The U.S. military started setting up a mobile army surgical hospital (M.A.S.H.) on the outskirts of the quake-devastated capital of Pakistani Kashmir on Tuesday and treated its first patients.
Soldiers began putting up a network of sturdy tents on open ground just to the south of Muzaffarabad to house two 12-bed intensive care and surgical units.
“We’re going to be able to perform surgery by this evening,” said Lt. Kevin Stephens of the Germany-based 212th MASH.
On Tuesday, the unit treated two children who were hurt in the Oct. 8 quake which killed more than 53,000 people and injured over 75,000 seriously.
“This morning, these folks turned up at the gate so we showed them in,” Stephens said of the two children and their parents.
Both of the children had already been treated -- the young girl had a broken leg in a cast and the boy had an injured foot -- but they were both given X-rays and additional care.
Toll still unknown
Nobody knows what the final death toll will be after the most violent earthquake Pakistan has ever suffered, with uncounted bodies still lying under the rubble of mountain villages.
The number of injured is also likely to soar, with people still being brought down by helicopters after they drop relief supplies or carried down from villages the aircraft cannot reach more than two weeks after the quake.
The harsh Himalayan winter is only a few weeks away and about 3 million people are homeless.
“I think, this far out, we’re probably going to see a lot of infections,” said one of the unit’s 12 doctors, Capt. John Fernald from North Carolina.
The MASH also has 32 nurses and 30 medics.
'As long as we're needed'
Relief helicopters bound for the main staging area in Muzaffarabad hammered overhead while one of the unit’s generators, supplying power for lights and medical equipment, throbbed outside the tent.
Head nurse Lt. Col. Anne Sammartino, from Providence, Rhode island, said the MASH surgeons would be able to perform up to 20 operations a day.
The hospital, which also has a 20-bed recovery ward, will probably have to do a lot of orthopedic surgery on broken bones, as well as deal with infections and exposure.
“We expect to see a lot of patients. We can stay here as long as we’re needed,” Sammartino said.