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To Iraq and Back: Living Wills, Immunizations Gone Bad and More Sleepless Nights

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This is another installment of my To Iraq and Back series which tells of my deployment to Iraq with RP1 Nelson Lebron in 2007 and 2008.

One of the sobering things as you get ready to go to war are administrative issues that deal directly with your mortality. They are mundane actions when we do them in peacetime but chilling when you put them in context of going to war.

In our society in which people do all they can to push back even thinking about death discussing the issues that deal with your possible dismemberment, disability or your death are taboo. The month before I deployed  Iraq Judy had me take out an additional life insurance policy that doubled what the military would provide in the event of my demise.  At that point Iraq was a cauldron, hundreds of casualties each month and I was going to the heart of the action in Al Anbar province.

Part of our processing to go to combat was a will and power of attorney update.  We had not updated our wills since well before coming to the Hampton Roads area so I took advantage of this time to get it done.  The will itself was pretty easy since we have no children and have not been married to anyone else.  That was the easy part.

The next part was dealing with various powers of attorney, a general power of attorney and a medical power of attorney. The medical power of attorney is something that I routinely deal with at the hospital. I have dealt with them before in other places.  At the same time they become somewhat disconcerting when you are getting to go into a combat zone where there is heavy fighting going on. For most that is disconcerting enough, but chaplains go into action unarmed.

Sometimes when I fill out one of these I pray that I don’t end up like Karen Anne Quinlan or Terri Shaivo.  When I did it this time all I could think about was me being so badly wounded that it would be like the movie The Naked Gun.  I someone telling Judy “Doctors say that Dundas has a 50/50 chance of living, though there’s only a 10 percent chance of that.” While this is going on I could just see me unable to respond trying to say “give me one more at bat skip, just one more chance…please.”  This may not seem like the most spiritual thing for a Priest to be saying but I don’t want to be in the afterlife before my time. It would be bad form.

Legal matters finished we had to get our immunizations. When you deploy the military always ensures that you are vaccinated against about everything imaginable. These include typhoid, anthrax, smallpox, malaria, yellow fever, certain regional diseases and probably others that I have forgotten.

I had received many of these before at various times. This included my first Anthrax vaccine. On this second occasion something happened and ti had a reaction to it.  My bicep felt like someone had shoved a baseball in it and the sucker hurt like hell. By the next morning I knew that my reaction was not “normal” because the first one I had did not do this.

I thought back to the Anthrax scare right after September 11th 2001 and I didn’t want to take any chances regarding something that the media said could be dangerous. What if they had messed up and given me a bad batch of the vaccine. Hell, just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean that they are not out to get me. Besides if I was going to die for my country I didn’t want it to be from a reaction to a vaccine and not something heroic.

So I went back to the immunization section. Like a typical officer I simply “excused” my way past the queue of sailors waiting to get PPDs read and went to the desk. I figured that I wasn’t going to wait in line behind people with routine stuff when things looked like they were getting sporty for me.I call it “self-triage.”

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The Corpsman at the desk was polite and asked what he could do.  I told him that “I think I’m having a reaction to the Anthrax vaccine.”  He gave me a funny look and asked which one in the series this shot was. It was the second and since I figured that the next question would be “did you have a reaction the first time?” I continued “This didn’t happen the first time.”

The Corpsman looked at my arm and said “Obviously sir the first time you had no antibodies to Anthrax so it had nothing to react to….”  I was thinking “no shit Sherlock” when the young man went to get his Chief. The Chief came in, looked at my arm and said: “Gee sir it looks like you are having a reaction to the shot.”

I was thinking well no shit but didn’t say it. So the Chief took me back to his office and started having me checked to make sure that I didn’t have a fever or a number of other things, like if I was dizzy or was having trouble breathing. No I was neither dizzy nor experiencing breathing difficulties but was simply in pain, a bit scared and really pissed.

After his battery of questions and a couple of phone calls asked me “do you think that you are safe to drive?”

At that point I would have said anything to get the hell out of there and get on with what I needed to do to make sure that I wasn’t going to die.  So I said “of course I am.”

He asked if I was sure and I reaffirmed this to him in a convincing enough manner for him to send me over to Portsmouth by ambulance.

Portsmouth Naval Medical has a small office manned by a couple of nurses whose job it is to report bad vaccine reactions up to the FDA and God only knows who else. These ladies were very pleasant and when they got a look at my arm they were impressed.  Once again I heard “Yes sir you are having a reaction.”

I got to answer yet another battery of questions and they took a couple of pictures of the baseball sized knot on my left bicep.  One of them made a couple of phone calls and a few minutes later I was told that I would be okay. The explanation was that the subcutaneous injection had caused the vaccine to be encapsulated in my arm rather than doing what it needed to be doing. I was told to inform whoever gave me my next shot in the series to make sure that they got in the muscle. I was told to take some Motrin for the pain and swelling and do a lot of push-ups, pull-ups and massage the bicep to help the swelling dissipate faster. My fears eased and I left the hospital and reported back to the processing site where all of my fellow sailors had already left for the day.

I spent another tense and sleepless night with Judy, the emotional distance still there.  We talked about various things but nothing serious. I don’t think that either of us was able to vocalize well what we were feeling.

Even Molly seemed differed, I’m sure that she sensed that something was going on as I had continued to pack and re-pack my gear from EOD. Molly does not like it when either of us pack as it usually means that one or both of us is leaving.

The next morning I repeated my “Groundhog Day” trek back to Norfolk Naval Station fighting the idiots driving to work on the I-264, I-64 and I-564 battle zone where matching wits with the witless I safely picked my way through traffic while drinking my black coffee.

This was our next to last day of processing and we checked and re-checked paperwork, received our signed wills, living wills and powers of attorney. That morning I met with Father Pat Finn a mobilized reservist and Episcopal Priest from South Carolina and we had a nice chat where we were joined by Fr Steve Powers a retired Navy Chaplain and Rector of St. Brides Episcopal Church in Chesapeake.

Following that I was asked to assist with a sailor who was having some personal difficulties getting ready for the deployment.  These tasks completed I went back to muster with the others and sat down next to Nelson. Following this we went out where the Storekeepers and other supply staff had our gear.

We gathered outside where we lined up and given a sea bag in which to put our issue.  There were boxes of stuff everywhere and a couple of civilians and sailors stood by to ensure that we got what we were going to get.  Uniforms with all of our name tapes rank insignia and qualification pins sewn on were there as well as more socks, t-shirts and other assorted gear.

Our stash was a bit lighter than the others as we already had much of what was being issued. When this was done and we were released. I told Nelson to go home as his family was coming into town from New York.  Taking the newly issued gear home I again went about packing and repacking and took Judy out to dinner after which we spent our time alone together pondering the future.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, Military, ministry, to iraq and back, Tour in Iraq

Corpsman Up! U.S. Navy Hospital Corps Turns 114 Years Old

Corpsmen treating wounded Marine on Eniwetok Island 

“You guys are the Marine’s doctors; There’s no better in the business than a Navy Corpsman….”  Lieutenant General Lewis B. “Chesty” Puller, U.S.M.C

The numbers speak volumes: 22 Congressional Medals of Honor,174 Navy Crosses, 31 Distinguished Service Crosses (US Army Decoration), 946 Silver Stars1582 Bronze Stars, 22 Ships named after Corpsmen and 2012 Corpsmen killed in action since President William McKinley the establishment of the rating by by Congress which was into law on June 17th 1898.

Known by Marines and Sailors simply as “Doc” Corpsmen have served everywhere the Navy and Marine Corps have served or fought since the Spanish American War. The rating is quite remarkable because the Corpsmen are often the only medical support immediately available to sailors and Marines at “the tip of the spear.”

As medicine and surgery became more scientific and advanced during the industrial and scientific revolutions of the 1800s military physicians began to lobby for trained assistants.  Early in our nation’s history it was up to individual ships Captains to appoint assistants to the ship’s surgeons. Initially known by the British Royal Navy nickname “Lolly Boys” which referred to the ladle of porridge given to the sick, the men helped the surgeon prepare the operating area usually found deep in the hold of the ship on the Orlop Deck before battle and to help keep the surgeon supplied with hot irons to cauterize wounds and to sand the deck to keep the surgeon from slipping on the blood of the wounded.  The terminology would change throughout the years and in 1841 a senior rating of Surgeon’s Steward was introduced and later changed to Apothecary which required the completion of a course in basic pharmacy.

By the 1870s pressure was growing for reform of the rating but it was not until 1897, 10 years after the US Army established its enlisted Hospital Corps that the reformers were successful and the Surgeon General and his supporters were able to convince the Navy Department to push for the reforms in Congress.

The new Corpsmen served throughout the fleet and with the Marines and the rating was expanded to include two Apprentice ranks, three grades of Petty Officers and a Chief Petty Officer who were called Pharmacist Mates. Following World War Two the Navy changed the name of the rating to the generic term that Sailors and Marines had used for years, Hospital Corpsman or Hospitalman. The current rank structure was adopted in 1958.

Corpsmen with the Marines in every battle since their inception in 1898. They have  served aboard ships and often are the sole medical provider. Those serving in such capacity receive additional training as Independent Duty Corpsmen.  Those that serve with the Marines receive additional training at Field Medical Service School while many others receive specialized training in various technical fields within the Medical Department.  Many serve with the Marines, EOD, SEALS, Seabees and in Field Hospitals in Afghanistan caring for US and Allied wounded as well as local Afghan civilians. They can be found around the world wherever the Navy is in humanitarian and operations from Haiti to Indonesia. In every clime and place Corpsmen have accompanied Marines and Sailors to war. Today over 20,000 active duty and reserve Corpsmen serve aboard ships, in medical facilities, with EOD, Special Warfare, the Seabees and with the Fleet Marine Force. Many Navy Physicians, Nurses and Medical Service Corps Officers began their careers as Corpsmen.

As a Navy Brat a lot of my medical care as a child came from Corpsmen. One saved me from an overdose of baby Aspirin when I was about 3 years old when we were stationed in the Philippines, another set a cast on my arm when I broke it jumping my bike across a ditch in 6th grade. As an adult I have had the honor of serving with Corpsmen in the Fleet Marine Force, aboard the USS Hue City, in Iraq, with Navy EOD and for the past four years in Naval Medical Centers and Hospitals.

Corpsmen are amazing, especially when you need them.

Happy Birthday “Doc.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Full Military Honors: Getting a Chance to Repay a Service done for My Family by the Navy

Last summer my dad Aviation Storekeeper Chief Carl Dundas died after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease.  Since I wasn’t much good for anything then my boss at my last duty station Chaplain Jesse Tate contacted the Chief of Chaplains Office and our mutual friend Chaplain Jerry Seeley in California.  These men and the Navy came through to provide my family with a funeral with full military honors for my dad.  It was something that we all treasured and something that really helped my mom get through that dark time. It allowed her to reconnect with the Navy something that was a big part of our lives for years. I won’t forget Chaplain Seeley and his comforting words and the Senior Chief Petty Officer who presented our Nation’s Flag to my mother.  One thing that I did do was construct two collages of pictures from his life which were available for friends and family to view. When I put them together it was really for my mom but the task of sorting through a couple of thousand photos to find the ones that best epitomized my dad, his life and personality was healing to me.

Since I am a Chief’s kid I have a soft heart for Navy Chiefs and in the past two and a half years working in Navy Medicine I have been able to be with quite a few of these men and women in their final days as well as their families. Last week I had the duty pager and received a call to come to our multi-service ward as a family had requested a baptism for one of our former Master Chief Petty Officers named Carl.  He and his family had arranged with one of my staff to be baptized last Friday as he knew his life was coming to an end.  Well late Wednesday night it became apparent that he would not last that long and I was asked to come in.  I got to the hospital and put on my Khakis and went to the nurse’s station where I listened to them tell me the situation and read his chart. I noted the request for baptism and the plan for it to be done Friday.  When I had done that I went to the room where Carl lay in bed dozing. I met his wife Judy and son’s Randy and Jeff and we visited for nearly an hour as he lay there and I listened to them tell me about him as a husband and father, his Navy service, his faith and his love for baseball.

Carl had entered the Navy a couple of years after my dad and remained in it a good deal longer retiring in 1988.  He served in combat as a Corpsman with the Marines in Vietnam and saw service around the world. He retired as the Command Master Chief of Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune.  He was active and played for and managed various Navy Baseball and Softball teams including the hospital’s team which I now play on.  There were a lot of emotional connections for me with this man. He served during the era that my dad did and both served on the ground in Vietnam.  His name was Carl like my dad, his wife Judy like my wife and one son Jeff like my brother.  He loved baseball.  I felt like I was family and in a sense I was because we are part of the Navy family and that is something that is special. I still receive e-mails from one of my dad’s former Chief Petty Officers almost like he is trying to watch out for his friend and fellow Chief’s son.

I prepared to conduct the baptism and Carl woke up. His wife introduced me to him and he greeted me. I explained that I was there to baptize him and asked if he still desired to be baptized and he replied yes and gave me a “thumbs up.” As I baptized him he was praying with a smile on his face as the water flowed over his forehead. I then asked for Carl and his family to join me in the Lord’s Prayer and as we prayed he prayed along with us.  It was a special moment and I elected to stay with the family for a while longer and simply be with them as they shared and ministered to Carl.  I gave Judy my card and went home getting to bed about three AM Thursday.

Yesterday afternoon I received word that I had been asked to conduct his funeral and I was honored. It was like having a chance to repay the generosity given to my family by the Navy.  This morning it seemed that nothing went right in trying to get my stuff together. We are in temporary office spaces as our offices and Chapel are being renovated. As a result I have no earthly idea where half of my things are. I prepared my Service Dress Blue uniform last night and placed it where I wouldn’t forget it. I discovered that I didn’t have it about 5 miles into my trip and had to go back and get it. Then on my second trip in about the same place I had the feeling that I had forgotten something else.  I looked around the car and couldn’t find my Bible and Book of Common Prayer.  I thought I had packed it and taken it home with me last night so I turned around again. I got home to the Island Hermitage and try as I might I couldn’t find them.  So I grabbed the Kindle that my Judy had got me for my birthday knowing that I had the Book of Common Prayer and the liturgy for burial on it.  I got back on the road for the third time and arrived at the office where I found my Bible and Book of Common Prayer.  I then started to get ready to go after a bit of business and discovered that I had everything but a tie, which I only have about five of but none were to be found. Our small Marine Corps Exchange in the hospital had none so I had to go to main side where I got one of the two on the rack; this is a Marine Corps Uniform store so the Navy items are not well stocked.  Getting back to the office I donned my uniform looking perfectly resplendent I might add and went to the funeral home where I met up with other perfectly resplendent Chiefs and Sailors.  One thing about the Navy Service Dress Blues they are a classic uniform and are always a classy look.

We had a significant number of sailors there with members of our Chief’s Mess acting as pallbearers, other Petty Officers and Sailors serving as the Flag detail and one of our Master Chiefs presenting the American Flag to Judy.   We also had about 30 other Sailors present joining Carl’s family, his extended family and friends which included a number of men who had served with Carl during his career.  A Marine Honor Guard commanded by a Gunnery Sergeant fired the 21 gun salute and then Taps was played.  It was an honor and privilege to participate.

The brief homily that I gave came out of the Gospel according to John where Jesus tells Martha at the tomb of Lazarus “I am the resurrection and the life.”  In it I focused on that message even as I mentioned his service, life and care of his family and his sailors and his service during and after Vietnam.  After the committal I lingered with various friends of Carl’s and as the crowd dissipated I got into my car and left.  I was blessed by God to be able to return a favor done to my family.  For me this is a large part of why I continue to serve, to care for God’s people in the Sea Services those currently serving and those that blazed the trail for us.  Sometimes one gets lucky.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, Military, Pastoral Care, shipmates and veterans, US Navy, vietnam

A Base at War: First Impressions of Camp LeJeune Nine Years after my First Tour

This is just a brief post on some first impressions on my assignment to Camp LeJeune after a nine year absence from the base. When I left LeJeune and my assignment with the Second Marine Division I had just completed twenty years in the military though I was not even three years into my service as a Naval Officer.

Today I was part of a Casualty Assistance Team meeting with the family of a young Navy Corpsman and Afghanistan veteran who killed himself in his apartment last night.  The Corpsman was part of a family with a long tradition of Naval Service who in his time in the Navy had gone to war with a Marine Battalion in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province and returned home changed by the war and struggling with PTSD and all the related symptoms of it.  This is something that I can understand having come back from Iraq in a rather bad way about two and a half years ago.  In my time with this young man’s parents today I found a young man that loved life but was wracked by his experiences of war.  He was well liked at his Marine Battalion as well as at the hospital and his death shocked the community almost as much as it did his family.  The sad thing is that this young man is emblematic the suicide problem in the military.  He is not alone, far too many Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen on active duty, in the Reserves or those that have left the service suffer so much from the unseen wounds of war that they commit suicide.  Since I have been here just a bit under two weeks this was a confirmation of what I knew just walking around the hospital, getting around the base and the local area.  Camp LeJeune is a base at war with Marines and Sailors fighting in Afghanistan and unfortunately many suffering from deep wounds of war at home living with physical, psychological, spiritual and moral injuries that don’t go away just because they return home.

When I left LeJeune in compliance with orders to the USS Hue City CG-66 in December 2001 we were just 3 months into the current war and barley two months into the Afghanistan campaign.  Marine morale was high though most Marines had not been to combat and those that had were veterans of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Somalia or the Balkans. Of course none of these actions lasted as long nor caused the amount of deaths as either the campaign in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Marines wanted to get a shot at the Al Qaeda terrorists that had attacked the United States and killed nearly 3000 Americans.

The Marines answered the call and have performed magnificently in every theater of the current war but the Corps has changed. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s the Marines had a swagger that was typical of the work hard; train hard and play hard attitude of the Corps.  The Corps is now composed of many battle hardened veterans that have made deployment after deployment to the hottest combat zones in both Iraq and Afghanistan in which they took the initiative in both offensive operations in taking the battle to the enemy and employing solid counterinsurgency techniques especially in Al Anbar Province where the Iraqi Army performed quantitatively better under their tutelage in helping to turn the tide during the Anbar awakening.  Navy Corpsmen, Doctors and Chaplains serve alongside the Marines as they have done throughout our history.

I served with Marine and Army advisors in Al Anbar in 2007 and early 2008 in many of the remotest parts of the province and have dealt with individual Marines since. The Marines still have much of their swagger but it seems more fatalistic now.  An expert in trauma and moral injury told me of a recent visit to Camp Pendleton where Marines referred to themselves as “the walking dead” in an almost cavalier manner. The sad thing is that for many Marines this is only half a joke. The Corps in 2009 had the highest suicide rate in the military at 24 per 100,000 and suicides continue at a similar pace in 2010.  http://www.yuma.usmc.mil/desertwarrior/2010/03/11/feature6.html One occurred on Camp LeJeune where a Marine Sergeant pulled out a pistol and shot himself after being pulled over by Military Police in front of the base Fire Station.

As I made my way around the base the past week or so, I saw a lot more Marines with canes and obvious physical injuries from their combat injuries incurred in Iraq or Afghanistan. The Marines as always were professional but appeared to be much more serious than 9 years ago, many seeming to be old beyond their years. I love serving with and around Marines because they have a unique sense of professionalism combined with humor that is unlike almost any found in any part of the United States Military. However that positive is sometimes offset by a need to maintain an image of toughness even when they are dying on the inside which leads many not to seek help because it might make them look weak or broken, terms that no self-respecting Marine wants associated with his or her name.

In addition to the obvious injuries I noticed that while there was a much more serious tenor around the base that the Staff Sergeants and Gunnery Sergeants are a lot younger than they used to be back 9 years ago. With the war lasting as long as it has and the coupled with the expansion of the Marines during the war coupled with casualties and attrition by other means these young men and women are being promoted sooner than they were in the prewar days. Their leadership experience is mostly combat-related and they are in general superb combat leaders. However, this does not always translate well in a garrison setting especially if they are dealing with their own untreated PTSD or TBI nor is it helpful on the home front. As a result many of these young leaders are suffering the breakups of families at a record rate as well as substance abuse when they return home.

As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted in a speech at Duke University on September 29th of this year:

“There are a number of consequences that stem from the pressure repeated of deployments – especially when a service member returns home sometimes permanently changed by their experience.  These consequences include more anxiety and disruption inflicted on children, increased domestic strife and a corresponding rising divorce rate, which in the case of Army enlisted has nearly doubled since the wars began.  And, most tragically, a growing number of suicides.

While we often speak generally of a force under stress, in reality, it is certain parts of the military that have borne the brunt of repeat deployments and exposure to fire – above all, junior and mid-level officers and sergeants in ground combat and support specialties.  These young men and women have seen the complex, grueling, maddening face of asymmetric warfare in the 21st century up close.  They’ve lost friends and comrades.  Some are struggling psychologically with what they’ve seen, and heard and felt on the battlefield.  And yet they keep coming back.” http://www.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1508

These young men and women have forged a bond in combat and in many cases multiple combat tours. The have served well with honor and many don’t feel that people who have not been “in the shit” understand them or what they have been through.  There is a comradeship that comes out of war. There is segment at the end of the Band of Brothers mini-series where a German Commander is speaking to his soldiers after they have surrendered to the Americans. As the German Commander speaks to the survivors of his unit Corporal Joe Liebgott is asked to translate by another American. As he translates the German officer’s words the Americans know that he also speaks for their experience of war:

“Men, it’s been a long war, it’s been a tough war. You’ve fought bravely, proudly for your country. You’re a special group. You’ve found in one another a bond that exists only in combat, among brothers. You’ve shared foxholes, held each other in dire moments. You’ve seen death and suffered together. I’m proud to have served with each and every one of you. You all deserve long and happy lives in peace.”

I think that sums up what many feel today except unlike the Germans our war drags on with no end in sight.

The Marines are still tough and a force to be reckoned with on any battlefield. They, especially the Marine Divisions are an elite force but I believe that many are losing some of their resilience as the war goes in Afghanistan goes on.  Many from reports that I have read as well as those that I have talked with are concerned that much of the country doesn’t support the war nor appreciate their sacrifice. Many are concerned that their sacrifices as well as those of their friends, those killed and wounded will be wasted and the suffering that goes on after the war will be swept aside by politicians, the media and the public at large. They are also concerned that the people that they have worked with against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and those that they have tried to protect and care for will suffer even more if the Taliban return to power.  I can say that I worry about my Iraqi friends and fear for them when I hear news of more attacks.

In the midst of this war we went through a number of elections and it troubles me that in the last election that the war and those fighting it were hardly ever mentioned by candidates from either party.  We mentioned it was usually for show to help politicians gain favor with voters.  We deserve better, we are not just a something to talk about at political rallies that when the election is over simply budget item to be slashed because the country is in a mess. These young men and women, as well as old guys like me are the sons, daughters, husbands and wives and brothers and sisters that have volunteered to serve this country.  The wounds that these young men and women, their experiences in combat that have left their souls scared will not go away when the last American leaves Iraq or Afghanistan.

This young man that we lost last night will be buried by his family and we will have a memorial service in his honor.  His many friends will grieve and those of us who are caring for his family will not forget them. I don’t want this young man or any other to be forgotten like so many who have returned from war before them.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, Military, PTSD

Going to War: Wills, Living Wills, Immunizations Gone Bad and Christmas in July

This is part three in my “Going to War” series. Previous parts are noted here:

Part One:Going to War: Reflections on My Journey to Iraq and Back- Part One

Past Two: Going to War: Interlude July 4th 2007

One of the sobering things as you get ready to go to war is issues that deal with your possible dismemberment, disability or yes even your death.  In the month or so before going to Iraq Judy had me take out an additional life insurance policy that doubled what the military would provide in the event of my demise.  Part of our processing to go to combat was a will and power of attorney update.  We had not updated our wills since well before coming to the Hampton Roads area so I took advantage of this time to get it done.  The will itself was pretty easy since we have no children and have not been married to anyone else.  That was the easy part. The next part was dealing with power of attorney.  We did a couple of them, a General for most stuff and a couple of specific POAs for various things.  I also had to do a medical power of attorney.  The medical power of attorney is something that I routinely deal with at the hospital.  I have dealt with them before in other places.  At the same time they become somewhat disconcerting when you are getting to go into a combat zone where there is heavy fighting going on and that you know that you will be in places that the enemy likes to attack and by the way, you are as a chaplain unarmed.

When doing a Medical Power of Attorney I am always reminded of the episode of Seinfeld where Kramer sees part of a movie called The Other Side of Darkness which supposedly is about a lady who ends up in a coma.  Since Kramer doesn’t want to be in a coma he makes his own Power of Attorney for Jerry to be his representative.  Jerry refuses and Kramer gets Elaine to go to a lawyer played by Ben Stein to get his “living will” done.  Without going into too much detail the interview with the Ben Stein is funny as hell as in his monotone voice he asks Kramer what he would want to do if….and Kramer turns to Elaine and asks “what should I do?”  Of course after Kramer makes this out he sees the rest of the movie only to find out that the lady in the coma comes out of it.

I digress, but anyway sometimes when you fill one of these out you pray that you get it right so no one offs you before your time, but also so you don’t end up like Karen Anne Quinlan or Terri Shaivo.  All I could think of when doing this was me being so badly wounded that people were telling Judy that there was only a fifty- fifty chance of me living but only a ten percent chance of that and did she want to pull the plug.  While this is going on I could just see me unable to respond trying to say “give me one more at bat skip, just one more chance…please.”  This may not seem like the most spiritual thing for a Priest to be saying but I don’t want to be with Jesus or in Purgatory before my time.

Legal matters finished we had matters of health and preventive medicine to accomplish.  As always when you deploy the military ensures that you are vaccinated against about everything imaginable including typhoid, anthrax, smallpox, malaria, yellow fever, certain regional diseases and probably some that I have forgotten.  Many I had received at different times, including my first Anthrax vaccine which I  injection was done into my muscle. This time the corpsmen given the shot did it sub-cutaneous which means just below the skin.  Well something happened and the little reaction area became a big one that night.  My bicep felt like someone had shoved a baseball in it and the sucker hurt like hell.   By the next morning I knew that my reaction was not “normal” being that the first one I had did not do this. I thought back to the Anthrax scare right after September 11th 2001 and I didn’t want to take any chances regarding something that the media said could be dangerous.  Who knows, what if they had messed up and given me a bad batch or even a weaponized form of the vaccine.  Hell, just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean that they are not out to get me.  If I was going to die for my country I didn’t want it to be from a reaction to a vaccine and not something heroic that would actually matter to someone and maybe even get a ship named after me.  So I went back to the immunization section, excusing my way past the queue of sailors waiting to get PPD’s read I went to the desk.  I figured that I wasn’t going to wait in line behind people with routine stuff when things looked like they were getting sporty for me. It’s called triage. The Corpsman at the desk was polite and asked what he could do.  I told him that “I think I’m having a reaction to the Anthrax vaccine.”  He gave me a funny look and asked whoch one in the series this shot was.  It was the second and I said.  “This didn’t happen the first time.”  He told e to show him my arm and then with a look of surprise on his face said: “Obviously sir the first time you had no antibodies to Anthrax so it had nothing to react to….”  I was thinking “no shit Sherlock” when the young man went to get his Chief.  The Chief came in, looked at my arm and said: “Gee sir it looks like you are having a reaction to the shot.” Wow, he could have floored me with that bit of news.  So he took me back to his office and started having me checked to make sure that I didn’t have a fever or a number of other things, like if I was dizzy or was having trouble breathing.   No I was neither dizzy nor experiencing breathing difficulties but was simply in pain, a bit scared and a lot pissed.   After his battery of questions and the phone calls asked me “do you think that you are safe to drive?”   At that point I would have said anything to get the hell out of there and get on with what I needed to do to make sure that I wasn’t going to die.  So I said “of course I am.”  He asked if I was sure and I reaffirmed this to him in a convincing enough manner for him to send me over to Portsmouth.  Now Portsmouth Naval Medical has a small office manned by a couple of nurses whose job it is to report bad vaccine reactions up to the FDA and God only knows who else.  These ladies were very pleasant and when they got a look at my arm they were impressed.  Once again I heard Yes sir you are having a reaction.”  Once and I got another battery of questions and they took a couple of pictures of the baseball sized knot on my left bicep.  Another couple of phone calls later I was told that I would be okay.  I was told by the ladies that he next shot of the series would have to go into the muscle as this batch had encapsulated itself in my arm instead of going to the rest of my body.  I was then told to take some Motrin for the pain and swelling and do a lot of push-ups, pull-ups and massage to help the area dissipate faster. My fears eased and I left the hospital and reported back to the processing site where all of my fellow sailors had already left for the day.

Another tense and sleepless night was spent with Judy and I with the emotional distance still there.  We talked about various things but nothing serious as I don’t think that either of us was able to vocalize well what we were feeling.  Even Molly seemed differed, I’m sure that she sensed that something was going on as I had continued to pack and re-pack my gear from EOD.  Molly does not like it when either of us pack as it usually means that one or both of us is leaving her employee for a time, we being the well treated and loved hired help.  So the next morning I repeated my “Groundhog Day” trek back to Norfolk Naval Station fighting the idiots driving to work on the I-264, I-64 and I-564 battle zone where matching wits with the witless I safely picked my way through traffic while drinking my black coffee.

Arriving for our next to last day of processing we checked and re-checked paperwork, received our signed wills, living wills and powers of attorney.  That morning I met with Father Pat Finn a mobilized reservist and Episcopal Priest from South Carolina and we had a nice chat where we were joined by Fr Steve Powers retired Navy Chaplain and Rector of St. Brides Episcopal Church in Chesapeake.   Following that I was asked to assist with a sailor who was having some personal difficulties getting ready for the deployment.  These tasks completed I went back to muster with the others and sat down next to Nelson my ever faithful assistant and body guard extraordinaire.  We were then told that we would collect the gear that we were being issued.  We gathered outside where we lined up and were given a sea bag in which to put our issue.  There were boxes of stuff everywhere and a couple of civilians and sailors stood by to ensure that we got what we were going to get.  Uniforms with all of our name tapes rank insignia and qualification pins sewn on as well as more socks, t-shirts and other assorted gear.  Our stash was a bit lighter than the others as we already had much of what was being issued and did not need the issue boots having already been issued non-issue boots courtesy of EOD.  When this was done and we were released I told Nelson to go home as his family was coming into town from New York.  Taking the newly issued gear home I again went to packing and repacking and took Judy out to dinner after which we spent our time alone together pondering the future.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under healthcare, iraq,afghanistan, Military, Tour in Iraq

Mid-Week Review-The Loss of a Shipmate, Hospital Duty is Not Easy and No Rational Thought Goes Unpunished

Today has been tough, actually it began yesterday.  We lost a dear shipmate this week. Hospital Corpsman Chief Pam Branum passed away while deployed on the USNS Comfort while on a humanitarian deployment.  She was the Leading Chief Petty Officer for our Critical Care Department, a great leader, genuinely nice person, and dear friend to many in our department.  She was passionate about her work and her people.  She set high standards for herself and worked hard to make sure that her Corpsmen were trained and became good not only what they do, but to help develop them as leaders with character.  She supported the nursing staff that she worked with as a friend and mentor.  She was like a mom to a lot of our staff.  Her loss at the age of 41 was shocking.  This has been a tough year for us in the Medical Center, back in April we lost a 4th Year Medical Student who just in a few weeks would have become a physician and started his internship and residency here.  We have lost a number of other staff members, active duty and civilian since December.  When we lose them we lose part of our family.  Those who have never served in the military cannot fully fathom how losses like this affect the rest of us.  I will be working with our staff and helping to plan Chief’s memorial service and maybe depending on the location the funeral.  Chief Branum will be sorely missed, I am still somewhat in shock.  Please keep her family, friends and co-workers in your prayers.  A link to the Blog of the Executive Officer of the USNS Comfort is here:   http://comfort-xo.blogspot.com/2009/06/thank-you-chief-may-you-rest-in-peace.html?showComment=1244112525886#c1602797664780974312

Another aspect of this difficult year is the number of our military staff being deployed.  Our “deployers” support current operations in Iraq, the Gulf, Horn of Africa and the Afghanistan surge.  Many have already been deployed, are getting ready to do so or are waiting for word.  Many have made other combat deployments in Iraq either with the Marines, Expeditionary Medical Facilities and Shock and Trauma units.  Sometimes they are sent on joint assignments helping train Afghan and Iraqi medical personnel.  Additionally they do humanitarian work in the combat zones in cooperation with Army and Air Force medical personnel.  Some of these Sailors have lost their lives after leaving home and the supposed security of a hospital assignment.  It is sometimes frustrating to listen to those who do not work in a place like this refer to hospital duty as easy.  Our clinicians deal with life and death every day here and are called upon to deploy at a moment’s notice.   They fight for life every day and sometimes when things go badly are as traumatized by the events as people in combat.  It’s hard to watch someone die or suffer and realize that sometimes you can’t win.  There are deaths, especially of children that I cannot get out of my head and I know from my relationships with physicians and nursing staff that they also have similar experiences.   Programs are being developed to help people before they become victims of operational stress, but these are just getting off the ground.  Please keep these heroes in your prayers.

I think today I was also a victim of my logical and reasonable brain.  I am now a declared enemy of at least one person in the anti-abortion movement.  I invested myself heavily the past three days in discussing the events of this weekend in Kansas.  I will not regurgitate this here, read those posts.  However there is something interesting.  I basically had someone comment that “they knew whose side I was on” and pretty much labeled me as someone who is not pro-life.  If they knew me they would know otherwise, but some people cannot take even constructive criticism of tactics and strategy.  Sorry but the confrontational strategy has not worked over a 30 year period and the escalation of rhetoric and violence will get the whole pro-life movement labeled as a domestic terrorist organization. Hell, even David Kupelian of the ultra conservative news site World Net Daily and I agree on this.

The guy who posted to my blog even used a line that was eerily reminiscent of Colonel Jessup in A Few Good Men.  “What happened to the “doctor” was wrong, it probably saved hundreds of lives.”  (Comment on yesterday’s post) The person who wrote this has adopted an end’s versus means situational ethic to make the leap that the murder while wrong is okay because it stopped one person from doing abortions.  Unfortunately that strategy will not stop others from doing abortions and may very well in fact lead to the dismemberment of the legislative gains of the mainstream pro-life movement which guess what will happen?  It will lead to more abortions.  If you make your living by fighting abortion like Randall Terry does this is a good thing.  You won’t lack for work or money unless however you are doing time in a Federal penitentiary as a domestic terrorist.   That aside it means as long as abortion is legal you can keep drawing a paycheck to fight it.  That is the kind of thing that makes me suspicious of Mr. Terry’s motives.  You use the same tactics for 30 years without any real change to the situation and then say we have to keep doing this.  I have to wonder when I see this. Is Mr. Terry truly committed to life or is this a means to stay in the spotlight?  I’m not accusing, just wondering.  I have met Randall on a number of occasions, never by the way at any rally or event, and he can be charming.  Personally he seems like a good guy to go out and get a beer with and maybe even engage in spirited discussions. However, his actions have planted a seed of doubt in my mind about his motives.   If he is really committed to the pro-life cause of saving babies why does he stick with tactics that only drive potential supporters away from him?  He seems to me  like Generals in wars who decide to take some enemy strongpoint.  They make an attack and it fails and they continue to do so until they bleed themselves dry and eventually lose the battle.  The real progress in the right to life movement has not been through protest. Instead it has been through prayer, practical help to women in need and legislative efforts of pro-life men and women committed to working through legal means.  These people do not vilify thier opposite numbers but seek engagement and redemption and reconcilliation.    I made sure that I allowed the comment so others can see just how this mindset plays out when guys like this judge people on the pro-life who advocate less incendiary tactics.

Well I chased that rabbit for what it was worth.  Anyway, things with my family in California still are difficult. My dad continues to worsen, the insurance company has been a pain in the ass causing my mom and brother much grief.   I covet your prayers for them.  The hospital is very busy and I have a number of very sick patients that I am caring for their families, both adults and children.  Likewise, I will be trying to make sure that I care for my ICU staff and help them get through this period of shock, grief and loss.  There may be a possibility of activating our SPRINT team to assist sailors in the medical center or on the Comfort and this could make things even more interesting.

In the midst of this I still deal with my own stuff.  In times like this I get the “electrical current” sensation running through my body.  I become more edgy, hyper vigilant and at times anxious.  Sleep is still difficult.  However, this too I will get through.  I have completed day three in a 12 day “home-stand” at the hospital.  I’ll have duty this weekend.  At least the Tides are in town. I’m taking Judy to the game against Buffalo tonight.  While there I will be keeping an eye on the scoreboard to see if Randy Johnson will get his 300th career win pitching for the Giants aganst the Nationals.  Only 24 major league pitchers have reached this mark and only one is active, that being Tom Glavine.  I’ll post a game synopsis later.

Pray for me a sinner.

Peace, Steve+

Post Script: In spite of the threat of thunderstorm we got through the game with barely a sprinkle. The Tides beat the Bisons 5-3. Kam Mickolio got the win in relief and Jim Miler got his 13th Save.  Bobby Livingston pitched 7 shutout innings but went away with a no-decision.  Jolbert Cabrerra of the Tides hit a 2 run double in the bottom of the 8th to give the Tides the win.  The Tides improve to 35 and 17 and lead the Durham Bulls by a game and a half in the International League South,  Despite the loss of several pitchers as well as Outfielder Nolan Reimold and Catcher Matt Wieters to the Orioles the Tides with a bunch of AA promotions from the Bowie Baysox continue to win.  It is fun to see a team that plays in an organization that has a solid farm system.

Speaking of teams that don’t the Bison’s are now the AAA affiliate for the NY Mets.  They have the worst record in the International League. The Mets as they did in Norfolk have no hot prospects and many of their players are former major leaguers  The sad thing is that Buffalo under the Indians had a consistently good team. The city is not happy with the Mets.  Join the club Bison fans. It sucks to be the Mets AAA affiliate.

Second Post Script: The “Big Unit” Randy Johnson and the Giants had their game with the Nationals postponed by rain.  The game will be made up Thursday as a part of a double-header.  Johnson will get his chance for 300 tomorrow. Meanwhile the Braves released Tom Glavine. This could be the end of the line for the future Hall of Fame Pitcher.

Third Post Script:  The rain which held off throughout the game decided to hit after we got home. This happend to coincide with our little dog Molly’s trip to hunt for squirrels and do her evening business. She hates rain and started barking to be let back in.  The wet little dog got the payment of her cookie, gave us a good laugh and started playing with aplush toy fox that looks somewhat like her.  She is funny.

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Filed under alzheimer's disease, Baseball, ER's and Trauma, healthcare, iraq,afghanistan, Military, philosophy, Political Commentary, pro-life anti-abortion, PTSD, Religion