Even with Veterans Day here and the U.S. slowly inching towards ever more elaborate military engagement against ISIS, many Americans would just as soon forget about the U.S.’ long engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan. But for people like Carol and Michael Weingarten, it’s not so easy.
Carol is an associate professor of nursing at Villanova University, while Michael is chief of vascular surgery at Drexel University’s College of Medicine. The married couple both volunteered at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, in Southwestern Germany, the largest military hospital outside of the U.S., to serve wounded soldiers and veterans returning from conflicts in the Middle East. Both were civilians.
“In an inner city trauma center we see a lot of penetrating injuries such as gunshots and stab wounds and motor vehicle accidents,” said Michael Weingarten, recalling his transition to life in a military setting. “The typical injury over there is from improvised explosives devices, which have devastating effects on these soldiers. You don’t see anything like this in the U.S.”
Michael Weingarten described the hospital as a point on a kind of modern “medical conveyor belt.” Injured soldiers would first receive primary care in the field, before being flown in what he called a “flying ICU” to the Air Force’s Ramstein Air Base, near Landstuhl.
The closest military hospital complex for injured soldiers returning from frontlines in Iraq and Afghanistan, Landstuhl became the main stopover for patients bound for more sophisticated hospitals in the U.S., with average stays lasting a mere 96 hours. Carol worked with the Wounded Warrior project, providing direct assistance and counseling to veterans after they had been stitched up by surgeons like her husband. But although she wasn’t dealing with a strenuous combat ER, she, too, was struck by the chaotic churn of the military hospital.
“What I learned there was that excellent care was being delivered in an atmosphere of constant change,” said Carol Weingarten. “Staff were changing as tours of duty changed, patients were always changing. It was an atmosphere unlike anything I’ve seen in the civilian world.” Although both are now working back in the U.S., Carol says she and a dozen Villanova nurses still keep in touch with nurses at Landstuhl, via Skype, another reflection of how medical practices are changing in the modern age, even within the notoriously cloistered military hospitals. Those advances mean a lot for the soldiers who end up at places like Landstuhl.
“I saw really incredible medical care,” said Michael Weingarten. “These soldiers in previous wars probably would not have survived, but now they are surviving.”