TADIOHOUST, MOROCCO-Along the windswept edge of the Sahara dessert, those participating in MEDFLAG 2003 have little comforts of home. Buffeted by hot winds up to 110 degrees, working 16-hour days, and sustained by the often ridiculed Meal Ready to Eat (MRE), small luxuries have taken on a larger significance here.
For Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Craig, that small but vastly important item is the 70 calorie, hard-to-find packets of blackberry jam that can occasionally can be snagged from an MRE. Though in an informal count of MREs on this mission revealed that grape outnumbers blackberry four-to-one, many of MEDFLAG's 100 participants know Lt. Cmdr. Craig's hankering for blackberry jam and have taken to giving him the sugary snack from their rations.
So it was that this morning, Lt. Cmdr. Craig departed the mission's base, 50 miles away in Er Rachidia, and came to this remote town of 4,384 people to provide the sort of medical care he normally administers as an emergency room doctor within the more sophisticated and comfortable confines of U.S. Naval Station Rota, Spain. Along for the trip into the desert, a packet of blackberry jam sat in the pocket of his camouflage blouse-a treat to be savored later in the day.
Tadiohoust, a town of mud houses, ancient ruins, and thousands of anonymous tombstones made of medium-sized rocks propped on end, produced 634 patients to be seen by the Americans today. They milled about, waiting to be treated by one of the many teams able to provide on-site general surgery, ophthalmology surgery, basic medical evaluation and treatment, preventive medicine treatment, dental screenings and treatment, optometry screenings, eyewear distribution and public health training.
Under a cramped, blue tent Lt. Cmdr. Craig was triaging patients when one of them, a teenager approximately 15 years old, blacked out. With only his stethoscope and medical training to rely on, Lt. Cmdr. Craig immediately assessed the situation as life-threatening and diagnosed his young patient as a diabetic in hypoglycemic shock.
"Then he just whipped out this MRE packet of jam and squirts it down the kid's throat. The boy swallowed and it saved his life," said an eyewitness to the events, Lt. Col. Theresa Prince, U.S. Air Force Europe.
Lt. Cmdr. Craig modestly described the event as, "just my job," but even MEDFLAG's commanding officer, Capt. Elizabeth Niemyer, was impressed. "That amazing feat of healing is just the sort of thing we're here to do and displays the talent we've brought to Morocco. And I think our MREs went up a notch in everyone's estimation, as well."