Hospital corps provide care to Afghan citizens

Hospital corps provide care to Afghan citizens
The patient wraps his arms around Lowderman and Houchins. In the flurry of activity, Lowderman didn't even have time to remove the lollipop from his mouth.

COMBAT OUTPOST TURBETT, Marjah District, Afghanistan – Hospital Corpsman Daniel Lowderman was awakened at 5:30 a.m. to tend to an Afghan boy with a wounded finger.

At 8 a.m., the 27 year old from Seattle, Wash., took his next patient. This begins a steady stream of Afghan children and adults arriving over the next four hours.

The bulk are children suffering from a range of illnesses, from stomachaches, headaches and fevers to teething. One boy had an infection, caused by pieces of tissue leftover from a nosebleed one month earlier. | See photos of the hospital corps in action.

Lowderman keeps busy with anywhere from 15 to 25 patients, ranging from older men to very young children.

In the heat of the day, the Afghans stay at home. This gives Lowderman’s a chance to hit the gym before the evening rush.

“Emergencies come in late at night, like stab wounds, gunshot wounds,” says Lowderman.

The mission at the civilian forward aid station is to treat the local residents. In just a little more than a month the station has cared for 700 locals, which includes the Afghan National Cop (ANCop) and Afghan National Army (ANA).

They treat “for whatever: gunshot wounds, blast injuries, if they’re sick,” says Lowderman. They also have MEDEVACED 10 civilians with severe injuries to higher levels of medical treatment that are not available at Turbett.

“The secondary mission is to go out with the Marines," he said. "and if they happen to get hurt, be there on site to render medical care to them in the battlefield.”

The aid station is critical to the overall mission in Afghanistan of winning over the local populace.

“We instantly gain trust," Lowderman says, applying bandages to a small child with an open wound from an untreated cyst. "Most cultures over here in this part of the country already have a high respect for the medical field and medical doctors."

That's because the perils for locals are many.

“They go swimming in these canals," he says. "If they get little cuts on their legs, they get really infected.”

For patients with less obvious ailments, Lowderman uses bits of Pashto – the Afghani language – and body movements to communicate.

“I don’t have my own designated terp (interpreter), but actually I steal them where I can,” says Lowderman just as an interpreter enters the clinic, translating for a little boy suffering from a fever.

For other patients, no amount of translation can help them in this remote region.

“There’s not much we can do for the little kids when it comes to the internal medicine factors, so the best we can do is children’s Motrin,” says Lowderman as he presses his palms over a child’s belly, checking for painful areas.

For children suffering from stomachaches, Lowderman identifies several contributing factors. “It’s Ramadan, they’re not eating," he says, speaking of the Islamic month of dawn-to-sunset fasting. "When they do eat they’re not eating the best food. There’s a lot of stomach viruses, a lot of parasites in this area.”

Later in the morning, Lowderman and Hospital Corpsman Jason Houchins, 34, of Colonial Heights, Va., receive information that a truck has pulled up outside the base gates. They rush out of the clinic expecting the worse.

In the street, a crowd of Afghans gathers as the two corpsmen carry a man, who appears to be unconscious, into the base and lay him on the exam table. Houchins tries to rouse a response from the man, but his eyes remain closed. Only his feet fidget erratically.

With snippets of information from another local, Lowderman and Houchins discover the man hasn’t eaten for three days and often has similar spells.

Their first step is to treat him for low blood sugar via an IV drip.

“If he doesn’t respond to this we’re gonna treat him for habitual drug use, narcotic drug use," Houchman says. "After that we’ll evaluate him and see; sometimes it takes a considerable amount of drugs to get him to come back. So it’s kind of a wait and see. We don’t have the lab equipment to do a proper diagnosis out here. So we kind of have to do what’s called expeditionary medicine, which is treat the patient as we see them and do what we know is best.”

COMING WEDNESDAY: What do you do with unexploded improvised explosive devices in Afghanistan?

Dan Morrison and Cali Bagby are embedded with the Marines in Helmand province, Afghanistan, north of the Pakistani border, as multimedia journalists for KATU's Eugene sister station, KVAL News.

Morrison teaches photojournalism and multimedia reporting at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication in Eugene.

Bagby is a freelance multimedia journalist who spent 10 months embedded with the Oregon National Guard in Iraq for KVAL.com and KATU.com.