Duty in Iraq gives nurse new
sense of mission
of Tara O. Spears
Army nurse Tara Spears stitches a soldiers finger in
a field hospital in Iraq, where she served a three-month tour.
Spears is now working on her masters degree at U.Va.s
School of Nursing.
By Matt Kelly
combat field hospital is similar to a standard hospital with
a major exception.
In combat you see more gunshot and shrapnel wounds,
said Army nurse Capt. Tara O. Spears, after serving three months
in Iraq and Kuwait with the 86th Combat Support Hospital.
patients included a 5-month-old girl whose Arabic name translated
to Flower. She had suffered shrapnel and burn wounds to her legs,
received in an incident that killed her mother.
took her in and made a makeshift crib for her out of a medical
supply chest, said Spears, a 13-year Army veteran. We
kept her and took care of her legs.
her aunt was found and she would stay with her and actually breast-feed
the wounds healed, Flower went home with her father.
was a nice, happy thing, Spears said.
35, a nurse in a 144-bed Army field hospital, will now incorporate
her wartime medical experience into her pursuit of a masters
degree from the U.Va. School of Nursing as an acute care clinical
nurse specialist with an emphasis in emergency nursing. She said
her experience will help her in class, and her advanced degree
will help her in future deployments.
nurses return to school so they can provide leadership, consultation
and education in their workplace, said Arlene W. Keeling, director
of the U.Va. Acute Care Nurse Practitioner program, which upgrades
take them a step further, said Keeling. We keep them
in direct practitioner roles with higher clinical decision-making.
by the speed and efficiency of emergency medicine, Spears also
understands its limitations.
like being able to work with a team to help someone get better
and being able to see the results of what I do quickly,
she said. Unfortunately, people dont make it sometimes,
and that is hard. But you have to keep going.
treated a 13-year-old girl burned from the waist down when the
kerosene stove she was lighting exploded. She had gone a week
without treatment when she was brought to Spears facility.
amputated her legs just below the hip to save her, but the infection
had already gotten into her system. No matter what we gave her,
it didnt help, Spears said. She died a couple
of weeks after she got to us.
Iraqis, while having no experience with their culture or language,
has given Spears an appreciation of diversity.
class, when we talk about cultural diversity and certain cultural
aspects of nursing care, I understand a little better because
I actually had to deal with it, she said. And this
was the first time I had experienced that, plus the language barrier.
Iraq, which was Spears first combat experience, she treated
everything from splinters to razor wire cuts to bullet and shrapnel
wounds to tank tread injuries.
Anytime any of those soldiers came in sick or hurt, I felt
like it was part of my family and I would do everything I could
to help them, Spears said.
Spears is at her best when it counts, said Lt. Col. Elizabeth
McGraw, acting chief nurse of the 86th Combat Support Hospital,
who served with Spears in Kuwait. During numerous mass casualty
situations she could be counted on to perform with professionalism
was the land outside the hospital that gave Spears pause.
sand, sand and more sand, she said. I have never seen
such a desolate place. It was well above 120 degrees in the shade,
and the sand gets into everything.
endured frequent alerts for Scud missile attacks, and often the
field hospital was sealed against possible chemical attacks.
realized really quick that this wasnt training any more,
this was the real thing, she said. But the training
that the Army gave us had us prepared to do what needed to be
soldiers took breaks when they could, reading, pitching horseshoes,
playing football, watching Fox News and having an occasional barbecue.
made our own fun, she said. Everything was so stressful
all the time, almost a constant influx of patients, all of our
beds were pretty full, and on top of the normal hospital busy-ness,
we had alerts that put more stress on us.
personal privations, Spears had positive contact with the Iraqis.
people and their gratitude for what we were doing [surprised me],
Spears said. Most of the Iraqis that I dealt with, the enemy
prisoners of war and the civilians both, were so grateful to us
for what we were trying to do over there.
The Army also worked with Iraqis to restore their hospitals, so
civilians could be moved back into them.
the medical aspect, they were really grateful because the hospitals
were nonexistent, she said. The building was there,
there was some staff there, but they had hardly any medical supplies.
clings to her memories of Iraq.
try to hold on to all of them, she said. Those that
are happy, like that little girl, Flower. We helped her get well,
we helped her get back with some family. And the sad ones, as
well, because both teach you things.