Monday, January 11, 2010
An Army doctor worked in the beam from a tractor's headlights as she battled to save lives after a bomb blast in Afghanistan.
Captain Lydia Simpson, said the incident provided her with the biggest challenge of her career.
Just a week after she arrived in the battle zone, a lorry carrying Afghan troops was blown up.
Capt Simpson had to deal with eight casualties, whose injuries ranged from shattered legs to shrapnel and head wounds.
As the sun began to set she had to use the lights from a tractor to help her work.
She said: "The ultimate responsibility rested on my shoulders.
"It's not something I will forget easily. Hectic
"It was quite hectic, especially in the dark.
"I was trying to treat people and direct my medics at the same time.
"None of the casualties spoke any English and we didn't have any interpreters around."
Capt Simpson had spent four months working in the busy emergency department of Edinburgh Royal Infirmary, but never before had to deal with that number of casualties by herself.
She said: "The difficulty was trying to prioritise what to do."
The 27-year-old focused on treating a patient with severe head, neck and chest injuries.
He survived, but one man died and another lost both his legs in the explosion.
Capt Simpson said the incident in October, soon after she arrived at the base in Kajaki, in a remote and mountainous part of southern Afghanistan, improved her confidence and she thought nothing she had to deal with afterwards would be as bad.
On December 28, Capt Simpson, attached to C Company, 3rd Battalion The Rifles, was however tested again when she found herself treating Rifleman Aidan Howell, who had been caught in an explosion and eventually died.
"It was a lot more difficult because I had been working with him for the last three months," she said.
"That adds an extra dimension, not so much at the time, when your training kicks in and you do what you need to do, but afterwards, when you are reflecting on it."
As one of only three women in the camp, she has to deal with a lot of banter from the soldiers but with three older brothers - Tom, 35, Simon, 32, and Phil, 30 - she is used to it.
Her 65-year-old father Peter Ash and her mother Janet, 63, keep in touch with their daughter by phone.
Mr Ash said: "We're very proud of her and the work she is doing. But that is what she signed up for, she is answering the call of duty."
Capt Simpson met her husband, Alistair Simpson, who is also a doctor, when she was working in Edinburgh.
Dr Simpson, of Kemnay, Aberdeenshire, lived and worked at a British research station in Antarctica for 18 months before they married.
Capt Simpson said: "Even though Afghanistan and Antarctica are totally different environments he had some similar experiences down there."
"I chat to him on the phone if I need to talk about medical problems as well."