Sunday, November 26, 2006

Visit to the 10th Cash

The Ibn Sina Hospital occupies a sprawling marble and stone villa on the west side of Hiafa Street in the IZ about half way between Assassin’s Gate and the Republican Palace. Three stories framed by palm trees, it has a small doorway and smallish, tinted widows. Despite the small crowd that seemed permanently affixed to the sidewalk outside, it is almost indistinguishable from the other compounds in the neighborhood. Although I’d passed the building at least a dozen times previous, I never realized that this was the infamous Tenth Combat Support Hospital, or “10th Cash,” as everyone here calls it.

I could tell they were busy as we approached. Two humvees were parked half on the sidewalk, half in the street, while a third just seemed abandoned in the road. There were splotches of blood - smears, splashes, and what looked like hand prints - all over the doors and hood of one of the trucks. Like when you’re painting the living room and don’t realize you have paint on your hands when you answer the phone, except no one paints their living room this color. One soldier was leaning against a humvee, distractedly smoking his cigarette. Another sat on the curb holding his head in his bloody hands - I couldn’t tell if the blood was his own or somebody else’s. We walked past, feeling guilty for being there. Or maybe for not being there, or for not being able to fix whatever had happened before we got there.

The building is set up with a public lobby area in the front, and the ICU/Trauma Ward out back near the helo pads. The lobby itself is not too large, with that type of sterile office furniture all waiting rooms everywhere seem to have, that is to say, of indeterminate style or age. Several Iraqi civilians and a few concerned-looking US soldiers were standing about, not mixing (as usual). The only one who was actually doing anything was a bored Specialist who was mopping the floor - blood is very slippery when wet and it dries sticky, so it’s best to take care of it quick. “Can you tell me where Sergeant S. might be? He has a broken leg.” “Ortho patients are down the hall.” Of course, we got lost.

Left over kid’s Halloween decorations stared down from the hallway walls. Happy pumpkins and smiling witches, the kind that aren’t too creepy and don’t scare the kids. But I was scared. Hospitals creep me out. The passageway itself was filled with gurneys and medical equipment; monitors and pumps and all sorts of things that you hope your loved ones will never have to be hooked up to. I always think of Aunt Patty or Aunt Keena when I see these devices, with their wires and hoses and such. And of how scared I was when Mom went into the hospital - we kids must have been too young because we had to stand outside her window with a big cardboard Get Well Soon sign we’d made. At one point a nurse (?) in scrubs came out and asked “Oh, are you our Oh-negatives?” “Pardon me?” “Oh-negative, we’re looking for Oh-negative.” We weren’t her Oh-negatives, but she was able to point us in the right direction.

The patient I’d come to see had a broken leg, nothing life threatening, but probably bad enough to get him sent home. Judging from the sounds coming from behind some of the curtains, he was pretty lucky. Nonetheless, he wasn’t happy. The visit was uncomfortable and I left as soon as it seemed appropriate.

I think he was evacuated later that day.


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