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Nursing the victims of IEDs is focus of new exhibition

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The story of how military nurses treat people injured by improvised explosive devices, better known as “IEDs”, in warzones such as Afghanistan is the subject of a new museum exhibition in London.

The Unseen Enemy exhibition looks at the use and impact of IEDs in Afghanistan.

As well as the detection and disarming of IEDs, it explains the clinical response to the aftermath of an explosion and subsequent rehabilitation.

A big section is devoted to the “platinum 10” minutes and “golden hour” after injury in which a casualty is treated – 98% of casualties that make it to Camp Bastion survive. It also includes mock-ups of the operating theatres at the camp and a regimental aid post.

The exhibition was created with input from the British Army, Royal Air Force and Royal Navy as well as the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine at Birmingham’s Queen Elizabeth Hospital and Headley Court, the Defence Medical Rehabilitation Centre.

Theatre nurse Major Nicola Corkish and emergency department nurse Major Chantel Whelan helped recreate the clinical scenes. They are both from the Queen Alexander Royal Army Nursing Corp.

The exhibition also features interviews on their experiences of nursing soldiers, civilians and insurgents injured by IEDs.  

Major Corkish said: “There is not a more rewarding thing to do than to look after somebody at such a vulnerable state of life as what we do.

“And even sometimes when you know that person’s not going to survive… you want to get them back to their family.”

She added: “In my theatre, I had a guy who was blown up with an IED, and the guy on the next table was supposed to be the guy who detonated the IED. That’s really difficult. But… you treat them no different.”

Exhibition curator Amy Cameron said: “This exhibition highlights the experiences of the men and women who deal with these devices and their effects. Their stories reveal their dedication, resilience and courage in ways that are moving, humorous and inspiring.”

The Unseen Enemy exhibition is on at the National Army Museum in Chelsea until 31 March 2014.

The nursing squadron at DMRC Headley Court was named the Team of the Year at the 2008 Nursing Times Awards.

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