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U.S. military training Iraqi military health-care workers

Mideast edition, Sunday, April 29, 2007

BAGHDAD -- A plain building with barred windows and stacked-up chairs symbolizes the U.S. Army’s hopes for training Iraqi military health workers.

Steps away from one of the country’s busiest emergency rooms, the structure is being turned into a schoolhouse with laptop computers and high-tech dummies that breathe and bleed.

About 30 Iraqis have been trained in American-style emergency medicine under a program at Ibn Sina Hospital, which is run by the 28th Combat Support Hospital.

The program’s goal is to polish the trauma-related skills of doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other health workers so the Iraqis can resume control of Ibn Sina, a center formerly used for the care of Saddam Hussein’s family and Iraqi government officials, according to Maj. Murray Kramer, a coordinator with the Army Reserves’ 3rd Medical Command, which manages the program.

The students, all men, serve in the Iraqi army and are picked by the Ministry of Defense to participate in the $250,000 program, which spans 13 weeks but might be cut to eight.

Students get lectures with PowerPoint presentations in a room in the hospital, but lectures will eventually be moved into the schoolhouse when it’s done. The course material is from similar programs in the States.

Students watch doctors handle all types of trauma in the emergency room, intensive care unit and wards.

They also have the chance to work on Iraqi patients, who are treated at Ibn Sina if they are linked to the U.S. military. The students get certificates when they graduate from the program, which at some point might include exams, Kramer said.

The current class of students — the program’s fifth — includes three doctors, 17 nurses, four lab technicians, a radiology assistant and a pharmacist and pharmacist assistant. Their ages range from late 20s to late 40s.

The students are very dedicated, Americans and Iraqis agree. They know their medicine but need some catching up clinically, they say.

They also face looming cultural differences, a big gap in the levels of Iraqi and American technology, concerns about their safety and poor living conditions.

“They’re wonderful — funny, smart, really want the training,” said Sgt. 1st Class Janice Herbert, 42, of Port Charlotte, Fla., who has helped coordinate the program. “But there are many roadblocks.”

Iraqi emergency rooms can be difficult for doctors, according to an Iraqi doctor who works as a translator for the program.

Patients come with relatives, who often argue with doctors and physically attack them if they disagree with treatment, said “Dr. Hany.” He asked not to be identified by his real name for security reasons.

Doctors also are very restricted on how much they can touch a woman or what clothing they can remove, unless the patients are more educated.

The students are used to different methods and customs. In Iraq, only some doctors are trained to put breathing tubes down patients’ throats. In U.S. medicine, medics do it.

“You are joking us,” incredulous students said to Herbert.

The Iraqis are hesitant to touch members of the opposite sex during medical training. So the schoolhouse’s three $49,000 flesh-colored, lifelike dummies — which can blink, breathe, have a pulse and can be hooked to monitors — will also have interchangeable body parts to switch genders.

The Iraqis are seeing that American doctors treat everyone, regardless of race, religion and politics. That can be eye-opening, Kramer said.

Some students were astonished that Ibn Sina was caring for some injured Iraq children. They went in to see them and marveled at how well they were being treated.

“Grown men came out crying,” he said.


Dispensing battlefield meds

BAGHDAD — His name tag says it all — “Pills From Above.”

As one of only a handful of Army airborne pharmacy technicians, Sgt. Eddie Alesich always imagined going to war with a rifle and a 40-pound dispenser of painkillers and other battlefield meds.

“Our job is to jump out of a plane with a lot of medicine,” the 28-year-old Buras, La., native said. “Once you hit the ground you have to be ready to go, ready to hand out pills.”

As fortune and fate would have it though, Alesich has found himself grounded at Ibn Sina Hospital, in Baghdad’s Green Zone, where he works in the 28th Combat Support Hospital pharmacy.

He spends most days mixing up medicine in intravenous drip bags for patients in surgery or intensive care.

It might not be as exciting as jumping out of planes, but Alesich said it’s rewarding.

“I love the people I work with,” Alesich said. “Also, when I walk around the hospital and I see a guy who’s been injured pretty bad and he’s [resting] I can say ‘OK. I made that bag. He’s passed out because I made that morphine drip for him.’

“It’s small, but it’s something.”

— Monte Morin

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