Nurse reflects on saving lives

Capt Sandy Robinson works with the medical team on a patient in Afghanistan.

Capt Sandy Robinson works with the medical team on a patient in Afghanistan.

Captain Sandy Robinson is counting down the days to retirement, about 1,200 are left. Retirement is driven by her desire to now put her family first after 26 years of military service.

“After I came back from Afghanistan, I knew the most important thing was family. I’ve since looked after my 85-year-old parents, and had a baby – I put all that on hold throughout my career, and I can’t wait to retire, get back to Esquimalt and be together.”

She is currently posted at 14 Wing Greenwood as the 2IC of clinical services.

Capt Robinson was posted from Esquimalt to the Kandahar multinational medical clinic from July 2006 through February 2007. Her rotation experienced the heaviest load of mass casualty events to date in Afghanistan.

She says the medical team handled those casualties in a plywood hospital with attached trailers with extending walls, and nothing painted.

“It was gross,” she says. “Plywood is porous; it was about 55 degrees outside, with the air conditioner inside bringing it down to about 40 degrees, and there were flies.”

But, she adds, “It was the most professionally fulfilling thing I’ve ever done.”

She credits her medical peers, who all worked at the highest calibre, for the camaraderie and the satisfaction of being able to meet the challenge of handling multiple traumas that arrived through bay doors. Together, they provided reassurance and care to injured soldiers, and contacted family at home on their behalf to share information.

“It’s like being on a baseball team, and practicing – and finally, there’s a game. But, you don’t know if you can do it. Afghanistan was the epitome of 20 years of training. I don’t feel like I ever have to prove anything to anyone – I’ve done it.”

When the pagers went off, 14 medical staff went from quarters to the hospital, and then waited.

“You sing and do silly things waiting in the trauma bays for whatever is coming in. When a padre comes by in the middle of what turns out to be a 36-hour shift with no food, and offers you a frozen Mars bar ice cream treat, you say, ‘God bless the padres,’” she says. “I can’t even imagine being a soldier out front. We were comfortable.”

She and her team also attended to injured Afghans and allied soldiers. She recalls convincing an injured Afghan that surgery would save his life, explaining that Canadian medical staff wasn’t going to kill him while he was under. She watched another Afghan man stay with his daughter for days as she recovered. She held a hardcore American infantryman’s hand and called his mother, who turned out to be a nurse.

“You’re talking with her about all his assessments and that he’s going to be Okay, but it’s also about her 21-year-old baby,” she says of that situation.

When asked what was Canadians’ lasting legacy in Afghanistan?

“We saved lives,” she says.

Sara Keddy, Aurora Managing Editor

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