NEAR BAGHDAD, Iraq—A band of Iraqi men and young boys, some with rotting teeth, others with painful stomach ailments, walked through a sandstorm Wednesday in search of this makeshift U.S. medical clinic on the outskirts of a captured airstrip.
They were searched for weapons and bombs and then treated by a military physician working on a sand hill, a box of medical supplies at his side. Some patients carried empty medicine bottles with them, while others simply pointed to bellies and toes.
"I've developed a local dialect for pain, heart and throat," said Navy Lt. Sherman Lee, 30, who was on duty at the clinic 12 miles south of Baghdad.
He paged through a palm-sized notebook filled with phonetic spellings of Arabic words before examining a young man's lacerated foot.
An Iraqi man who identified himself as Mr. Saed brought his 7-year-old son. He explained that the boy has been wetting his bed. Using gestures, the doctor recommended the child cut back on liquids at night.
Another boy, a frail-looking 6-year-old, had more serious problems: swollen lymph nodes, unexplained bruises on the insides of his arms, chronic diarrhea and bedbug bites all over his face and body. His blue sneakers were ripped, exposing his toes.
Navy Lt. Cmdr. Joe O'Brien, 43, feared the boy might be suffering from leukemia. At the very least, he said, the child wasn't getting enough protein.
"He's a kid I would follow," said the Boston native, deployed from New River, N.C. He made do with what he had: cans of tuna fish, anti-fungal cream, steroid cream and Pepto-Bismol tablets.
Women who make the trip have been the hardest to treat, said Lee, deployed from a Navy unit stationed at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland.
"They are completely shrouded and very bashful," he said. "They won't let me even examine their ears."
On this day, the mood was often playful. A patient in his mid-30s giggled when a doctor tried to examine a cut on the underside of his foot. Two others, there for the trip and apparently not in need of treatment, practiced their English with a group of Marines.
"Drink? You drink?" one man named Fayed asked, smiling. "One, two, three, four. Good morning."
A nearby sheepherder posed for a photo. The little boy who wet his bed held tight to the Tootsie Rolls and Charms candy that the doctors gave him. He beamed after a soldier handed him a black wool cap. He wore it like a crown.
Navy Lt. Chris Cornelissen, 29, also deployed from New River, N.C., said most of what he had seen in the area were ailments linked to dirty water and poor hygiene.
"In children, especially, you see borderline malnutrition," he said. "You see skin ailments, lots of fungal diseases. Sanitation is a lot of it, as are worms. They are living out there right with animals."
The clinic began operations six days ago, after a team of Navy doctors drew a cross in the sand. The physicians were already in the area, stationed on the air base to work casualty-evacuation cases as needed.
"Hopefully this will be a way to show them what the future could hold," said Cornelissen.
(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.