18 April, 2006

The Medical Hobby Shop

We in the USAF often make disparaging comments about our flight docs and dentists. We call the clinics medical or dental hobby shops. It is our inalienable right to complain and so forth. The Iraqi’s have topped this however. A few days ago this correspondent had to have a mole removed from his back. (I watched Good Night and Good Luck yesterday. “this correspondent…” pure Edward R. Murrow!) I went to the USAF Medical Hobby Shop where they did a fine job removing it and putting in three stitches. The instructions were to change the bandage daily for three days and then use a band-aid. No problem so far.

On my base we don’t have a USAF medical clinic but an Iraqi medical clinic with a USAF advisor (MSgt D___). Since this was a simple bandage change I figured it would be a simple matter to have them do it. So I march over and walk in.

First unsettling thing I see: One of the hallways is flooded with dirty mop water. Not what you expect in a medical clinic. However, we see this everywhere and it is how they do it. The floors are all tile and they just pore a bunch of Pine Sol into a bucket of water, slosh it about then squeegee the mess out the door. Still it was a bit unsettling.

Second, the Iraqi’s all looked very surprised. An American? Here?!? Much scurrying about. “Hello, sir.” (means they know no more English). And worried glances as to why is this guy here. (Note: we have been instructed to use this facility when possible for Joint Operations… Get it? Operations… Medical… I digress)

While the USAF advisor was being summoned, hurriedly, one of the Iraqi’s tried to find out what I needed. I showed them some bandage materials I had been given to use and did the Pidgin English/Arabic thing trying to communicate. Further confusion since they couldn’t comprehend why the American was bringing them a couple of bandages.

Finally, the MSgt arrived and explanation were made and understood. Why his Pidgin English/Arabic is better than mine I don’t know. Into the treatment room I go.

While I am sitting there and the MSgt is getting washed up, the Iraqi’s are clustered about my backside obviously studying the three stitches. I notice a very large Iraqi (6’ 8”, 300 pounds) go over a medical cabinet and put on some gloves and get something out of a tray. He turns around and it is a scalpel in his hand. No not a scalpel, a knife about two inches long. As he starts walking toward me I think, “Hmmm… one head shot then head for the door.”

The MSgt came in at this point and began to do yell “No! No! No! Bandage only!” After much shouting and gesturing there was this sudden “Ahhh!” of comprehension and the scalpel went back into the tray. The bandage was replaced and all is well.

According to the MSgt the Iraqi’s use a scalpel to remove stitches, not the purpose built scissors the US uses. He is working on this and promises to have the technique down with his colleagues when I come back (right…). He also tells me they really do a good job, especially with serious trauma as they regrettably have far more practice with that then with Americans needing a bandage changed.


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