A letter from a colleague, posted with her permission
I recently spent two weeks in Iraq on a humanitarian outreach to the Medical community in Basra. I wanted to share with you a little about the trip.
I went with Operation Blessing.
I am safely home from Iraq, and happy to see green grass and trees. Iraq really is the desert! very little green, and miles of taupe sand. We flew in to Kuwait City, and signed up at the Humanitarian center for badges and passes.Then the drive to the border..we passed the US and British army camps along the road. I felt so sorry for the soldiers...it was 127 degrees, with blowing dust and sand. After we passed the border, with many inspections of papers and passports, we traveled two hours into Iraq to Basra. I was surprised that the country , while poor and very run down, had very little visible "war" damage. An occasional bomb crater, or destroyed government building, but the most part was intact. Basra is a city of 1.5 million, very third world, with trash everywhere and crumbling buildings. We stayed at a hotel near the UN headquarters. The windows were covered with cement blocks, to deter looters.
The following morning we started work at two local hospitals. There were 14 doctors and nurses on the team, all of whom came with 3 days notice. It was really a God thing, that we all got there and had just the skills needed for the time.
I worked in the Labor and delivery department of the Maternity and Pediatric hospital. It is a bare, filthy and brutal place. The staff is very rough with the mothers, and seem to not have any concept of clean technique. It was not at all uncommon for them to get up one mother from the delivery table, which was a bare plastic cushion, and immediately put another mother down there, into the pool of blood,etc that the previous occupant left., to deliver her baby. I spent a lot of time asking them to clean between moms. At best they would wipe off the visible blood with tap water. By the end of my ten days, I had them cleaning at least three times a day with disinfectant.
With such a situation and limited time, I had to choose my battles.I chose to focus on teaching the midwives and doctors to deliver the mothers without an episiotomy. Their policy is to do a large sideways surgical cut for every first or secondtime mother. They do this without any numbing medicine, and sew them up afterward also without anesthesia. As you can imagine, the women scream through-out this procedure. There is a huge infection and complication rate with the women who are subjected to this. There is frequently pain and disability for months or years .
I was able to give them studies and information discouraging episiotomy, and teach them how to deliver without a cut. They were very surprised, and when I would help a woman deliver, suddenly there would be hordes of medical students and midwives around, watching, and questioning me. It was great!. And by the time I left, many of the midwives were routinely delivering without a cut.! Praise God! So this impacted the women I delivered, and now many women for years to come.
The medical standards at the hospitals are 30 years behind. The doctors told us they had no outside information available since Saddam came into power, and he confiscated all the western medical texts. I carried in 15 up to date medical textbooks, which were gratefully received, and I was told that the doctors would all read them. These were 3 inch reference books! And I bet they *will* all read them cover to cover!
Throughout our time there , there was only one negative incident. When we went to the local street market, the atmosphere was hostile, and we were struck by bags of dirty water. I was shocked, having been so well received by the hospitals and other Iraqis I had encountered. But no real injury, and soon safe back at the hotel.
One day a British medical unit asked our plastic surgeon to evaluate some kids how had been injured in a tribal conflict. Mark, the surgeon, bless him, said.of course I need to take the nurses with us!. So off we went in a British armored vehicle, out to a tribal home. It was fascinating to see the traditional lifestyle. I was taken to the women's room ,and examined the babies of the household.. We were able to make some arrangements to have the injured children treated at the hospitals by the Operation Blessing (our) team, and left to go back to the hotel. As a compensation, the British took us to the palace compound, where Saddam had built one of his sumptuous homes, and showed us the medic unit there . This was a huge treat, as it was strictly forbidden to *tour* the compound, just to see the buildings. The buildings were very elaborate, with carvings and inlaid wood.Quite a contrast to the rest of the city.
All the Iraqi's we talked to were very concerned with "security". It was not safe to be out after dark, because the remaining regime people, or just outlaws, were active with their rifles at night. Many people were injured and robbed every night.Looting was still ongoing. But I never felt unsafe in our hotel.
All told, we were there 11 days, and really impacted the health care, and were able to begin teaching the nurses and hospital personnel more modern ideas.
I really felt guided and protected by the Lord. I came home with a virus, and have not had a voice for two weeks, but it was so worth going, and I'm glad to be home.
Blessings, JK CNM
(and in reply to a question, asking what could be done to help).
Yes, the doctors are educated in English, as Arabic is not a precise language, and the terms do not translate. So the books I took were English medical references...Principles of Gynecology, prescriptive updates, etc.. I'm sure they could use any other donated books on any medical topic. I'm sure journals would be welcome, but the postal system is in total disarray, so I don't know how they could get there.
The NGO I went with is working on getting equipment to the hospitals in Basra. Probably the most direct way to actually help is to donate to them. You can donate from the site or get addresses to donate items. Thanks for your interest.
A letter from a colleague, posted with her permission