Sunday, December 11, 2011

Nurses in Viet Nam, They Served Too

(C) James J Alonzo

I Had hired on with the Donner – Hanna Coke Corporation as Director of Security, my job was to protect the facility and 1,000 employees of a Coke Manufacturing plant. My security officers were well trained in weapons, certified first aid, trained Emergency Medical Technicians, and trained Firemen.

In 1975, a few years after my service in Vietnam. I received a call one afternoon from one of my company employees saying he had chest pains. He said he was feeling very ill. I and my partner Phillip Taylor, went to the site in the plant, stabilized the employee and transported him to the hospital in our company ambulance.

A nurse met us at the Emergency room door of Erie County Medical Center and took us immediately into the ER. Over the next couple of hours, the employee was examined by a doctor, given nitro medication, x-ray, and blood tests. Afterward, a nurse approached me and said,

“Sir, He will have to stay and be tested for a few hours or so to make sure he didn’t have any heart attack, and depending on what they find, he may likely will have to stay overnight.

“ Thank you," i responded, "I‘ll hang around for a while”.

I would of left but my partner decided to take another nurse he knew to the cafeteria for coffee, so I was stuck there till he got back. The Nurse I was speaking too, named Joan, must have noticed I had pipe and smoking tobacco in my shirt pocket and asked,

"You have a light?" waving a cigarette at me.

“ You want to go outside with me and have a smoke?”

“Sure,” she said with a smile, “You seem safe.”

So we went out on a private patio like area reserved for doctors and nurses. We introduced ourselves, her name being Joan, as she pulled a smoke out, and I lit her cigarette, and later my pipe.

As we were smoking and speaking small talk for a few minutes, our conversation was interrupted, when I heard the approaching "Life Flight" helicopter approaching from a distance, bringing a critical emergency patient.

We both stopped speaking, as the chopper got closer, and as it started it’s approach to land on the Hospital roof. I noticed Joan puffing on her cigarette as though she was in a hurry. Shortly after she stubbed that cigarette out she wanted me to light another smoke, becoming very fidgety and agitated. As the chopper settled onto the helipad,  noticed a haze coming over her eyes.

As I stepped around in front of her to see better I recognized the look as the “1000 yard stare”. I had seen “the stare” many times, in Viet Nam, and in other veteran‘s eyes.

After about 5 seconds she noticed me staring. She was embarrassed and started to apologize.

“No need for that”, I said . “I bet you were a nurse in Nam?”

“Is it that noticeable?” She asked.

“Yes, it is, I have seen it before.”

Joan smiled at me, relaxed, leaned her back against the wall, pulled another smoke out, and I lit it for her as she spoke,

“ I was in Viet Nam at Plieku last part of my tour," she spoke as though she were confessing her sins, "My first part of my tour was at a Medivac hospital, in 1967 and 1968. I had done time on the hospital ship USS Good Hope and also time in the Navy hospital in Da Nang. I saw and treated so many maimed bodies and dying soldiers, and it had really gotten to me! I still have nightmares, and flashbacks. The helicopters arriving at the hospitals, the noise of the rotors always preceded the carnage. So now when I am working here, the wop – wop of the blades of the Life Flight helicopter (vintage UH1E, Hueys) at close range always brings back those memories!”

“I know," I replied, " Some shrinks call it flashbacks“

“When I got back home“, She continued, “I didn’t want to do nursing anymore, but my priest talked me into continuing my nursing career, and now even though it’s difficult at times, I am glad I did.”

We remained there for some time after that, not even speaking, just being in each others presence, and our own thoughts.

After all these years, I don’t even remember what Joan the nurse looked like but the point of this story is “They served too”. Lets us not forget those wonderful women who done their time in Vietnam. Many a soldier who lay dying, the nurse was the last thing he saw. The smile of a combat nurse, the caress of a warm hand, a touch on the cheek or some kind words may have been the last thing they remembered.

Nurses in war, suffer the same as combat veterans

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