Pakistani-U.S. Translators Help Doctors

Tuesday, November 1st 2005, 11:55 am
By: News On 6

MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan (AP) _ Two days after arriving in Pakistani Kashmir last month to treat victims of the massive earthquake, U.S. Army surgeons performed their first amputation, cutting off Yaseeb Muhammad's left leg below the knee.

It fell to Spc. Abbas Farooqi, 22, to explain to Muhammad's family why the leg had to be amputated.

``It was the hardest thing I had to do in my life,'' said Farooqi, who speaks Urdu and translated for the doctors. ``The man and his brother pleaded that we don't amputate, but it had to be done.''

For the Pakistan-born U.S. soldiers working as translators at the 212th Mobile Surgical Army Hospital here, every day presents similar challenges as they help their countrymen recover from the Oct. 8 quake that killed more than 80,000 people and flattened entire communities.

Since the MASH unit arrived on Oct. 24, American doctors have treated hundreds of patients, amputating gangrenous limbs and operating on broken bones of victims crushed by collapsed buildings or buried under landslides. The doctors also have inoculated survivors against outbreaks of tetanus, diphtheria, measles, mumps and rubella, and treated respiratory illnesses and meningitis.

Patients form long lines outside the olive-green military tents where the doctors work. Many are grateful for the help, bringing fruit and even cooking meals for the Army medics.

On Eid al-Fitr, the holiday marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Mushtaq Dar, whose sister was treated for leukemia, brought Coke and local snacks to the emergency room to mark the occasion.

``Today for us is like Dec. 25 for you. It's a holiday. And twice as much, because you have helped my family,'' Dar said.

The gestures are significant to the Pakistani-Americans, who serve not only as translators, but also as unofficial ambassadors of their new country.

``You can see it in their eyes; they are grateful. They will always remember the moment when the Americans came to them in the hour of need,'' Sgt. Mohammad Tabassum, 48, who was born in Pakistan and emigrated to the U.S. at age 20 to seek an education.

``They no longer see the Americans as evil bombers in Afghanistan and Iraq, but as compassionate, helping human beings,'' he said.

Some people, however, have not been as receptive.

A 27-year-old woman, suffering life-threatening septic arm and leg wounds, was taken away from the field hospital by her husband, brother and cousin who refused to allow her to be treated but gave no clear reason.

``Her life was in danger, but there was nothing we could do to convince the men that she should be treated,'' said Staff Sgt. Syed Ahmed, who tried unsuccessfully for two and a half hours to persuade the men to let doctors care for her injuries.

``The husband said it didn't matter if she died because so many were killed by the quake. The woman was silent, and didn't say anything,'' Ahmed said, throwing his hands up in despair. ``Sometimes I don't understand these people, even though they are my people.''

Despite the challenges, though, the translators say they feel a renewed connection with their homeland by helping save lives.

Ahmed, 32, who was born in the southern Pakistani city of Karachi and emigrated to New York, smiled as he surveyed the breathtaking Himalayan scenery.

``It's at moments like this when you see that you have helped, and when you look at those beautiful mountains, you could imagine that you are in paradise _ briefly,'' he said.