MUSC’s Dottie Aimar, a registered nurse in ambulatory surgery, took advantage of an experience completely out of her comfort zone during her eight-and-a-half-month deployment in Afghanistan recently.
Aimar, who is a member of the Navy Reserve, was stationed at Camp Eggers near the United States Embassy in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. She worked as an operating room nurse advisor in the Afghanistan Police Hospital.
Whenever she or other military personnel left Camp Eggers for local missions, they had to be fully prepared. “I had to wear full body armor and carry a rifle and pistol with me at all times including the time I was in the hospital."
It wasn’t until Aimar returned home that she was glad she had gotten the opportunity. “When I was over there, I was a little scared, and it was a little challenging as a female. My mentees, the people I was training, were all older Afghan males. Getting them to listen to me as I was trying to teach them things was a challenge.”
|Dottie Aimar had to wear full body armor and carry a rifle and pistol at all times in the hospital.|
With persistent negative attitudes toward women in general, Aimar knew that encouraging new behaviors in the hospital would be difficult.
“My mission was to try and get them to not share instruments. While the Afghanistan Police Hospital was very receptive of Americans, their culture does not have a high value of females so it was difficult getting them to listen to me. Towards the end, they did begin to listen and do the things I recommended. You have to gain their trust.”
Aimar said she had to encourage simple sterilization techniques considered standard back here in the states, such as avoiding cross contamination. “They have a bad habit of operating in flip flops with blood all over the place. If they have open wounds on their feet, blood from a disease-infected person could enter them and pass the disease. It doesn’t seem to bother them in the least.”
Through their humanitarian missions into the community, Aimar believes they made a difference.
“Most of our missions were with orphanages and the Boy and Girl Scouts, and they seemed to really cherish what we had to bring to them. I feel like they really enjoyed the books, school supplies and clothes we brought. We also played games with them and taught them how to make jewelry.”
She said they taught the scouts first aid techniques but unlike American scouts, they learned things necessary for survival if they were to be severely injured. “I taught them how to tourniquet an arm or leg if they are caught near a suicide bomber, how to splint an arm and how to stop bleeding because those are the three things they would most likely need or encounter. Some of them are very young but you have to teach them all that.”
|The flag in the background is the flag Dottie flew in Afghanistan in honor of the ambulatory surgery staff at MUSC. Photo Gallery|
Aimar has three photo books she created, full of pictures from her time in Afghanistan to remember her deployment. The pictures cover a wide range of subjects, including the hospitals, surgeries, scouts and the scenery. A few pictures feature a firewall created by the explosives team while detonating explosives that were confiscated from the Taliban, a predominant militant organization in Afghanistan and the Middle East. In the operating room pictures, you can see rifles on the backs of American soldiers.
While she was away from MUSC ambulatory surgery, her coworkers designated wall space where they would put up any pictures or miscellaneous mail she would send them. Even now since her return, the walls still feature a welcome home sign they made for her as well as an American flag she flew in honor of MUSC's ambulatory surgery staff while in Afghanistan.
Although an intense experience, Aimar is grateful to have had it. “It’s challenging. There are a lot of unsafe things going on over there so you just have to watch yourself. I’m glad to have had the experience and even more so to be home.”