Surgeons kept busy, not excited aboard USS Saipan

24 Aug 2000 | Cpl. Derek A. Shoemake

The two Corpsmen who pushed a cart by Navy Lt. Geoffrey Wright as he wedged his tweezers into the man's head to remove a fat deposit, did not even take a second look.

The minor surgical procedure was nothing more than a common sight in USS Saipan's operating room.

According to Wright, 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit (Special Operations Capable)'s General Medical Officer, dozens of small surgeries have been performed in the less than two months the ship and 26th MEU(SOC) have been deployed to the Mediterranean region.

"What we've been taking care of, mostly, are lumps and bumps type stuff," said Wright, a Philadelphia, Penn. native.

The most common of these procedures are vasectomies.

"It might sound unusual, but it's really the best time for the procedure," said Wright. "Guys have had enough children, and they'll be away for six months, which gives them more than enough time to recover."

In addition to the vasectomies, the doctors and surgeon here have removed cysts, fat deposits, conducted hernia operations and even removed an appendix.

The ship is equipped with three operating rooms in which to perform any procedure, and save brain surgery or major orthopedics, they can perform any procedure. Though Wright adds that if someone's head were to begin internal bleeding, they could drill a hole into their skull and release the pressure. One operating room is always kept ready, and another can be ready in less than 30 minutes.

Wright points to the recent appendicitis. "We got word from (Amphibious Squadron Four) of an appendicitis on USS Ashland that was being flown over," he said. "As soon as the surgeon finished his evaluation, we were cutting. You get no better [care] in a civilian hospital."

These procedures are all done under the supervision on Lt. Comdr. Alex Mathew, surgeon with Fleet Surgical Team Eight and the only board-certified surgeon on board USS Saipan. Mathew admits the past two months have been busy, but not exciting. That, he claims, is just the way he likes it.

"The older I get the more I find excitement is bad," he said.

Mathew said he remembers an exciting night during his own residency in a civilian hospital, when two men came in with stab wounds to the heart.

"They were on death's doorstep," he said. "We had to do emergent surgery by opening their chests and suturing their hearts. (opening someone's chest) is an extremely uncommon procedure to perform so quickly."

Though one of the men lived, Mathew said the excitement wasn't worth the sacrifice.

However, he said the training and experience the medical team is getting with the smaller procedures now will help prepare them for the more serious procedures they might perform in the future.

He also said they have the supplies to do it. One of the most important of these is blood. The Saipan medical department has enough of that to fill a small, above ground swimming pool. If their supply were to run low, Wright noted "look around the ship. This is a floating blood bank."

For now, though, there is no critical need for blood, and there have been no serious injuries. This is good news for Mathew, who remains happily unexcited.