At the crossroads of destiny
There are sometimes unexpected, accidental encounters that seem to be preordained by fate, especially when they occur thousands of kilometres from home in a harsh environment such as Afghanistan.
Dr. Rick Zamora is an anaesthetist and an assistant professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at Queen’s University, in Kingston, Ont. During high school, he decided to join the Governor General’s Foot Guards (GGFG) in Ottawa, and served with the regiment for six years.
Despite having retired from the GGFG in 1989, Dr. Zamora followed closely the mission in Afghanistan and the CF’s role in the vast operation, wondering how he might contribute. Though he knew medical positions were usually very hard to get, he applied to go to Afghanistan as a civilian anaesthetist with the Role 3 Multinational Medical Unit (MMU) at Kandahar Airfield.
“Military personnel are exposed to serious danger while in Afghanistan, and some get wounded. It is our job to make sure they get care in the best medical environment possible.”
—Dr. Rick Zamora
Dr. Zamora was selected and assigned to a Role 3 MMU surgical team for five weeks in November and December 2008. “The medical team works with about the same equipment we have in our hospitals here in Canada. It’s the pace of the work that is different,” explains Dr. Zamora. “The Role 3 MMU is comparable to a Canadian hospital, but the nature of the injuries it treats is different. Military personnel are exposed to serious danger while in Afghanistan, and some get wounded. It is our job to make sure they get care in the best medical environment possible.”
Dr. Zamora’s deployment to Afghanistan also meant he got to work with doctors from many other countries. “Sometimes, when it really got busy at Role 3 MMU, doctors and medical technicians from other countries, such as Great Britain and the Netherlands, would join us. This pushed us to refine our techniques and develop our abilities to respond to unexpected surgical situations. Professionally, it was very stimulating.”
Given his military background, Dr. Zamora did not feel too much like a fish out of water in the military atmosphere of his new workplace. “In Canada, I rarely lose count of how many patients I treat, but this sometimes happened in Afghanistan when the work got really crazy.”
Dr. Zamora remembers a day when nine Canadian soldiers were injured by an exploding IED and were brought in for emergency treatment. “It was a really intense day, one of those days you never forget,” says the anaesthetist. Little did he realize that one of his patients that day was a regimental colleague.
Recently, at a regimental ball—the GGFG usually hold one every two years—the brigade commander presented the Sacrifice Medal to Sergeant Dominique Kowlessar for his service in Afghanistan and the injuries he suffered in an IED attack in November 2008. Only then did the anaesthetist realize that, in an interesting twist of fate, he had treated and helped save one of the serving members of his old regiment!
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