U.S. Military Desert Hospital Takes in Wounded Iraqi Civilians
MEDICAL BASE AMERICA, Saudi Arabia (AP) _ The U.S. military is treating Iraqi civilians, including many children, who were wounded in the cross fire of Iraq’s insurrections or by mines sown during the Persian Gulf War.
Today, 167 Iraqi civilians and 45 prisoners of war were being treated at hospitals in King Khalid military city, 50 miles south of the Iraqi border, according to U.S. officials.
Medical Base America is the U.S. portion of the sprawling complex and includes two tent-filled facilities.
″Iraqi civilians started coming in two weeks ago,″ said Col. Richard H. Kennedy, commander of the 803rd Medical Group. He said they had been evacuated by ambulances and helicopters from the U.S. 7th and 8th Corps in Iraq.
Kennedy said most of the patients were hurt by grenades or bombs they stumbled upon near their homes.
American evacuation hospitals had been set aside for what medical officers anticipated would be 600 to 700 American battlefield casualties during the first three or four days of the Gulf War.
But U.S. casualties turned out to be much lighter than anticipated and the hospitals were turned over for humanitarian use.
″They’re in terrible condition, shrapnel, gunshots, a multitude of life- threatening injuries,″ said Lt. Col. Hal Schade, executive officer of the 114th Evacuation Hospital, a reserve unit from Ft. Sam Houston, Texas.
Some of the children’s arms and legs have been blown off by land mines and others suffer head and chest wounds. Many children, some as young as 2, had gastric tubes in their mouths and intrevenous needles in their arms.
It was not clear if any rebels from the civil war were among the wounded.
″People come to our door and we don’t ask why. We treat them. We don’t turn anybody away,″ Schade said.
″It’s very sad to see,″ said Maj. Susanne Mihalek, chief operating room nurse. ″We try to touch them, hug them and hold them. We cradle them til they sleep.″
″It’s amazing how they can tolerate some of the pain,″ said Capt. Rosemary Ramos, a staff nurse from San Antonio, Texas. ″I get very attached to them. It’s very heartbreaking. I felt like I help them a little bit.″
The arrival of the Iraqi civilians took nurses and doctors by surprise. They had no cribs available and had to keep the children on mattresses on the floors of the wards.
One 8-year-old boy lay in bed with shrapnel wounds to the head and back. A tube drained fluid from his stomach. But the boy seemed to be doing well, asking the nurses for candy and chewing gum.
A 16-year-old girl had a three-inch scar across the top of her head. On the table beside her bed was a bag of M&Ms and a red valentine candy box. Shrapnel from a grenade had exploded above her.
Her father dashed all the way from southern Iraq to an American field hospital and then on to this facility. Asked how she was injured, he said, ″Maybe the army is fighting the people.″
While medical officers said the civilians and POWs were grateful for the treatment, the girl’s father said he ″feels like a prisoner. Guards follow me everywhere. I prefer to stay here,″ said the 39-year-old father, a civilian employee of an airline. He said that he had to leave his four other children with relatives and neighbors back in Iraq.
Talking of the rebellions against Saddam Hussein’s government in northern and southern Iraq, he said: ″It’s very bad. No food and much fighting.″
Schade said some of the Iraqis said they had been told that the Americans would torture and kill them. He said some of the Iraqi POWs had been malnourished and had been living on grass and rainwater.
The POWs were to be turned over to Saudi authorities for processing.