Civilian nurse serves both sides during War in Afghanistan

By: Ummema Chutani, Tuesday, April 14, 2014

As a nurse in a war zone, Jane Ramage found service toughest when dealing with the other side.

“I had a hard time not being able to give dessert to suspected Taliban,” she said.

On April 14, intensive-care nurse, Jane Ramage was interviewed by Centennial College journalism students. During the War in Afghanistan, she left civilian nursing and served two tours of duty in a military hospital at the Canadian military base in Kandahar.

Ramage said she saw Afghan patients who were both soldiers and civilians. She recalled the experience of having to treat “the enemy.” She said they had a couple of rooms reserved for the “bad guys,” and even as war prisoners, they were treated with care.

She said it was fairly safe treating POWs because there were armed guards stationed just outside the door, and Afghan translators wore masks so insurgents wouldn’t recognize them. She said that the rules of engagement ensured all patients were cared for at any of the NATO bases.

“We had all different cultures in the hospital and we treated them all respectfully,” she said.

With soldiers and medical staff working so far from their homes and families, Ramage said she felt a duty to provide a small measure of nurturing to those in her care. She recalled a U.S. marine who had left a pregnant wife back home.

“He didn’t require heavy sedation,” she said. “He would often open his eyes and look down to make sure his legs were still there.”

She remembered that he had indicated through writing that he wanted to call his wife who was due to deliver their baby in a couple of weeks. Ramage said he struggled to write down a name, the name they had decided for their unborn son.

“So I phoned her,” Ramage said. “I told her I was the nurse looking after her husband in Afghanistan and she just burst into tears. I tried to tell her he was fine now and doing really well.”

Ramage said she put the phone up to his ear and told her to talk—that he’s listening.

Ramage also explained that for Afghans, their religion also defines their culture in many ways, such as clothing. With Afghan military officials on the base, the non-Afghan men and women had to make sure they were covered up in order to honour those customs.

“They’re very, very Muslim,” she said. “You got turned away from the marketplace if you weren’t properly covered, especially in Ramadan. Both men and women have to cover up in Ramadan.”

Ultimately, Ramage said she had learned so much about the Afghans and the operations of the NATO bases. She summed up the NATO mission, from her perspective.

“It wasn’t so much about fighting a war, but rather keeping peace,” Ramage said.