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Sanjay Gupta: Docs grasp war through wounded

CNN medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta reports on the U.S. Navy's "Devil Docs."

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Helicopters are bringing in patients continually to the Devil Docs. CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta is there and assisted in surgery on a toddler.
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SOUTH OF BAGHDAD (CNN) -- CNN correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta is traveling with a U.S. Navy medical unit engaged in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Friday morning, he talked with CNN anchor Carol Costello about the demands on the doctors.

COSTELLO: We're going to take you live south of Baghdad again to talk to our Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Of course, he is embedded with the MASH unit known as the Devil Docs. And, Sanjay, I would imagine that it's nonstop for doctors now.

GUPTA: It is nonstop, Carol, no question about it. It's gotten nothing but busier really. We are just south of Baghdad, as you had mentioned, and there has been a flurry of activity at this particular surgical unit called the Bravo Surgical Unit.

Now, Carol, just behind me you can see a bunch of soldiers. They are bringing a body forward that is actually an Iraqi who was killed in action. That is a person who has just died and is being brought here. There is a temporary mortuary set up here as well.

Behind that there are two cargo helicopters, also being used to bring many patients, both coalition forces as well as Iraqi, to this particular surgical unit.

It has been going nonstop.

Carol, let me just paint a little bit more of a scene for you. You mentioned MASH. It's just like that in many ways, although these are Navy doctors who support the Marines.

There are four operating rooms just off to my right side here. These operating rooms are running 24 hours a day. There are two more operating rooms at the back of this particular site. This particular camp is about 500 to 1,000 meters long by as much as wide -- a pretty large camp.

The Marines are constantly getting a reflection of what's going on just north of here by the types of casualties that are coming in.

Now, there is an excellent triage with Black Hawk helicopters very quickly bringing these patients in. We have some video of [them] bringing these patients in quickly. A lot of these are Iraqi. Again, the Iraqis are oftentimes at the scene. They are stripped of their clothing. They are undergoing a complete search to make sure they are not of any danger. Oftentimes they're concerned about such things as grenades actually being hidden in the clothing, things like that. After that, they are taken immediately to the triage tents and given the exact same medical care as the coalition forces.

This is something that I can't reinforce enough. It's just continuous here, and it's hot here as well, 100 degree at least. These Marines are doing their medical care, wearing their MOP [chemical and biological protection] suits, and at times having to endure all of that in all of this heat as well.

COSTELLO: Sanjay, can you give us a better sense of how many are coming in per hour or per day?

GUPTA: You know, it definitely has come in waves, and again, it's been very reflective of what people have been seeing further north, Walt Rodgers and some of the other reporters, in terms of what they're reporting.

This triage unit, this medical unit, which is the farthest forward triage unit, is seeing a lot of those. We're seeing maybe, you know, eight or nine in a single burst, and it's really dependent on how quickly the [medical evacuation] can occur from the front line and bring those patients back here. But it may be quiet for an hour, then eight or nine [more] may come in.

Last night, they were operating continuously from about three in the afternoon to three in the morning, continuous operations at one of these six operating tables.

As far as percentage-wise, I'd say 70 to 75 percent of the patients who are being seen here right now are Iraqi. That closely approximates what we had been seeing earlier last week as well, when some of the first operations were being done.

COSTELLO: How are the doctors handling this psychologically? Because this just must be tough on them.

GUPTA: You know, that's a great question, and I think a lot of these doctors, this is exactly what they do back home. But obviously the setting is very different, and the patients are very different. I think that they have become very accustomed just over the last couple of weeks to treating injuries that they just don't typically see, rocket-propelled grenades causing the type of damage that only a grenade could cause.

I think particularly difficult are some of these civilians, in particular the civilian children that are coming in. Now, just yesterday, a 2-year-old boy came in with significant head injuries and significant injuries elsewhere in his body as well. His mother was also brought in [with] significant injuries from bullet wounds.

That's tough to take, I think, for any of these doctors. I've certainly talked to a lot of them after these operations. They're coping well, to answer your question, but certainly they're not immune emotionally to what it is that they're seeing.

COSTELLO: Yes, and I would imagine the language barrier is tough, because it's hard for them to comfort the patients they are treating.

GUPTA: Yes, you know, they do have a pretty good system in place. There are translators who show up; for some of the Iraqis who are known to be soldiers, there are intelligence officers that come in as well, trying to collect intelligence. Translators are able to help transmit messages from the doctors to the patients.

But it is an attempt at best to try and console these patients during, you know, an obviously physically as well as emotionally challenging time. Some of those systems are in place, but it is so busy here as well that triage -- getting the patients taken care of, and then getting them on one of these helicopters so they can go back to the U.S. and have comfort, or go back to Kuwait City -- is the priority. That's what these doctors are trying to do.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This report was written in accordance with Pentagon ground rules allowing so-called embedded reporting, in which journalists join deployed troops. Among the rules accepted by all participating news organizations is an agreement not to disclose sensitive operational details.

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