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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 July, 2003, 19:07 GMT 20:07 UK
Gruesome additions to family album

By Stuart Hughes
BBC News

BBC producer Stuart Hughes lost part of his right leg after stepping on a landmine in northern Iraq.

Stuart, 31, has returned to Cardiff, where has been fitted with an artificial leg. In part 10 of a weekly BBC News Online diary, he charts his recovery.

There's something very eerie about seeing photographs of yourself and having no recollection of them being taken.

I've just been given such a set of photographs.

A US Special Forces surgeon works on Stuart Hughes' injured leg in Iraq
A US Special Forces surgeon works on Stuart Hughes' injured leg

Although I can vividly recall the hours immediately after I stepped on the landmine, my memories begin to fade at the moment I arrived at a US Special Forces field hospital in the town of Sulaymaniyah.

I was pumped with anaesthetic and morphine and the next two days are a blur of medical checks and barely-remembered conversations.

One colleague with whom I worked in Iraq reminded me recently that she'd come to see me in the hospital.

I have absolutely no recollection of her visiting.

Those three hazy days in a makeshift ward, however, were crucial to what followed.

I clicked "open" on the computer and the pictures instantly popped up on the screen - needless to say, they weren't pretty.

The Special Forces team cleaned out my damaged leg several times, removing the dirt and debris caused by the explosion and keeping infection at bay.

By doing so, however, they were forced to remove so much damaged bone, muscle and tissue that my foot could not ultimately be saved.

After I was flown to Cyprus and then on to Britain I lost touch with the American soldiers who had looked after me.

I wanted to thank them for taking such good care of me - but wasn't sure where to find them.

The US Army 932nd Forward Surgical Team
The US Army 932nd Forward Surgical Team

Quite by chance I came across an article on the internet from a local newspaper in Taunton, Massachusetts.

It was about Jeff Joyce, an anaesthetist and reservist soldier who had just returned from a five-month tour of duty in Northern Iraq.

"Our job was to stabilise all those who got hurt, so they could make it to a hospital," he told the newspaper.

"We even worked on a Pulitzer Prize winning photographer who was killed."

I immediately realised that he was talking about my colleague, Kaveh Golestan.

Jeff Joyce has given me some rather gruesome additions to my family album

I had found my man.

I tracked down Jeff and he helped put me in touch with other members of the 932nd Forward Surgical Team.

I was able to e-mail them at last and thank them individually.

Jeff told me he had some photographs of my operation and asked me whether I'd like to see them.

I said I did and he e-mailed them to me.

When the e-mail arrived I looked at the unopened picture files nervously, wanting to see the photos and yet at the same time not wanting to.

I couldn't predict just how traumatic it would be for me.

In the end, good old journalistic curiosity got the better of me.

I clicked "open" on the computer and the pictures instantly popped up on the screen.

'Strangely comforting'

Needless to say, they weren't pretty.

Even so, I felt strangely detached when I looked at them, as though it wasn't me on the operating table.

If anything, I found the photos strangely comforting.

Until now I've been trying to turn the fragmented memories in my head into something approaching an accurate whole.

The pictures have helped me do this, to say to myself: "Yes, this really happened.

"You didn't make it up. It was horrible but you survived."

Jeff Joyce has given me some rather gruesome additions to my family album - but he's put another important part of the jigsaw in place.


SEE ALSO:
'Worst fear' of war coverage
10 Jul 03  |  Wales
'War is messy and frightening'
04 Jul 03  |  Wales
Telling the children
26 Jun 03  |  Wales
Learning to walk again
19 Jun 03  |  Wales
Taking the first steps
11 Jun 03  |  Wales
Back on the road
05 Jun 03  |  Wales
Face to face with landmine
29 May 03  |  Wales
Down to earth with a bump
22 May 03  |  Wales


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