Learn the Signs
Redstone Arsenal, Alabama
With traumatic injuries, such as those seen in combat or vehicle accidents, it’s hard to know which injured Soldier needs care first. Sometimes, however, the Soldier that looks OK is the one who’s in most desperate need of help. Although the situation below didn’t occur in combat, it happened on duty and under circumstances similar to many mishaps in theater — a vehicle overturned while the driver was speeding. Read on for the lessons I learned the hard way.
It was a cold, windy day with blinding snow as we drove downrange on an ammunition training mission. Everything was running smoothly, and the weather was actually normal for that time of year in Alaska. Unfortunately, things were about to take a tragic turn.
As my partner and I rounded a curve on a steep grade, we noticed a vehicle from another company had overturned. We saw two young Soldiers — the vehicle’s only occupants — had been thrown clear of the vehicle, which was starting to burn. One of the Soldiers was trying to help the other, who was bleeding badly and screaming in obvious pain. I covered and dressed that Soldier’s injuries as best as I could.
The other Soldier did not appear to be as seriously injured and was walking and talking clearly. But there were two things about him I will never forget. He had several deep cuts, but they weren’t bleeding badly. Also, his eyes were big, black and vacant. Since he was walking and talking, I didn’t think he was hurt badly.
Our radio wasn’t working well enough to give emergency personnel our location, so we loaded the Soldiers into our vehicle and headed for the emergency room. Both men were placed on gurneys and rushed inside. The doctor treated the screaming and bloody Soldier first. The other Soldier was told to wait.
My partner and I went back to work but returned to the hospital later that day to check on the men. We were shocked to learn the Soldier who hadn’t appeared badly injured died while waiting for treatment. The other Soldier was doing well in the recovery room.
I was crushed. What did I do wrong? What happened? I knew that man. We weren’t great friends, but he was a fellow Soldier. One of the nurses took me aside and explained what happened. Apparently, the Soldier died from internal bleeding, trauma and shock. If the doctors had known he wasn’t bleeding from his wounds, they would’ve treated him differently. I told the nurse I knew he wasn’t bleeding, but I didn’t think it indicated anything serious. A man died because I didn’t know what to tell them.
I was a young, impressionable buck sergeant back then. In the years following that accident, I never failed to share this story with my Soldiers, hoping they wouldn’t repeat my mistake. Learn the signs of shock and basic first aid for combat injuries. Take care of yourself and your fellow Soldiers and remember that sometimes things are worse — much worse — than they appear.
According to the Mayo Clinic, shock may be brought on by a sudden drop in blood flow through the body due to trauma, heatstroke, blood loss, an allergic reaction, severe infection, poisoning, severe burns or other causes. If untreated, it can lead to permanent organ damage or even death. Learn the basics of treating shock by visiting the Mayo Clinic’s website at https://www.mayoclinic.org/first-aid/first-aid-shock/basics/art-20056620.