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Navy doctor does his best, but sees worst wounds of his career

NAME: Lt. Cmdr. Matt Orme

AGE: 33

HOMETOWN: St. Joseph, Mich.

BRANCH: Navy

JOB: Physician in charge of the triage area for a mobile surgical hospital in Iraq

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CAMP CHESTY, central Iraq—Lt. Cmdr. Matt Orme lets out a smile.

"We just showered for the first time in 10 days," he says. "It was a big deal. It was awesome. If I had three layers of grit, I probably got two of them off."

Orme is an emergency room physician in charge of the shock, stabilization and triage area for a Navy surgical hospital in Iraq. He runs a staff of four doctors, four nurses and 16 corpsmen.

"It's like a mini emergency department,' he says. " The hardest stuff is working on the Iraqi kids, those who are caught in the crossfire or used as a human shield. We've seen some pretty horrific injuries to small children."

Orme, 33, from St. Joseph, Mich., has a child, Ali Orme, 20 months old, about the same age as some of the children he has treated.

"Last night, we had a child with a penetrating wound to the skull, with a brain injury," he says. "Last week, we were down at Camp Anderson and there was a child whose face, nose and mouth had pretty much been blown off. It was pretty shaking to everybody involved.

"That evening, we had the combat stress people—the psychologists and psychiatrists—come and talk to people and tell them that it's OK to talk about it among yourselves. It's OK to be upset by that. We have a good working relationship. Since we are the first ones to see things, we usually see the goriest stuff. We have a good relationship with our combat stress folks. They are available anytime, as an individual or as a group."

Orme joined the Navy on its medical school scholarship program, graduating from Indiana University Medical School.

"The Navy paid for med school, and I've been in for eight years," he says. "I'll be out in about another year. This is my last stop with the Navy. I got selected, invited, whatever you call it, to come out here."

He plans to become an emergency room doctor when he leaves the military.

"This is an experience that almost no physician gets to do, come out here and actually see combat injuries," Orme says. "If you see combat injuries, there are few things that will rattle you or make you nervous. From that standpoint, it's a great experience."

He works as an emergency room doctor at the naval hospital in Camp Lejeune, N.C. It's a different world in Iraq.

"You might see a gunshot wound every couple of months back home," he says.

Orme treats both Americans and Iraqis, but he has noticed a big difference between the types of injuries. The Americans have a lot of extremity wounds.

"Their body armor is so good, the flak jacket and Kevlar helmets," he says. "The Iraqi civilians and military don't have the same protection."

One thing that has surprised Orme is the resilience of the human body.

"First of all, the human body can take a lot of gunshots without dying," he says. "At home, you see one guy, who got shot one or two times, and they come in dead. Here, you see somebody who was next to a grenade that went off and they may have some bad injuries, but they are able to survive it. That's been a big surprise."

He sleeps in a tent on a cot, about 18 inches from the next person. He goes running to get rid of stress, but the thing that makes him happy is when he gets letters from his wife, Kate.

He closes every letter to his wife by writing: "We are doing a good job. I miss you guys. And hopefully I'll be home soon."

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(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ILLUSTRATION (from KRT Illustration Bank, 202-383-6064): IRAQFACES+ORME

Iraq

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