Rough conditions surround team in desert hospital
August 11, 2003
BAGHDAD, Iraq — The staff at the 28th Combat Support Hospital will do anything to keep their patients comfortable, even if that means manually fanning a small, sick Iraqi child when the air conditioning breaks down.
But when it comes to their own comforts, the 300 doctors, nurses, medics and support soldiers at Camp Dogwood have it just about as rough as any servicemember in Iraq.
Regardless of rank, the soldiers all live in tents set up in the sand and without air conditioning. Bottled water is rationed, and telephones are rarely available, staffers said.
Off-hours entertainment is limited to impromptu volleyball tournaments, reading well-thumbed paperbacks, and searching out air-conditioned nooks and crannies in the hospital tents to snatch a couple of hours of sweat-free sleep.
The duty hours are either frantically busy or killingly dull.
Work “comes in spurts,” said Maj. James Oliverio, an orthopedic surgeon normally stationed at Ireland Army Hospital at Fort Knox, Ky. “After initial combat operations were over, it calmed down. Now with the attacks [on U.S. personnel], it’s picked up again.”
Oliverio has performed as many as eight surgeries in a single day at the facility.
“The war is not over for us,” he said.
The desert environment has annoyances beyond the intense heat (up to 130 degrees on some days), sand and dust. Camp Dogwood is also infested with critters ranging from the exotic but cute, such as kangaroo rats, to the exotic and irritating – sand fleas.
Then there is the exotic-and-deadly category: scorpions.
Earlier in the week, Capt. Karen Meyer, chief nurse for the 1st Forward Surgical Team out of Fort Totten, N.Y., found a scorpion running through the tent outside one of the operating rooms.
On Thursday, Meyer showed her new “pet” to some colleagues who huddled in one of the only hospital tents with adequate air conditioning that day.
Maj. Paul Robertson, a nurse anesthetist with the same unit, peered at the quivering creature, whose new home is a plastic vial normally used to store urine samples.
“I guess he couldn’t wait for clinic hours,” Robertson said.