The military morphine patrol
Gereshk, Helmand province;
It’s only six pm but it might as well have been past midnight. The streets are empty and only a slight fraction of the moon is visible. As the convoy of six vehicles drives trough the city, the small stuffed animal hanging in the front window of the captains jeep, dances from side to side.
The busy market is closed, shutters covering every shop window. No one wants to be outside after dark.
The convoy pulls up in front of a metal gate in the middle of the center. The captain jumps out and knocks on the metal gate. It opens. The convoy drives through and stops in the courtyard. The British men search the ground for explosives. There are none.
A bearded man stands in the doorway of the hospital entrance. He holds his right hand up to cover his eyes from the bright lights beaming from the military vehicle. There’s no other light. The group dressed in army fatigues walks up to him.
The captain greets the man, Salam alaikum. Her long blond ponytail hangs down from under her helmet.
“Alaikum salam,”he answers; puzzled it’s a female soldier and officer.
The hospital manager in Gereshk has traded in a quiet evening at home to show the Danish CIMIC team around the almost empty hospital. He looks weary.
“We need to hurry,” the translator explains. “Bad guys around”.
The hospital manager is torn between the need for a fresh supply of medicine and the threat from Taliban because he accepts medicine from foreign troops. His patients are his priority. He unlocks the door.
NATO members in the wake of the Balkan wars in the 1990s developed CIMIC or Civil military coorporation. Although some argue that civilian military relations are needed, the question others ask is if the concept is not too demanding for Afghanistan at present. Everyone agrees medicine is needed in the war-torn Helmand province.
Inside the hospital the staff have just completed a minor operation of an older looking woman. Now she is lying on a bed in a small room with her young child. The operation has been performed without any pain relief.
“No morphine,” the translator tells me. I share a glance with the Danish doctor. He looks horrified. The lack of morphine or any other pain relief in the operating theatre surprises him. The woman looks exhausted. Her baby begins to cry. We leave her to care for her child.
We enter the theatre. The mattress of the bed where the older looking woman has just been laying has cracks here and there in the red plastic. Blood and sweat dripping directly down to the core of the mattress.
“Imagine the bugs,” the doctor says, shaking his head, a sterile environment lacking. As the rest of the room is inspected, he finds tools still soaked with blood and salvia and looks horrified at a dirty piece of soap lying at the zinc. “I cannot imagine how they can save lives here,” he says.
The translator tells the hospital manager.
“Take me to Denmark and teach me,” he says. His face doesn’t look like he’s joking.
We are shown around the hospital buildings. Each time we exit one building; the British security team swipes the ground for IEDs. It’s dark and exceptionally quiet. Not a sound as we move around the campus.
I ask the hospital manager about a building not far away. It’s for women problems only, he explains. Whatever that means.
The x-ray room looks like its taken out of a 16-century Danish pharmacy. But it’s working the hospital manager says. It’s what we have.
Back in the main building the staff is given a box filled with assorted medicine. There are bottles of Morphine, adrenaline for allergies and clean syringes.
“Morphine, good,” one of the staff says. His colleagues nod. The next operation will be less traumatic for the patient.
We say goodbye and as we drive off I cannot help but wonder if the hospital is enough for the 50.000 or so residents of Gereshk. The captain tells me it is not. She tells me that the hospital have to be careful so the Taliban wont notice they are receiving any help from the NATO troops.
They have to rely on a bit of morphine, new mattresses and a water tank. What they could use is education.