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May 2003

Care on Comfort is better than ever
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By JOSN Erica Mater, USN

USNS Comfort and dhow
USNS Comfort, capable of providing medical treatment for 1,000 patients, sits at anchor in the Persian Gulf while a dhow motors past.
Photo by PH1 Shane T. McCoy, USN

Since March 20, Comfort has performed more than 450 surgical procedures during Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom. That's nearly 130 more than the number of surgical procedures Comfort performed during Operations Desert Shield and Storm.

While those numbers might not be staggering, they should be kept in perspective. During Operations Desert Shield and Storm, Comfort was deployed to the region for a total of nine months, performing a total of 337 surgical procedures. This time, more than 450 surgeries were performed in just four weeks.

"You can't compare the two wars. It's like apples to oranges; you just can't," said Cmdr. Anne Diggs, NC, USN, head nurse of the intensive care unit.

USNS Comfort flight deck
An Iraqi civilian is loaded on an Army Blackhawk helicopter after receiving medical aid aboard USNS Comfort. Several Iraqis were brought aboard Comfort for treatment of war-related and non-combatant injuries. Photos by PH1 Kevin H. Tierney, USN

For Diggs and the intensive care unit staff, they are taking care of more critically wounded patients than in Operations Desert Shield and Storm. This includes a total of nine severely burned patients, which is the most Comfort's ICU has seen.

With more than a decade between the two conflicts, the technology aboard Comfort has changed just as much as the sophistication of the warfare.

In 1990-91, Comfort did not have the capabilities to perform angiograms; this time, 30 have been performed. An angiogram is a type of interventional radiology that allows radiologists to view and repair blood vessels without having to make an incision.

"This procedure has undoubtedly saved some of our patients' lives," said Capt. Jeffrey Georgia, MC, USN, an interventional radiologist aboard Comfort.

Radiology is another department that has surpassed the numbers from the last war. In 1990-91, the radiology department performed a total of 1,240 radiographic studies, including 141 computer tomography scans, in nine months. This time, Comfort's radiology department has performed almost triple the number of radiographic studies and more than twice the number of computer tomography scans, 3,026 and 311 respectively, in just four weeks.

Medical personnel rush a wounded U.S. Marine to the operating room
Medical personnel rush a wounded U.S. Marine from the casualty receiving area to the operating room aboard USNS Comfort.

The medical field is not the only area where technology has changed. There have also been vast improvements in communications capabilities over the past decade. During Operations Desert Shield and Storm, the only way Sailors could communicate with family and friends back home was through regular mail. Now, Sailors can talk on telephones and send e-mail in real-time. There is also satellite television, which allows Sailors to see the news as it happens.

"Last time, we only had two televisions, niether had news capabilities. We had no e-mail," Diggs said. "It is totally amazing that we can keep up to date with e-mail and the news."

For ICU nurse Lt. Cmdr. Mary Ann Brantley, NC, USN, this is nothing like the last time she was here.

"No two deployments are ever the same, and this war is definitely not like the last one," Brantley said.

If there is one thing that is the same about Operations Desert Storm, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, it is the care that has been provided to patients on Comfort.

"The best thing about Comfort is that we always provide the best quality care to our patients no matter who they are or where they come from," said Diggs.