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Humanitarian surge

"Humanitarian surge" Continued...

Issue: "Hurtling toward havoc," Aug. 1, 2009

For the hospital phase, Cahill requested a forward surgical team from the 10th Combat Support Hospital (CSH) in Baghdad, which included Schriver, an orthopedic surgeon, an anesthesiologist, three nurses, and an operating room technician. Cahill brought along a family practice physician, a nurse, and two physician's assistants from the 172nd Brigade.

What became immediately clear, particularly during ambulance training with first responders, is that the Iraqi medical personnel had a high level of expertise compared to the basic level of the curriculum. "We went through four days of curriculum in three hours," Gerald said. The U.S. trainers-all medics from Charlie Company of the 172nd BCT-quickly recovered and spent the remainder of the course teaching hands-on skills, which the Iraqi medics enthusiastically absorbed.

During the hospital phase, there was a similar disconnect with some of the classroom instruction for the doctors. The U.S. nurses discovered that they had no real equivalent in the Iraqi health-care system, where nurses provide little patient care. And the Iraqi doctors hoped that the U.S. surgeons would bring along their much better equipment. "What they want is for us to take them to the next level," said Schriver, who performed two operations during four days of training. "They can do the easy stuff, but they need advice for the more complicated procedures."

Locals regarded the brief training session as a success, and it received wide coverage in local media as well as praise from Karbala officials. But the evaluation of the patients is perhaps what counted most. Iraqis brought one young woman, 30 years old, to the doctors with severe damage to her jawbones, damage she sustained from a traumatic injury at the age of 2. She could barely open her mouth, and Iraqi doctors had been unable to operate because the surgery required a special procedure to administer anesthesia through her nose, which they were not equipped to do. With an anesthesiologist on hand, Major Christopher Hutson, the operation went forward, giving the woman hope for a more normal life. During one of Schriver's operations, he successfully treated a blind man with gastrointestinal reflux disease. "You should have seen his family" said Salaam Wendy, an Iraqi who works for the PRT. "The brothers were all shaking Colonel Shriver's hand, and the father, he just shed tears."

-Richard G. Miles is a U.S. diplomat serving with 
the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Karbala, Iraq

Richard C. Miles
Richard C. Miles

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