The casualty care system on USNS Comfort (T-AH-20) works. That was the consensus of those returning from the hospital ship's 2003 deployment to Operation Iraqi Freedom, where the ship successfully treated more than 360 battle casualties in 37 days-a rate comparable to that of the hospital ship USS Sanctuary (AH-17) during the Vietnam war.
But these facts are more than just a reflection on Comfort and her crew. The lessons of this experience should be applied to our other afloat surgical platforms: the LHDs and LHAs, which are configured differently, and in some ways not as effectively, for handling the wounded of war.
Effective casualty care involves four distinct phases, each of which requires dedicated beds and equipment:
* Triage—Separate the walking wounded from those needing urgent resuscitation.
* Resuscitation—Airway breathing and blood pressure must be stabilized, external bleeding controlled, wounds examined, and an order established for surgery.
* Surgery—The wounds are definitively repaired in the operating room.