The U.S. Navy has stationed its hospital ship, the Comfort, in the Northern Persian Gulf to treat war casualties from Iraq. The ship, which has 1,000 beds, is the largest facility of its kind in the world. VOA-TV’s Margaret Kennedy visited the Comfort before U.S. troops entered Baghdad and has this report on the kind of care it is giving to American servicemen and wounded Iraqi prisoners of war.
Marine Lieutenant James Reid is leaving the U.S. hospital ship Comfort. When he arrived here five days ago, he was on a stretcher suffering from gunshot and shrapnel wounds.
Commander Theresa Lavoie, a nursing supervisor, helps him get ready for the helicopter ride that will be the beginning of a trip home. Then she goes back to her job caring for other wounded servicemen.
The surgery ward she manages is less than half full. The most critical patient is a marine recovering from a shattered leg. She pays close attention to his vital signs and the circulation in his foot. A munitions technician from the carrier Constellation whose fingers were partially severed yesterday in a shipboard accident is looking for more pain medication.
Commander Lavoie tends to personal needs like his while doing plenty of paperwork. “I’m sort of the one everyone has to check with on the patient’s care," she said. "Whatever they’re going to do they have to let me know. I coordinate all the care of the patients”
A 17-year Navy veteran, she like many of the crew, ordinarily works as an administrator at Bethesda Naval Hospital near Washington D.C. She is also a wife and mother who volunteered for this duty.
“I miss my kids. I have a two-year-old and a six-year-old. That’s probably my biggest challenge right now," she said. "But I think I’ve transferred my mother skills to the Marines here. My family supports me 100 percent. My husband told me when I found out I was leaving, ‘Just pack your bag. Don’t worry about anything else.’"
The Comfort is sailing near Iraq in the Persian Gulf. Military authorities on shore decide who comes here, and so far they have sent more wounded Iraqi prisoners of war and some civilian casualties than American wounded.
Like the Americans, the Iraqis arrive on helicopters and are processed through the casualty receiving area. “They come through usually one at a time. And we bring them in. And yes, whether they’re Americans, civilian, [or] EPW [nemy Prisoner of War], it doesn’t matter,” she said.
Journalists are not allowed to visit or photograph the Iraqi prisoners. Officials here say that would be against the rules of the Geneva Convention.
Media can take pictures of Americans from afar, and can only meet with Americans who agree to talk to reporters.
There is a lot of uncertainty about the actual volume and type of patients who will come to be treated here. But nurses like Theresa Lavoie will be taking care of them.