July 16, 2008

OML Answers 911 From Air Force "Granny" Chief Nurse Mentor

Text courtesy of Chief Nurse mentor, Lt.COL Susan Bassett (Barksdale AFB), who teaches ANA (Afghanistan National Army) nurses at the Afghan Army Hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Photo credit: MAJ Randle McBay USAF

Thank you Operation Medical Libraries, on behalf of all these Afghan people, for all your goodwill. I will be on leave for three weeks, but my team will take care of any of these shipments that come in during that time. I am going home to my husband and then we will travel around to see my three kids, their spouses and my 4 wonderful grandchildren. It has been a relatively odd situation to have Granny deployed to the war zone....so the little ones are all anxious to see that I am really still alive and well.

As soon as I get back from leave our pharmacist and I are going to begin an English medical terminology course. I cringe to think how that will go. There is just no way to express how rudimentary it is to try to teach over here. Their style of nursing is approximately 1940's. When we came their only texts were dated around 1916. Every little thing is an obstacle---like I really wanted the nurses to chart vital signs daily....but they had a very difficult time understanding how the graph paper works since there were only five marks, not ten between the whole numbers.

Another interesting fact is that the nurses do NO documentation....meaning even the medications that are given are not written down anywhere; prescription labels are not printed for meds since the soldiers are mostly illiterate--just hash marks for how many pills to take each day. But then, there are no pill bottles either, so they just roll a small piece of newspaper into a cone, put the pills in and then fold the top over and write the hash marks on the outside. Isn't that creative?

Although we are in the middle of a war zone and the fighting in this area is horrendous, the people we deal with every day are absolutely delightful....so chivalrous and thoughtful. They insist on serving me chai at least 4 times a day "because I'm old". Their average length of life is in the early 40's; 1 in 8 women in childbirth die, 1 of every 5 babies will die before reaching school age. It is pretty tough to see such abject third world conditions for such delightful people.

People often ask me how the Afghan nurses (all men) accept me. Some of our younger girls do have some problems with not being really listened to, but I freely talk about my family and I find I get a great deal of respect because of my age....and also my family status....and maybe a little from 33 years in nursing!

This has been a unique and truly rewarding experience. Here are three photographs that I think display prime mentorship---The first photo was taken the other day when the ANA landed its first medivac helicopter to bring patients to the ANA hospital. In the second photo, I was mentoring ANA nurses on bedside nursing care. In the third photo, we were tending to a Code patient (apply defibrillator paddles and shock with electric current).....if you look closely you will see my hand under the Afghan nurse's hand on the paddle so he couldn't do anything until I was truly ready! The Afghans are making wonderous progress!

I am very proud of our blossoming little library, which right now is only two shelving units in the corner of a conference room. There is a really nice table and chairs in the corner as well. With all of the books we are receiving from Operation Medical Libraries, more shelving units will need to be added. I am wondering, does anyone have the little library checkout cards and the pockets that you stick in the books? I brought some myself before, but with all of your generousity and goodness, I no longer have any left. Teaching the Afghans the basics of library procedures is interesting, to say the least.

Another BIG need are SIMPLE books (preschool-5th grade) that I can use to teach English as a second language, such as a child's dictionary with pictures along with the simple words explained. I probably have about 10-15 people who have come to my basic introduction to English kind of classes. I have another 10 or so that are at an intermediate level. We work through interpreters (4 of which are physicians themselves, and 3 are also nurses). The physicians and the physician-interpreters all have fair/moderate understanding of English from their schooling--especially the medical/pharmacological words. The Afghan administration highly supports any efforts to expand their English so we do classes whenever we can.

Do you ever get physical therapy, pharmacology, radiology/ultrasound or dental books/journals. We have all those specialties as well and I would be happy to accept those. Of course, the very best for us are the pictoral type of books/atlas etc. Many of these folks can sound out English words, but they don't know the meanings.

Anything you send, be it medical books or school books/supplies or shoes or clothes, will be met with absolute delight. I have been so pleased at how Americans, if they really think their donations are getting into the hands of the needy, are ready and willing to send things my way. You guys are no exception and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.

Thank you.
Lt Col Susan Bassett, USAF, NC (stationed in Afghanistan until January 2009 )
RCAC/Regional Hospital
APO AE 09355

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