Grateful residents wait for military care
Mideast edition, Monday, April 30, 2007
FASK, Morocco — Last Sunday, Latifa and hundreds of others walked to the small cluster of buildings where the Americans and Moroccans were giving out free health care.
They had read about the presence of the medics on posters in their village. Latifa, 18, had a very sore mouth and was hoping someone could help.
Troops from the 944th Medical Squadron — mostly Air Force reservists — had arrived by bus. They were visiting their fourth village in four days, performing exams and giving out medicine as part of African Lion 07, a two-week U.S.-Moroccan military exercise. The annual event, involving approximately 300 U.S. military personnel, combined live-fire and other training with medical outreach, and was scheduled to conclude Monday.
The 36-troop team had seen 1,734 patients over the previous three days. The day before, they’d worked in tents.
“We’re nothing if we’re not adaptable,” said Maj. Madeline Sanchez, the head nurse. “We improvised and we got it done.”
Latifa wore a blue outfit and black headscarf and had a firm handshake and a beautiful but pained smile. She did not know there was a deep cavity in her upper-right molar, the tooth farthest back in her mouth.
Like the others who had waited in line, she stopped first at the registration table, and then moved to the next table where the triage folks made the diagnosis and pointed Latifa toward the dentists’ room.
Others were pointed toward small rooms in the makeshift hospital where pediatrics, internal medicine, gynecology and other specialties were being performed by the airmen and their Moroccan counterparts. Some translators were out and about.
One Moroccan officer, taking a chance because the Moroccans had been ordered not to talk to the reporter, pondered why the large turnout.
“Free medication,” he said. “And there are many specialists here. We have only one doctor in this village.
“Plus, there is the American team, and maybe a lot of them are just curious.”
Latifa sat in a small, crowded room next to the room where three dental teams were at work. She spoke very little English, mostly “hello” and “thank you.” But she smiled widely for a picture.
“The population is very poor,” said a Moroccan doctor. “To extract a tooth, the dentistry would be very expensive.”
Latifa was called into the crowded dentists’ room, where two other patients were being worked on. They all sat on plain, wooden chairs. Next to Latifa sat an old man leaning back in his chair, mouth wide open. He had one tooth left and it was coming out.
Latifa leaned back in her chair and three men crowded around her open mouth. A dentist stuck a needle into her upper-right jaw, squeezed the syringe, and then stuck in another one.
The dentist then went in after the bad tooth. As he pried and twisted, Latifa clutched the fabric of her clothes, and her toes curled in her sandals. One of the dental assistants shined a flashlight into her mouth; the other held a wad of gauze, ready for blood.
After five painful, wincing minutes, the tooth was extracted. Blood poured from Latifa’s mouth. One of the assistants turned and dropped the blood-covered tooth, which had three roots, into a plastic cup. The girl covered her face in pain and shook. She nearly passed out and was fanned with napkins.
She wobbled as she was led away to a recovery room.
Dr. (Maj.) William Dunlap, who pulled the tooth, said Latifa would have suffered for years. But now, hopefully, the hole in the back of her mouth would heal over in about three months, as though there was never a tooth there.
“She had very good bone,” Dunlap said. “It was not loose at all.
“She’d been waiting (in line) in the sun, probably had nothing to eat or drink. It’s a stressful procedure.”
In about 15 minutes, Latifa was led to the pharmacy room and, still shaking, clutched the arm of an airman. She was given painkillers and vitamins.
“Thank you,” she said.
Then Latifa and three family members walked away from the still-bustling clinic, off into the sun and back to from wherever they had come.