While coverage of the conflict in Afghanistan saturates the senses with information about victims of the war or the billions of dollars spent fighting it, Lt. Cmdr. Deborah Lynn Redman, RN, FNP, was drawn to a different story. “I thought about the Afghan women, and I knew that medical care for women there was very limited,” said Redman, 52, a family nurse practitioner in the cardiology department at San Antonio (Texas) Military Medical Center. “I wanted to do what I could to help.”
Redman, a Navy reservist, volunteered to serve in Afghanistan, specifically in Asadabad, a remote area in East Afghanistan lacking basic medical technology available in the more populated cities. She was deployed in September 2010 and worked overseas for nine months. Her fearlessness earned her a nomination for the International Committee of the Red Cross Florence Nightingale Medal. Redman received the medal on Oct. 23 in Washington, D.C., as one of 32 nurses worldwide to be recognized for exceptional courage and devotion to victims of armed conflict or natural disaster.
“There are many people who support global military and humanitarian missions, but few who willingly risk their lives in a theater of combat to provide medical assistance and education to remote areas in need,” said Cmdr. Pamela McGlothlin, RN, MSN, BS, CEN, the Navy Nurse Corps officer who nominated Redman. “Florence Nightingale saw a need and did something about it, and that is what Lynn Redman is like.”
In Afghanistan, Redman bucked tradition when she asked to join a male team of American medics who would travel outside the base’s protection to villages for medical outreach missions. Initially she was refused because of the danger. Redman explained that it was important to have a female on the team to help care for the women. Her perseverance paid off and she was invited to join a team that would train Afghan military medics.
It quickly became clear that the Afghan medics did not feel comfortable touching women who needed medical treatment. Traditionally in the rural areas, the medics asked a relative to care for an injured or sick woman, which left untrained caregivers in charge of tasks like bandaging a wound or setting a broken leg, Redman said.
“The American team asked me to wear Afghan clothing during a training exercise to help the medics overcome their fear of touching women,” Redman said. “There is such an ingrained separation between men and women there that it was hard at first for them.”
Another time, she visited female teachers in a school who needed medical care, and one of them asked for birth control pills — something taboo in her village. The woman wanted to pursue her education, but she knew if she became pregnant she would be expected to stay home and raise children. “She wanted more for her life, and she was a revolutionary,” Redman said. “I quietly gave her the medication.”
Overcoming the odds
Although moments like this were the reason Redman volunteered to serve in Afghanistan, she admits that there were times when she faced the reality of the risk she was taking. One time she was traveling in a bullet-proof vehicle when suddenly the vehicle’s gunner started shooting. They were under attack, as was the Afghan military vehicle behind them. “It is surreal to hear the tinkling of hot shells falling back into the vehicle,” Redman said. “There was so much adrenaline flowing that I was not thinking, but afterward I felt afraid.” One of the Afghan soldiers in the other vehicle died in the incident.
For Redman, surviving tough times has been a lifestyle since she was young. A mom at 16, she graduated with her high school class and pursued nursing school while caring for three children. There were times when she lived on food stamps and drove an old car that leaked water inside when it rained, but she managed to graduate with her nursing school class. “If you don’t like your life, you can change it,” she said. “It may take time, money and effort, but you just have to be willing. We are lucky to have choices here, and that may not be an option in countries like Afghanistan.”