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Seeing CBS's Dozier near death

Her pulse stopped for 20 seconds

By Cal Perry
CNN

Perry
CNN Baghdad bureau director Cal Perry at the 10th Combat Support Hospital.

BEHIND THE SCENES

In our Behind the Scenes series, CNN correspondents share their experiences in covering news and analyze the stories behind the events.

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Behind the Scenes
Iraq
Military

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- It's the 12th day of filming at a combat hospital for CNN cameraman Dominic Swann and me. In all the days spent there -- the last thing we ever thought we'd see is a colleague lying on one of the beds -- fighting for her life.

After this day, Memorial Day would always mean something very different for every individual who was at the Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad.

The call comes in around noon that the wounded from a car-bomb attack are coming. Dominic and I split up. I go outside to film the six Humvees that carry the wounded, while Dominic sets up inside one of the ER rooms in the 10th Combat Support Hospital.

I could tell immediately that something truly horrible had happened; this was much worse than only a few wounded. Bloodied, screaming and scared soldiers are lifted out of the vehicles. A gunner yells to one of his buddies, "You're going to make it. You're going to be OK."

Inside the CSH, a U.S. soldier wails that there were more wounded at the scene and slams into me, knocking me over as he leaves. The unit's commander screams at me, "Turn that camera off, God damn it."

He just lost some of his men, so I won't debate him about permission given by the military to film at the CSH, the embed experience and news coverage in Iraq. I lower my head, show him the palm of my hands and back away.

Inside the main trauma room, there are three badly wounded U.S. troops. The soldier in front of me has more shrapnel wounds than I can count. One of his legs is barely attached. Blood from another soldier gushes onto the floor, which is turning red. The doctors' boots slosh and slurp as they scurry back and forth.

The third soldier has a near amputation but is already under anesthesia.

One of the most disorienting things about filming the treatment of U.S. soldiers is that you get lost in the moment. It's hard to think about what's happening in front of you. All you can do is film, and stay out of the way. But on this Memorial Day, it is impossible not to think about the soldiers in front of me -- all fighting for their lives.

Three times in less than five minutes, Dominic and I collide. It is chaotic, and it is time to clear the room.

In the secondary trauma room, a woman with serious leg wounds is screaming.

A soldier is looking directly at her -- just staring blankly, never blinking. His eyes are completely glazed over, but in them you can see the horror of what has happened on the street.

Another soldier is methodically taking off his bloodied shoes, then socks. He is not physically injured, but nothing about him is OK.

Shreds of clothing, bandages, equipment, packs of cigarettes, watches, dog tags and notes to loved ones all hit the floor, creating a jarring symphony of war. Treasured possessions are jettisoned with the by-products of conflict.

Medics roll the woman on her side. I feel a rush of nausea, cold sweat on my brow. Someone from the medical staff rushed by, asking, "Do you know her? That's Kimberly Dozier from CBS."

I don't know her, but two days prior she sat across the lunch table from me. Memories rush back -- the lunch, her later waiting for the military to pick her up in the Green Zone. I remember saying to one of our drivers as we went back to the hospital, "Hey, there's CBS. They must be going somewhere."

Suddenly, I have to get out -- out of the CSH, out of Baghdad, out of Iraq. My brain and body is seized by an intense desire to escape. Standing outside, with no memory of leaving the hospital, I am on the phone with CNN's International Desk, calling for a news blackout on the story. "Where is her crew?" I keep asking myself.

I suppress my selfish compulsion to leave and force myself to go back to the CSH. Standing in the doorway but unable to walk in, I tell the passing chaplain, "Her name is Kimberly."

This surreal experience worsens. "I don't have a pulse," someone says. As they start chest compressions, Dominic and I sit in the hallway staring silently at the wall. Now, it's us who have stopped blinking.

"I've got a pulse ... a strong one," someone yells 20 seconds later.

The doctors and nurses are unbelievable: utterly focused on the wounds of the individuals lying in front of them. One by one the patients, most on ventilators, are taken upstairs. Silence is slowly creeping over the CSH. I recall the words of a doctor here weeks earlier as he tried to calm the emergency room. "It's not our emergency -- it's his," he had said.

Most of the people wounded in this attack will wake up in Germany. But not all of them.

The CBS crew -- cameraman Paul Douglas, soundman James Brolin and an interpreter -- and a soldier were killed.

I hand a bloodied microphone transmitter that says "CBS NEWS BAGHDAD" to the security guards escorting a CBS producer.

And then a sick realization hits me: How much easier it is to comprehend the risks that soldiers and journalists take here, the courage they show and the sacrifices they make when you see them lying on an emergency room bed, their bodies shattered by shrapnel. This is a place of anguish; it has a story -- every day -- that is terrible to tell. But one that has to be told.

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