By Spc. Daniel BearlJanuary 19, 2007
TAL AFAR, Iraq, Jan. 19, 2007 - When Capt. Thornton S. Mu deployed to Iraq he hoped that he would be able to work with children.
As a flight surgeon in a combat environment, though, his chances for working with anyone other than the troopers under his care seemed slim. That is, until a young boy named Ibrahim arrived at the front gate of Forward Operating Base Sykes, near Tal Afar, Iraq, seeking medical attention.
"I had always envisioned that even though my primary job here is to take care of the soldiers, that I would have the opportunity to be able to interact with kids," Mu, who is a pediatrician, said. "So, it was certainly one of those opportunities that made my day very worthwhile."
Several weeks before, Ibrahim had been injured by a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, and had been evacuated by Coalition servicemembers to a nearby Coalition hospital for immediate treatment. When he was released, he and his family were given instructions to seek a Coalition doctor for follow up treatment.
"He showed up one day at the entry control point with a sheet that said he needed to be followed up by an Army doctor," Mu said. "So, that's when he came to me."
The boy had suffered from broken bones and shrapnel injuries from the explosion, Mu said.
Mu said he examined the boy using X-rays to see how well his bones were mending and was able to remove some of his stitches.
One of the challenges in the encounter was the language barrier, Mu said. Neither the boy nor his family members spoke any English.
"I think there's always a cultural challenge that comes into play when there's a language barrier," Mu said. "You find different ways to ask the same question so the interpreter will understand what you are trying to ask. So sometimes you might ask a question two or three different ways before the interpreter says, 'Oh, I understand what question you were trying to ask.' We used pictures, imitated body movements or pointed to body parts so that they understood what we were trying to ask them. So, it makes for some interesting times."
They even wrote the instructions for Ibrahim's medications on his cast so that his family could read them to know exactly which medicines to give him, Mu said.
Even though the encounter was both unexpected and unusual, Mu said he enjoyed it.
"It would definitely be a highlight of the deployment," Mu said, "especially when he came back two weeks later. We took the cast off and at this point he recognized our faces and came in with a big smile because he knew us. It certainly made it a lot more fun."
As for practicing medicine while deployed, Mu spoke of the rewards it brings.
"My job here is to take care of my troopers," Mu said. "It's very rewarding to be able to establish those relationships. We're very fortunate in that we haven't had any major injuries, combat injuries here. I certainly miss my family and I miss taking care of kids. So, when that 8-year-old came in, it certainly made for a fun time."