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Selly Oak Hospital

Birmingham's Selly Oak hospital is home to a centre of excellence for treating soldiers injured in combat - giving Andy Goff a chance to witness shattered limbs and damaged lives at first hand.

It’s difficult now, with spring up on us and burgeoning growth all around, to recall the snow that lay on the ground in The Midlands on 6th February. But lay it did and it covered a piece of brick in a twitten opposite where my Dad lives. As luck would have it he found that piece of brick tucked snugly away while he was walking his dog. He slipped and broke his ankle in four places - a life changing event for him and for me.

Since then he has, with the exception of a two week interruption staying with us, been in Good Hope Hospital and, latterly, in Selly Oak Hospital where he has been fitted with an Ilizarov Frame. An astonishing piece of engineering in the style of a medieval torture device. This has pins through the leg attached to a round metal frame to hold the bones in place while the healing process goes on.

Selly Oak is pretty experienced in treating damaged legs. The hospital is where many of our soldiers are treated when their maimed bodies are returned from Iraq, Afghanistan and other theatres of operations. Interesting to note the similarities between the language of war and the language of healing.

I have seen young men missing one or both of their lower limbs wheeling themselves around and admired their seeming fortitude in the face of permanent disability.

However, there is one young man on the ward who is unable to show signs of fortitude.

I know his real name but I’ll call him Mark.

He and two other soldiers were on patrol in Afghanistan when their vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device (an IED) otherwise known as a road side bomb. The three of them survived. Mark shows no sign of injury but he has to have assistance breathing. He also has brain damage.

Apparently, from my brief conversations with relatives, those parts of his brain that were injured have since died and his prognosis is not good. Indeed, his condition has, in so far as I can tell, remained unchanged in the weeks that I have been visiting.

Mark may be unable to show fortitude but his relatives do it for him. When I enquired how he was doing on my last visit I was told “not good” but that was followed by a shrug and “that’s just how it goes isn’t it?”

Well, of course, he was a soldier and they get hurt. It’s what he was paid to do, his choice. All his family will have known that, as he would have done but I was left feeling angry on his and their behalf.

Observing Mark lying in his hospital bed has made real my previously abstract feeling that our involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq was wrong.

When young men and women join the services they expect to have to put their lives on the line without question. It’s what has given this country a formidable reputation as a fighting nation over the centuries. From Agincourt to Salerno. The Somme to Pegasus Bridge and, Oh yes, The Charge of The Light Brigade. Our history is awash with brave men and more lately brave women thrust into the line and expected to follow orders without question. Reliant on those in Government and at the head of their services to make the right decisions to keep this nation safe or to enforce its will on demand. Rightly or wrongly.

But to see these contemporaries of my children being damaged at the behest of a Government whose policies were at best dubious and at worst downright dishonest is heartbreaking.

They have been failed by their masters in the House of Commons, by their service chiefs who sent them in to battle ill-equipped and by our allies who expected us to pay blood money tagging along with their hate driven foreign policy agendas.

The only positive aspect as far as I can see is that the medical care they receive is of the highest order, both from the civilian and military medical staff in Selly Oak.

So, Mark, you wouldn’t know it but I salute you and all those others killed and injured in these sodding wars that ignorant fools decide to wage.



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