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Aribba Abbasi, 2, is held by her mother in the 212th MASH in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan. Aribba’s parents walked for two days to ask doctors to check her broken leg, an injury from the Oct. 8 earthquake. She and an 8-year-old boy were the MASH’s first patients Tuesday morning, the day after the unit arrived.
Aribba Abbasi, 2, is held by her mother in the 212th MASH in Muzaffarabad, Pakistan. Aribba’s parents walked for two days to ask doctors to check her broken leg, an injury from the Oct. 8 earthquake. She and an 8-year-old boy were the MASH’s first patients Tuesday morning, the day after the unit arrived. (Nancy Montgomery / S&S)

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan — Two weeks ago, Faisal Hussain lay crushed in his collapsed school. Three classmates lay beneath him, three lay on top. Of those seven children trapped beneath the wreckage of the Oct. 8 earthquake, only Faisal survived.

Tuesday, Faisal rode in his father’s arms as the man walked for four hours over 10 miles of mountain trails and ruined roads to the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital.

The pair arrived at the hospital, located in a Kashmiri government complex in Muzaffarabad, at about 9 a.m., along with a couple who carried their 2-year-old girl as they walked for two days to seek help for her broken leg.

The two children were the hospital’s first patients on its first day of operation.

“I’m really happy we’re able to start, at long last,” said Maj. Soo Lee Davis, 212th executive officer. “It took us too long to get here, but at least we can help now.”

The MASH doctors and nurses set to work on the two unhappy children, each resting on an Army-green stretcher. Faisal, said to be 8 but more the size of an American 5-year-old, had a gash on his left foot that had been previously treated, and a slight temperature. A nurse cleaned the wound and put a new bandage on it, and because Faisal cried when doctors palpitated his abdomen, he also underwent tests to see if he’d broken a bone or had internal injuries.

The 2-year-old girl, Aribba Abbasi, wore a cast that covered her pelvis and left leg, which had been broken above the knee in the earthquake. She had been taken away in a helicopter without her family and returned in the cast, with a nail sticking out the side, without explanation. Her father told Staff Sgt. Syed Ahmed, of the 22nd Signal Brigade out of Darmstadt, Germany, and one of three Urdu speakers in the MASH mission, that he was concerned about the nail, and that his daughter still seemed to be in pain.

“They did not know if she was OK,” Ahmed said.

But both children, it turned out, had been properly treated earlier. The nail in the girl’s leg was a pin to keep the bone in place. Her parents were told to return to the MASH in 30 days. Faisal’s father was told to bring him back in two days for a check, after tests had determined the boy was virtually uninjured, despite the fate of his classmates.

“It’s horrible and also amazing,” said Maj. Fareed Sheikh, a doctor who speaks Urdu.

The two children have siblings who remain injured but untreated because they’re too heavy for their fathers to carry the long way to get help, Ahmed said. And 12 miles north of Muzaffarabad, roads are totally washed away, bodies still buried beneath collapsed houses and left uncounted among the dead, and survivors left with nothing.

Meanwhile, the MASH unit’s operating room, delayed because of transportation problems, was being set up after a midnight arrival on a flatbed truck. Before their departure from Germany on Saturday, surgeons thought they’d be busy treating broken bones and doing amputations of gangrenous limbs. Now they weren’t so sure.

“Almost all the amputations were done already,” said Capt. Erick Martell, a general surgeon with the unit. “We’re here a little late.”

Later in the day, 10 more patients showed up at the hospital. One girl had pneumonia and was put on a respirator. Most of the others were men with ailments such as heartburn, colds and sore throats.

The unit, the last of the Army’s MASH units, has a staff of more than 130 people sent as the U.S. military’s major medical contribution to Pakistan humanitarian efforts. It had planned to arrive more than a week ago but was delayed by questions of where best to put it and a wait for airlift transportation. After soldiers spent 24 hours traveling from Ramstein, Germany, to Islamabad, Pakistan, they immediately headed out in a convoy to Muzfarrabad. That convoy took 27 hours. After that, soldiers spent Monday and Tuesday putting up the hospital in a series of tents and their own residential tents, all the while sustained by MREs, and sleeping in tents that dripped condensed water down onto them.

“I thought it was raining at first,” said Chief Warrant Officer 3 James Young. “I stuck my head out and it dropped right on my forehead. It’s great.”

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