Q&A with Patrick Thibeault, FNP

A former combat medic discusses EMS on the battlefield

Patrick Thibeault grew up as an Army brat, moving from base to base every couple of years, living in Germany for 10 years and graduating from high school in Seoul, South Korea. He joined the Army in 1989 and became a paratrooper medic. He served with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment in Desert Storm, during which time he realized he really did enjoy helping others and saving lives. After Desert Storm he continued serving in as a medic in the Army National Guard and in 2004 deployed with the 76th Infantry Brigade to Afghanistan. He retired from military service in 2011.

In My Journey as a Combat Medic: From Desert Storm to Operation Enduring Freedom, Thibeault details his original training and deployment, as well as the roles he’s played through two wars. Thibeault pulls no punches as he describes life as a combat medic, and the impact of his service on his civilian life, including battling PTSD.

In an exclusive interview with EMS World, Thibeault talks about his journey and how combat medicine relates to civilian EMS. Learn more at www.ospreypublishing.com.

How long have you been writing, and how did you come to publish My Journey as a Combat Medic?

My Journey as a Combat Medic is my first book. I wrote it because I wanted to share my experiences with others. I have had some pretty unique circumstances and wanted to share that with the rest of the world. I initially self-published the book before I sent it to publishers, where it was accepted by my publisher, Osprey Publishing. I also wrote My Journey as a Combat Medic to share my story of dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD. I found that writing is a good way to control the rage and PTSD I still deal with.

You served as a combat medic in two wars. How did the nature of combat medicine change between when you served during Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm in the early 1990s to when you served in Operation Enduring Freedom in 2004–05?

The role of the combat medic as the first medically-trained soldier a wounded soldier sees has not changed greatly, but the manner in which we evaluate our wounded has changed tenfold. Initially, while I was at Fort Sam Houston learning to be a medic, we learned Airway with c-spine control, Breathing, Circulation, Disability and Exposure—the basic ABCs that all medical EMS folks have learned, which are still true.

But now that’s even changed, with more emphasis on tactical combat casualty care, or TC3. The medic now learns that suppressive fire can be an asset to help save lives, the first line of treatment in a tactical environment is using tourniquets to control bleeding, and there is less emphasis to pump a wounded soldier full of IV fluids. And medics are no longer trained to apply a neck brace on a wounded soldier for c-spine control because we have learned soldiers rarely suffer from neck injuries during routine combat operations and firefights.

The operational aspect of emergency medical care has also changed from when I was a wet-behind-the-ears medic in Desert Storm to when I served as an older, seasoned medic in Afghanistan. We now have the ability to send an encrypted medical evacuation request using a satellite radio to command, which can be literally hundreds of miles away. Medical evacuations are more well-coordinated and controlled using computer technology. This results in wounded soldiers having a greater chance of survival from traumatic wounds. Sadly, this often ends in amputations, but before the result would have been death.

The tools of the trade have changed, too. I was trained to use old fashioned emergency field dressings to help control bleeding. I used these dressing in Desert Storm. Now, combat medics have access to compressible dressings that also act as a direct pressure dressing, and combat medics now carry field packs of agents which help stop arterial bleeding almost instantly, thus saving wounded from going into shock from blood loss.

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