First exposure to war injuries
Treating war victims: a learning experience
As a medical student or as a doctor, I was never taught nor did I study about War injuries, their implications or the principles of their management. We grew up and learnt medicine and surgery during peaceful times when these were not seen. The initial exposure to these gruesome circumstances was dreadful and horrendous. It was my duty to attend to these casualties as they were brought to hospital.
Suddenly one morning in July 1985 a landmine buried on the main road between Polonnaruwa and Batticaloa was exploded by the terrorists at a point called Punani as an army jeep carrying six soldiers passed over it. The six victims of a landmine blast were brought to the Polonnaruwa Hospital. They were soldiers of the Sinha Regiment of the Sri Lanka Army. Three were dead on admission with mutilated bodies. The others had major injuries. It was my duty to do something that I’ve never even seen done. The typical surgical educational quip is see one, do one, teach one but I hadn’t even seen one. I treated the three soldiers who were injured. Following the basic principles of surgery I knew I had to save life first and then save the limb afterwards. I attended to them to the best of my ability with the basic facilities and staff that were available to me.
This was just the beginning. With time, there was more and more violence and more casualties being admitted to the hospital. We had to be prepared as a team to attend to any number and any type of casualty that was brought in. My staff at the hospital gave me full support. We learnt about Triage, which is the sorting of casualties and their treatment according to the severity of the injury. We also learnt how to attend to mass casualties. Being the most senior doctor there at that time I was the Triage Officer and I had to decide the priorities of care.
The explosion of bombs caused mutilating injuries and devastation. Many casualties were admitted simultaneously. Some were in a state of shock, others were dead on admission. There were also victims with burns caused by the heat generated by the explosion. These were extensive burns and the patients were admitted in a state of shock, requiring urgent and active resuscitation. Shrapnel incorporated in the explosive device or those from the surrounding areas like pieces of glass, wood, brick, masonry etc, caused penetrating injuries of the body affecting the head, trunk and the limbs; These, too, required urgent surgery.
The management of war injuries at this Base Hospital was a learning experience. It was a case of learning on the job and also educating myself and others in my team about the correct management of these injuries. But how? There were no computers, internet leave alone smart phones or a reference library. I had to get back to the book shelf at the library 240 Km away in Colombo and reach out to books and articles on war injuries. I learnt the correct techniques that should be employed in managing these injuries. This no doubt added to my surgical experience which I would not have gathered in any other hospital except in a hospital treating war casualties.
Dear Reader, you might want to read my next story, where I speak about the first Military Ward opened in Sri Lanka : Military Ward opened in Polonnaruwa – 1986
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Key words : land mines, injuries, blast injuries, history of conflict in Sri Lanka. managing war injuries.
16 thoughts on “First exposure to war injuries”
You are a nations asset, Uncle Gamini!
Amazing Sir you have served in pollannaruwa during the height of the war and you have saved so many lives of the soldiers with your sheer dedication and passion for your profession as a eminent Surgeon and one of the best the country has produced. May God bless you.
No politician ever won a war! It was the soldiers that sacrificed their lives for the nation, saving their lives is the most noble task of a doctor & you have done it without as much of a murmur. You will remain the hero in the thoughts and mind of that soldier whose life you saved.
Dr G G , my deepest respect & thanks for your dedication to the soldiers and our small nation Sri Lanka.
God bless you.
Ajit – Thank you, Keep on reading, many stories from the war front to follow. Gamini
The Lord will bless you & your loved ones for the dedicated service you have provided to those injured in the ethnic war.
You’ve had experiences I can’t ever imagine, the horrific injuries you have seen.
You are absolutely right about war. It must be used only as a last resort, as life, under certain conditions of injustice, must be challenged or the consequences may become horrific. This is why everything must be done that would be supportive of justice for all, regardless of language, religious or ethnic division.
I believe that this is the challenge of our times.
Amazing feat, proud to have him serve our nation and thankyou for enlightening us of your life’s works
I’m proud to have a friend like you. You have done a great service to our motherland and a very precious asset to the country. Thank you for all this and may God Bless you and your family.
Kumar de Silva
I continue to admire the work of Gamini and the meticulous record he has kept about it. While the document remains online, a printed book will be a landmark as monumental as those of Robert Knox, R L Spittei and the like. Gamini should get it printed without any further delay.
Thank you very much for sharing your insights and reflections on another side of war, which we hardly hear about.
Some of us are gifted with talent, knowledge and expertise to save lives. Dr. Gamini is one of them. All humanity must be grateful to this healer.
Undoubtedly, a Divine Hand prepared you to face all these in an ill equipped hospital.
All that was available was your FRCS, and rest was all improvised that saved lives.
You are a Blessed Surgeon.
Thank you for & onbehalf of the Country & her Subjects for your services to the Nation then and now.
Thank God that we have someone who has a God like heart especially to the sinner, the wrong doer. This is specially necessary if we want to change society. Isn’t this what the Lord did when he was with us twenty one centuries ago.
You are a doctor and a missionary!
A great initiative by a doctor. Its important to preserve these records for for generations to come. Not to boast about how we crushed our own countrymen, but to prevent situations like this taking place in the future. My suggestion is if you could include the injuries and difficulties of the main two parties of the war and also the problems innocent civilian had to go through due to the war that was created by the politicians. Thanks. All the best. May God bless your effort