Sunday, June 28, 2009

Medical Corps works hard to be the best

Jun. 27, 2009
Judy Siegel-Itzkovich

After decades of avoiding public exposure, the Israel Defense Forces's Medical Corps has realized that in the 21st century it should be getting its message out. The most prominent controversies involving soldiers' health in the past decade have been claims that Navy divers contracted cancer from training in Haifa's Kishon River despite its being polluted with heavy metals; plans for the construction of a large military training base near the Ramat Hovav chemical dumping site in the Negev; and clinical testing of anthrax vaccine on soldiers without their informed consent.

And with the growing shortage of military physicians, public scrutiny and involvement of soldiers' parents, the Medical Corps has in the past year or two begun to let the sunlight in. Tat-Aluf Nachman Ash, the OC Medical Corps for almost two years, is behind its increasingly activist and open media policy. He recently invited medical correspondents to a briefing at the Tzrifin IDF base on what is new in the corps, and discussed trends and plans.

THE BRIEFING was followed by an exercise in which IDF commandos wearing "war paint" stormed hideouts of "terrorists" in a simulated Palestinian village built inside the IDF base. Four Israeli soldiers were "wounded," and medics trained on the base appeared out of nowhere, assessing which of the "victims" required the most urgent help. The "victims" playing the part moaned and called for help, pierced plastic bags full of red liquid that simulated hemorrhaging, and wore makeup that made the "bullet wounds" so realistic that for a moment this reporter wanted to run onto the "battlefield" and offer first aid.

But it was unnecessary. The medics pulled blue rubber gloves onto their hands, held bloody legs up to reduce hemorrhaging, bandaged the soldiers, opened airways with breathing tubes and slashed uniforms with a special cutter. When the exercise ended successfully, the "wounded" stood up in their underpants and happily posed with the medics and other soldiers.

ASH, WHO earned his MD degree at Tel Aviv University's Sackler Medical School and specialized in internal medicine, noted that the Medical Corps is doing everything it can to bring the best emergency treatment to soldiers on the battlefield and to speed evacuation to hospitals. It has purchased high-quality foldable aluminum stretchers to keep soldiers with spinal injuries immobile; "smart" bandages that stop bleeding; developed a compact, portable device with ceramic pipes that produces oxygen in the field for treating the wounded, replacing heavy balloons that had to be carried; a thin blanket that when removed from a plastic bag turns warm in a chemical reaction; and a small battery-operated field device that ventilates the wounded on the battlefield and is so simple to operate that any medic can use it.

ANOTHER PROJECT being carried out with Core Dynamics, a Nes Ziona biotechnology company, is the development of freeze-dried blood processed from a pint of each soldier's blood at enlistment and then taken in a small bag to the battlefield to be reconstituted if he is wounded for immediate life-saving infusion. Ash said that wounded soldiers are now evacuated much more quickly, often undergoing blood transfusions and other procedures en route to the hospital.

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