Nurse returns home after Iraq duty

LOSING three stone in five months is tough for most dieters but a hospital manager did it the hard way, by serving as a nurse with the Territorial Army in Iraq.

LOSING three stone in five months is tough for most dieters but a hospital manager did it the hard way, by serving as a nurse with the Territorial Army in Iraq.

Karen Thompson, manager of Southwold and Beccles Hospitals, was called up for her first deployment in February as a department matron to take over a 200-bed hospital in Kuwait.

She was moved into Iraq after the fighting ceased to take over another hospital before helping to build a new canvas hospital near Basra.

Now she has returned safe and sound to her Framlingham home, Major Karen Verow, she uses her maiden name for her military career, is missing her fellow TA nurses and soldiers but not the fear of hearing the alarms that were raised during the fighting.

She said: "When the alarms started we had to put our breathing masks on in nine seconds and get into a protective suit. The first time it happened I had such an adrenalin rush and a feeling of fear. There were no two ways about the fear and although I had practised getting into them as quickly as possible, nothing prepares you for the real thing."

The nearest Karen, 46, got to the fighting was having a scud missile land and explode five kilometres from where she was living.

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She said the best thing about being involved in the conflict was achieving a very high standard of care in appalling sanitary and hot, sandy weather conditions in a team involving people from different TA units within a short space of time.

Many of the nurses and soldiers suffered from diarrhoea and vomiting and because water became too hot to drink, Karen and other nurses managed to install a freezer in their accommodation block.

Karen treated troops for battlefield wounds and domestic injuries such as burns, and also treated Iraqi prisoners-of-war.

And as well as the language barrier, which was broken down by interpreters, Karen also discovered many cultural barriers when Iraqi prisoners-of-war did not like being told what to do by women, but she said once they realised they would receive good care, they accepted the situation.

Karen said she got a lot out of the experience personally and professionally as the nurses put on courses for the military for minor injuries and first aid training.

The nurses also did their own adapted relay versions of the London Marathon, to raise money for the Limbless Servicemen's Association, and Breast Cancer Care's Moonwalk, where runners cover 26 miles at night in their underwear.

She said: "We did both events at night because it was so hot and in the Moonwalk everybody wore a bra – even the men! It took the serious edge out of the environment we were in and gave us something else to concentrate on."

Karen says would like to return in five years time to see if the canvas hospital she helped build is still standing.

She will be presented with a medal for her work in The Gulf to join her Queen's Jubilee medal and the Territorial Decoration for 12 years' service to the TA.

Although Karen was born in Framlingham and trained as nurse at Ipswich hospital, she is a member of the TA's 202 Field Hospital unit in Birmingham, where she used to live with her late husband, who died of cancer six years ago.

She is due back at work at Southwold and Beccles hospitals in October.

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