LEST WE FORGET-ONE MANS OBSERVATION...
I am a doctor
specializing in Emergency Medicine in the Emergency Departments of the only two
military Level One trauma centers. They are both in San Antonio, TX and they
care for civilian emergencies as well as military personnel. San Antonio
has the largest military retiree population in the world living here because of
the location of these two large military medical centers.
As a military doctor in training for my specialty I work long hours and the pay is less than glamorous. One tends to become jaded by the long hours, lack of sleep, food, family contact and the endless parade of human suffering passing before you. The arrival of another ambulance does not mean more pay, only more work. Most often it is a victim from a motor vehicle crash. Often it is a person of dubious character who has been shot or stabbed. With our large military retiree population it is often a nursing home patient.
Even with my enlisted service and minimal combat experience in Panama prior to medical school, I have caught myself groaning when the ambulance brought in yet another sick, elderly person from one of the local retirement centers that cater to military retirees. I had not stopped to think of what citizens of this age group represented.
I saw Saving Private Ryan. I was touched deeply. Not so much by the carnage in the first 30 minutes, but by the sacrifices of so many. I was touched most by the scene of the elderly survivor at the graveside asking his wife if he'd been a good man. I realized that I had seen these same men and women coming through my Emergency Dept and had not realized what magnificent sacrifices they had made. The things they did for me and everyone else that has lived on this planet since the end of that conflict are priceless.
Situation permitting I now try to ask my patients about their experiences. They would never bring up the subject without the inquiry. I have been privileged to an amazing array of experiences recounted in the brief minutes allowed in an Emergency Dept encounter. These experiences have revealed the incredible individuals I have had the honor of serving in a medical capacity, many on their last admission to the hospital.
There was a frail, elderly woman who reassured my young enlisted medic trying to start an IV line in her arm. She remained calm and poise despite her illness and the multiple needle-sticks into her fragile veins.
She was what we call a "hard stick." As the medic made another attempt, I noticed a number tattooed across her forearm. I touched it with one finger and looked into her eyes. She simply said "Auschwitz."
Many of later generations would have loudly and openly berated the young medic in his many attempts. How different was the response from this person who'd seen unspeakable suffering.
A long retired Colonel who as a young officer had parachuted from his burning plane over a pacific island held by the Japanese. Now an octogenarian, his head cut in a fall at home where he lived alone. His CT scan and suturing had been delayed until after midnight by the usual parade of high priority ambulance patients. Still spry for his age, he asked to use the phone to call a taxi to take him home, then realized his ambulance had brought him without his wallet. He asked if he could use the phone to make a long distance call to his daughter who lived 70 miles away. With great pride we told him that he could not, as he'd done enough for his country and the least we could do was get him a taxi home, even if we had to pay for it ourselves. My only regret was that my shift wouldn't end for several hours and I couldn't drive him myself.
I was there the night MSG Roy Benavidez came through the Emergency Dept for the last time. He was very sick. I was not the doctor taking care of him but I walked to his bedside and took his hand. I said nothing. He was so sick he didn't know I was there. I'd read his Congressional Medal of Honor citation and wanted to shake his hand. He died a few days later.
The gentleman who served with Merrill's Marauders, the survivor of the Baatan Death March, the survivor Omaha Beach, the 101 year old World War I veteran, the former POW held in frozen North Korea, the former Special Forces medic now with non-operable liver cancer, the former Viet Nam Corps Commander. I remember these citizens. I may still groan when yet another ambulance comes in, but now I am much more aware of what an honor it is to serve these particular men and women. I am angered at the cut backs, implemented and proposed, that will continue to decay their meager retirement benefits. I see the President and Congress who would turn their back on these individuals who've sacrificed so much to protect our liberty. I see later generations that seems to be totally engrossed in abusing these same liberties won with such sacrifice. It has become my personal endeavor to make the nurses and young enlisted medics aware of these amazing individuals when I encounter them in our Emergency Dept.
Their response to these particular citizens has made me think that perhaps all is not lost in the next generation. My experiences have solidified my belief that we are losing an incredible generation and this nation knows not what it is losing. Our un-caring government and ungrateful civilian populace should all take note.
We should all remember that we must "Earn this."
CPT Stephen R. Ellison, M.D.