Medical care surprises Guantanamo captives

Doctors, nurses say detainees express gratitude for treatment

February 05, 2002|By COX NEWS SERVICE

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba - One captive expressed surprise when he woke up after surgery to repair a gunshot wound he had suffered in Afghanistan. He told his doctor he thought he was going to be killed.

Several other captives have thanked doctors and nurses for easing their pain by treating their wounds and infections.

The Taliban and al-Qaida prisoners brought to Guantanamo for confinement and medical care until American officials can figure out what to do with them are supposed to be among the hardest of a hard lot. But the medical staff brought in to treat them say they have generally been cooperative and appreciative.

"I think they understand we're here to help them. We're not here to hurt them," said Navy Lt. Helen Hui-Choi, 26, a nurse from York, Pa.

Hui-Choi said when she first approaches some of the prisoners and they see she's a woman, they flinch and draw away. But she said she shows them what she is going to do and has an interpreter relay that information.

"Once they see what you do makes them feel better, they are more comfortable with you," she said.

The doctors and nurses of Navy Fleet Hospital 20 from Camp Lejeune, N.C., realize there is little sympathy in the United States for Taliban and al-Qaida captives in the wake of the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11.

"But they are able to separate their personal feelings from their professional duties," said Navy Capt. Pat Alford, commander of the hospital unit, which arrived at the base about two weeks ago.

Lt. Cmdr. Mark Galland, 34, an orthopedic surgeon from Donaldsonville, La., said the captives seem surprised at the level of medical care they are receiving.

"They may have thought they were coming here to be executed, but we are giving them the best medical care they've ever had in their lives," Galland said.

Since their arrival, the doctors have performed 18 surgeries on six different patients, most for gunshot or shrapnel wounds. The middle finger of one captive's left hand had to be amputated because of a gunshot wound through his palm.

Two captives have malaria, and two are being treated with medication for mental problems. One of the latter has been described by officials as suffering from bipolar disorder, and the other is said to have post-traumatic stress syndrome, possibly as a result of fighting in Afghanistan.

Seven remain hospitalized with infections, most in bones damaged by bullets or shrapnel. One captive has four different types of bacterial infections and is being treated with five antibiotics, Galland said.

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