48th BCT’s free clinic aiding burn victims in southern Iraq
Stars and Stripes March 20, 2006
CAMP SCANIA, Iraq — The first patient was a 3-year-old boy who tumbled into the machinery of a water pump and lost his right forearm days ago. The boy’s cries were heart-wrenching as medics worked to replace the soiled dressing that covered the coarsely sutured stump.
The next patient was a lanky, 15-year-old boy who sucked air between clenched teeth as the medics cleaned his badly scalded face before applying new dressings to the injury. Cleaning the waxy wound was a painful and deliberate process, and the boy squeezed one of the medic’s hands as they picked debris from his brow.
“Sorry, got to do this, bro,” Spc. Carl Jackson said as the teen grimaced in pain. “Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze,” the 20-year-old Tulsa, Okla., native said, coaching the youth through the process.
The two cases Friday were among hundreds and hundreds of visits local Iraqis have made to Camp Scania’s free clinic — a service offered by the 1st Battalion, 108th Armor Regiment, 48th Brigade Combat Team.
The clinic, which operates three days a week, has become widely known as a premier location for the treatment of burn injuries, and some patients travel up to 75 miles to visit the small, trailer-housed aid center in southern Iraq.
“This is a very important service,” said Dr. Firas Egal, 29, a local Iraqi physician who helps operate the clinic along with two army medics. “Burned children and adults get very good care here, much better than at the local hospitals … Our treatment here is the best in the country.”
While medics like Jackson expected to be treating locals who were suffering war-related injuries, most of the wounds they are treating are burns Iraqis received at home or at work. Many have been caused by stoves, hot cooking oils, open flames and kerosene heaters.
“At first I was wondering — what’s going on here?” said Spc. Chris Barron, 30, of Seale, Ala. “I’ve never seen this many burns in one place,” the medic said.
In many cases, Iraqi hospitals lack the supply of painkillers and antibiotics and other equipment that the clinic offers, Egal said.
“We have painkillers for small children, who cry more, and that’s what’s made us famous,” Egal said.
On a typical day, the clinic will see between 40 and 60 patients, who suffer from everything from a common cold to rare diseases. The clinic, however, is limited in what it can treat, and critical cases are evacuated to a local military aid station or to larger facilities in Baghdad or Balad.
“The Americans are very generous,” said Thamer Mohammed, 40, an Iraqi father who brought his son to the clinic on Friday. His son, Gaith, 15, suffered severe burns to the backs of his legs and his right hand in a gasoline fire two weeks ago. “One of our neighbors told us to come here. They said it was the best thing to do, because the American soldiers will take care of it.”
As Thamer Mohammed spoke, his son winced and writhed as medics cleaned his burned hand and applied new bandages to the burns. When they were done, the teen received a handful of Tootsie Roll candies, like all the other young patients. In some cases, youngsters received a new pair of shoes.
The 48th BCT is a Georgia-based Army National Guard unit, and in civilian life, both Jackson and Barron work in emergency medicine. Barron is a paramedic and a firefighter, while Jackson is an emergency medical technician.
They both said they enjoyed working at the clinic, mostly because it was a change of pace from their usual duties.
“It’s a little different from going out and busting in houses and doing room searches,” Barron said.
For Jackson, the clinic offered him an opportunity to polish his beside manner.
“I wasn’t really good at hands-on patient care before now,” he said. “This gives me a chance to work with kids and have fun with them. It’s a good chance for me to learn.”