Apr 022013


Ruth slipped into a Dutch accent.

“Outen the light.” The pork pig is out. Quick ve must chase him to da pen pack.  You run down dis site of da fence, and I run down da odder.”

Dee and Ruth hooted with laughter.

“Lord help me,” sighed Jessie. “I’ve two Dutchies in our hootch.”

“Don’t mind, Jessie,” whispered Ruth.  “She’s wild about Dutchie care packages.”

Jessie nodded, “She’s got a big package for tomorrow, Tet or New Year’s celebrations!”bombinh copy

In the distance, U.S  planes bombed the jungle, and  the tat-tat-tat of Viet Cong anti-aircraft guns exploded in rapid fire.

“Maybe this is Chartle’s last show before tomorrow’s Tet and the truce,” Ruth shouted above the roar.

Shells exploded near the compound shaking the hospital and its equipment.  The sound of things moving and falling was following by the shattering of glass and fragile items.  The lights flickered and Dee wondered how powerful the generators were.  Surgery needed power and lighting.

“Let’s have the IVs and blood, now!”   Major Pat bellowed down the corridor. “We have ambulances outside the front door.” Then, a second later she called out, ” Dee and Ruth, I need you down here in triage.”

Major Pat performed triage quickly, and introduced Dee to the procedures.

“Normally, we’d be working with doctors doing this, but they’re prepping for surgery.

Expect at least fifty injured.  We’ve called in for Evac flights, the burn victims we can’t treat will be flown to burn units.  Our job is to stabilize patients, operate when necessary and get them to major hospitals.  We often fly them to the ship hospital anchored off shore.”stretchers

The doors burst open and litters of patients arrived.  The three nurses quickly ascertained who needed and could survive surgery, who could wait without endangering their bodies, and who would not make it.  Dee quickly adapted asking Major Pat only once for a second opinion.  Tony, the friendly corpsman or medic moved the expectants behind curtains.  Morphine drips were running for these dying or comatose young men.

If time permitted, staff would go and sit with them and the chaplain would make his rounds.

“Let’s prep these guys for surgery.”

Jessie handed Dee a large pair of scissors.  Together they worked feverishly to cut off fatigues, reinforce bleeding bandages, and refill IVs.  Such procedures were attempts to stabilize the wounded and prevent them from going into shock.  Those with life threatening wounds were moved into surgery, the rest waited for air evacuation to larger medical facilities.

“Multiple wounds, embedded shrapnel, weakening pulse.” Major Pat stated calmly.

These words were charted by a medic.

She moved on.  “Match his blood type and get him into surgery immediately.”

Jessie nodded.

Dee bent over a young black soldier.  The Major caught Dee’s eyes and pointed to the green curtain.

”Take him over there and report back to duty.”

Dee knew that he was an expectant, or expected to die.

No nurse wanted a soldier to die alone, but Dee was also under orders to report back to duty.  She bent close and noticed a change in his breath.  She glanced at her watch and counted seconds, one, two, three, four, five – no breath. Then the Cheyne-Stokes breathing pattern signaled pending death.  Dee bent her face close to his ear and she took his hand.  Softly she sang,

“Swing low, Sweet Chariot, comin’ for to carry me home.” She gasped as she felt her and being squeezed, then he took his last breath. She looked at his face.  His dark eyes had glazed over.  He was gone.  Tony was beside her, he folded the solder’s arms across his chest.

He looked up and saw the tears in Dee’s eyes.  “Your first one?”

Dee nodded.


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