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thedrifter
01-23-06, 07:55 PM
Commentary: Bond of Wounded Warriors Crosses Generations
By Capt. Sean Meadows, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

BROOKE ARMY MEDICAL CENTER, Texas, Jan. 23, 2006 – "Hey doc, when am I going upstairs? Hey doc, this bed is uncomfortable, when am I going to be admitted?"

A feisty elderly gentleman we'll call Morris (name changed for confidentiality) was in Bed 3 of Brooke Army Medical Center here, one of the busiest emergency departments in the military. He kept a constant barrage of running commentary on how long he had been waiting to go upstairs to complete his chest pain work up.

Morris was an 80-year-old retired World War II veteran. After I had spent a grueling afternoon shift seeing dozens of sick and injured people of all ages, his relentless haranguing was wearing me out.

I am a second-year resident in a three-year training program emergency medicine. And that day, this man's incessant jawing had me at the point of exasperation. Then, like it has many times before, the arrival of troops wounded in Iraq changed the mood in the department.

The constant chatter and hum of a busy emergency department halted in an instant as soon as the doors opened. The sight of bandaged and burned soldiers brought in on field stretchers accompanied by flight docs and medics wearing desert camouflage brought conversation to a standstill.

You could hear the whispers: "Are those guys from Iraq?"

Previously summoned specialists arrived in droves to get these soldiers, airmen and Marines admitted or taken to operating rooms. The whole hospital hums with activity when a transport comes in. No one ever wants to be remembered as the one who didn't give aid and comfort to a wounded comrade.

Battle-hardened desert veterans, as well as those not yet tested, surround the newly arrived with greetings and encouragement. Some well-intentioned family member of a patient in the department went out to the waiting room to spread the news of wounded soldiers in the department.

People waiting with sniffles and minor complaints looked embarrassed when they heard the news, some left. Complaints about wait times usually don't happen on days like this.

Some startled patients stared with visible discomfort at the sight of war wounded. The nurses and techs closed the curtains to raise a shield of privacy for the wounded soldiers and normalcy returned to the emergency department.

My trance of observation was broken by the sounds of the formerly complaining Morris trying to climb off of his gurney. "Get me out of here!" he yelled. I turned and saw Morris trying to get up and off of the gurney. Before I could ask, he said: "Give my bed to one of those soldiers. I'm not taking a bed away from one of those guys!"

Morris had tears in his eyes and was overwrought with emotion looking at the line of soldiers waiting in wheelchairs and on stretchers. The incoming soldiers could see Morris and heard this old veteran of Normandy and Bastogne trying to give up his bed for them.

Morris was reassured numerous times that the wounded soldiers would be cared for, and after extensive negotiation he agreed not to leave. And we never heard another complaint from him.

Compared to soldiers from the Vietnam era, these recently wounded soldiers will have a very different homecoming story to tell future generations. I'll never forget Morris, and I doubt they will either. Different eras, but the bond of warriors crosses generations.

As an Army emergency medicine resident, I am reminded every day that we are a country at war. From the staff physicians in constant rotations, to Iraq and Afghanistan, to the wounded warriors who fill our wards and rehabilitation centers at Brooke Army Medical Center, the thought of war and its consequence permeates my experience as an Army physician. I see the news reports of wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, and hours later they come through the doors, flown in for intensive and sometimes long-term care.

An intangible benefit this Army hospital offers to men and women wounded on today's battlefields is contact with other veterans. I have seen soldiers from World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the first Desert Storm, and assorted other conflicts talking to and encouraging these young warriors.

One of the most poignant memories of my residency was when I saw a young burned soldier with a right leg amputation and a badly broken left leg being confronted by a boisterous man in his 50s saying, "Hey, did you lose your leg in Iraq?" The soldier mumbled "yes," and the man said, "Hey, look, I lost my arm in Vietnam." He produced his stump, and they spent the next 30 minutes talking together in a way I could never connect with either one.

I am ever aware of the consequences of war and how life changes in an instant by my daily encounters with these patients. I have never heard a combat wounded patient say they wish they hadn't gone to war. Even the most horribly burned and wounded that I have met want to rejoin their buddies and go back. Their strength sustains me as I tend to them in the intensive care unit and on the wards.

My lack of sleep and long schedule gets put into perspective as I see why I train. It's hard to grumble when you see a man with extensive injuries battle pain and infection and endure multiple surgeries without complaint.

Many people are unaware that we are taking care of wounded soldiers here at Brooke Army Medical Center. More than 2,400 wounded, burned and injured servicemen and women have been treated here since the global war on terrorism started. For some of them the battle is far from over; they face life-threatening infections from bacteria indigenous to Iraq as well as the burns and trauma they have suffered.

Though we weren't there when they were wounded, we join them on their new battleground committed to restoring them. We do anything we can for them. As we all are reminded daily, they fought for us, now we fight for them.

(Army Capt. Sean Meadows is assigned to Brooke Army Medical Center, Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio.

Ellie