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Reporter’s Notebook: Hundreds Endure Heat for Health Care

By Fred W. Baker III
American Forces Press Service

CHINANDEGA, Nicaragua, July 14, 2009 – I saw a Navy commander cry the other day.

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A red band is placed on the wrist of a child waiting in line to be screened by doctors and nurses from the hospital ship USNS Comfort at Chinandega, Nicaragua, July 11, 2009. The bands allow the patients into the clinic. Hundreds turned out that day, and thousands have been treated during the ship’s final stop in Nicaragua. DoD photo by Fred W. Baker III

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

He wasn’t bawling. And truth be told, he’d probably rather I hadn’t noticed the single tear stream down his left cheek as he looked away.

But I did.

Earlier, the commander brought a mother and son here, where doctors from the hospital ship USNS Comfort were providing health care for the hundreds gathered at the gates of a local clinic.

Most of the problems are relatively minor: upset stomachs, tooth decay and the need for reading glasses. Most are given pain relievers and vitamins and sent on their way with a doctor’s orders to drink more water, eat better foods and brush their teeth regularly.

But this mother was given the worst news. Her son is dying. A tumor has grown to the size where it is inoperable. The Comfort doctors can do nothing but console her, get her some food and try to ease the pain.

The hardest part of these doctors’ jobs is telling a patient they can’t help them. They can only do so much.

This is the third time this week they have had to deliver such news to a parent.

Hundreds were lined up July 11, enduring the heat for the opportunity to have their ailments sized up by top doctors. The line filled the street, leading from the local medical clinic occupied by the ship’s doctors and nurses. The scene was carnival-like. A local DJ played music for the crowd. Vendors walked about selling water, soda and slices of watermelon. At about 10 a.m. it clouded slightly, making the heat and humidity endurable.

At the end of the day, about 100 people were still left in the line. The doctors had to shut down to make it back to the ship.

I asked one of the Navy corpsmen if the people still waiting would be turned away. They will sleep in the street, he said. They will not risk losing their place in line when the doctors return from the ship in the morning and the clinic reopens.

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Related Sites:
Special Report: On Location Aboard the USNS Comfort

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