. She was a pretty girl, what was left of her. The back of her head was completely gone.”
Dr. Doherty recently received a Connecticut State University Board of Regents research award for her work on Nurses in War and also The Lived Experience of Widowhood During Pregnancy, a study on pregnant women who lost spouses in Iraq, Afghanistan and the 9/11 attacks. She says she and her sister hope their book draws needed attention to the effect of war on those who care for wounded soldiers: “Nurses are a population that hasn’t really been looked at…We feel that the American people, and people all over the world, need to know about the contributions of the nurses, and also how this alters the nurses’ lives forever, just like it alters the soldiers’ lives.”