The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.


November 21, 2006

Name: A Nurse
Posting date: 11/21/06
Stationed in: A military hospital
Hometown: Illinois

This is the third time I have posted here. The two previous times I wrote about the wounded soldiers and marines and the care I have given them. Now I need to be selfish and write about me, as I have had a rough couple of days.

One of my favorite soldiers rolled out of the OR into the recovery room, screaming with anesthesia-induced flashbacks and in pain. I hurried over to his bedside to help the nurse assigned to him. As I approached he saw me, grabbed my hand and screamed for me to help him. Over and over he screamed my name followed by "Please help me" in a most agonized tone I will not soon forget. I had one of the other nurses call anesthesia, retrieve pain medications, and as we worked over and over we crooned to him that he was safe, he was in the hospital, he wasn't in Iraq, he was safe back in the U.S. All without avail, as he continued to scream, in the throes of memories I cannot even begin to fathom. He held my hand so tightly I thought surely every bone in it was crushed, but not once did I let go or try and pull away. Anesthesia arrived and they quickly took him back into the OR to work their magic with pain meds and anti-anxiety meds. I went up to his room after my shift was over to check on him and found him sleeping, with his wife holding his hand, and for that moment he was in peace.

The following day I returned to work, and since it was a weekend we were minimally staffed; myself and another nurse, with me in charge. Weekend days can be quiet or crazy busy, depending on the number of wounded flown in from Germany the night before. This particular day didn't look too bad; only four wounded needing surgery. The other nurse and I were speculating that it might be an easy day, with the patients coming out of the OR quickly and recovering quickly, thus enabling us to go home early. The things we hope for when working weekends!

As I was talking with my coworker the emergency alarm went off. This alarm is pushed by the OR staff when a patient goes into cardiac arrest and they need extra help. I quickly ran from the recovery room into the OR, and as I was passing the pre-op area (where patients wait prior to going into the OR room) I saw two other wounded soldiers on stretchers. They had these looks on their faces, part fear realizing it could be them, part resignation, that once again death tries to steal another. I decided to stay with them until someone from the OR came back, let my coworker know where I was if she needed me, and started chatting with these men. Benign stuff; where are you from, did you grow up there, do you have a family, what's your favorite football team, on and on we talked. When the OR nurse came back I told my new friends I'd see them when they were finished with surgery, and promised them a gourmet breakfast of juice and crackers. They laughed and told me they were looking forward to it.

As our day was coming to an end, one of the anesthesiologists walked in and I asked him what had happened. He explained to me that one of the ICU patients who had been flown in the previous night, critically injured, had tried extremely hard to die on the OR table.  He told me they had been able to resuscitate him, he was back in the ICU, and everyone had their fingers crossed. He then looked at me and said, "I ordered him to live, and like the good Marine he is, he followed orders." I wish it were all that easy. I wish they all listened when you ordered them not to die. 

Lately, I've been thinking about leaving this job. I even have interviews for other jobs. One night as I cried in the arms of my husband I asked him over and over again, "If I leave who will take care of my soldiers?" When I finally stopped sobbing he tilted my face up to his, kissed me on the forehead and said "Who will take care of you?" For as much as I give these men and women I see the toll it is taking on me, and I realize sometime soon I am going to have a decision to make.



You give what you've got to give.Thanks for what you've given our soldiers and for us as well.

When you reach your limit, and you'll know it, you've given what's there and nobody - especially yourself - nobody can ask or expect more. If you move on then take care of yourself for a while 'cause you put it on the line and can be proud of that.

A thing to think about - you can't control what these guys are going thru nor how & why they got there, nor even how they're treated overall. All that lies in your control is how you react to all that - what lies in your power to influence and control is only yourself. God asks no more.

Vaya Con Dios

There are enough of the death dealers in the world, I want more nuturing wenches, you care and it hurts you. Imagine being wounded and trying to die, or in pain that makes you crazy and suddenly a strong gentle touch, a kind word a real smile and attention that calls you away from the death dealing, calls you to the wonder of life. We need more nuturing, caring and loving - pain, sorrow and defeat don't dance well and are really ugly. I wish I could hold your hand, but my wife wouldn't let me and my sense of manners would be shocked, but you care and I would like you to know I would be there for you to bring you back to loving life, where you bring the patients after the nightmares. Thanks

We have the Serenity Prayer in AA. "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference."

Fortunately, I have never and will hopefully never have to struggle to keep another alive after someone else has tried to kill them. I can only imagine how draining that would be. I have only been in a pediatric setting, as a parent, and it was by far the most difficult thing in a turbulent life. The nurses made it possible, through their care, for my child to live. When I say care, I don't mean they kept an eye on the tubing; I mean they had their hearts on the line for my baby, and made it possible for her to grow up. They were on stuff quicker than the doctors, they were aware of her. Mostly, the doctors would come in and circle around the clipboard with their backs to her, with a glance to the monitors. Only the nurses actually listened to her chest, they caught the data the shiney monitors ignored. They knew, and I knew, how good a job they were doing. I tried to express my thanks, but now it hits me they did this over and over. I will never forget the intergrity and love they brought to a mere job.

Thank you.

I have no idea what you must be going through, and wouldn"t pretend, all I can say is when grandpa and I feel like we are getting to old, or too tired to take care of our mentally and physically challenged grandson we legally adopted seventeen years ago, we just look at him and say to ourselves, we were meant to do this, and with Gods help, we will continue to. maybe that is your mission in life, to find that inner strength we all posess, and use it to give your soldiers their inner peace

the docs and nurses... unheralded heroes

It's time to take a break. You have served above & beyond & must get a little R&R yourself. What's your BP? How's your sleep pattern? How much weight have you lost in the last 6 months? Give yourself a little care because even if we pulled out tomorrow, the soldiers will need you the day after that & the day after that and so on. You want to be in a position to help them down the road as well.

Please do not take these burdens upon yourself alone past the breaking point. As an one American citizen to another, I say that in a national war, the task of caring for the wounded is a national one.

We are lucky that such a thoughtful and dedicated person as you is on point doing it, and I am sure that your comrades in hospitals nationwide are equally dedicated. But when you must rest, pass on the torch; it will be someone else's turn.

Peace be with you.

I hope and pray that my son will not need nurses and doctors as a result of serving in iraq, but if he does i hope you will be his nurse. He is currently on his 2nd deployment and he swears it will be his last.

Thank you for all that you do for our wounded. Thank God that you have been there to help them deal with the horrors of war. Now you must take care of yourself. You are truly one of God's angels.

Thank you.

Being a nurse is a calling that few people have. You do. I know because I've been married for 43 years to a nurse like you. Please stay with it. As hard as it is at the moment, years from now you won't regret that you did.

I send you warm gentle blessings and I pray for Divine guidance for the paths you will travel. Know this; when we think we have taken all that we can, an event, a sign of sorts will happen or appear. This will be the key for your decision. It is in Divine hands and you will know it when it comes. There are times we think we cannot go another step then suddenly find the strength to go further. Other times we have given all that is meant to give and are guided in other directions. Stand Proud, you have been a Divine Blessing to so many. What will be, will be. You are loved. I wish you well and I wish you peace...

When I arrived at my brother's besides in Germany, it was the nurses who held my hand while I gathered the courage to enter his room. It was the nurses who kept his body alive long enough for me to say goodbye. It was the nurses who sat with us while we made the agonizing decision to remove his life support. It was the nurses who cried when he had passed. It was the nurses we sent thank you packages to and recommended commendations for. It was the nurses who made the difference for my brother, my family, and I. From a family who benefited from the dedication of your profession, I thank you.

(Oldest Sister of Cpl. Matthew P. Wallace KIA OIF 21 July 2006...Scouts Out)

Three days ago I got called to the scene of an IED strike. One of my infantry buddies, Brad Shilling, was killed instantly. Last night, we were hit by mortars, and my platoon sergeant, SFC Ware, and my driver, PFC Nix were both hit. I was standing right next to them, but came out with nothing more than a headache.
The thing that affected me the most, in both cases, were the moments of gentleness within the chaos. Last night, as we were loading our wounded into a HMMWV, one of our SSGs, injured himself, was trying to reassure the guys.
His words were simple, direct, nothing terribly noteworthy. Just gentle. Caring. Something in them hit me hard, in the chest, and I had to swallow hard and look away, and force what I was feeling down deep, to the dark and liquid place that tears come from.
Having the presence of mind to be compassionate in the midst of pain and chaos was like seeing a ray of sunshine in the middle of a troubled and turbulent sea. It was a miracle, and a glimpse of what transcends our normal humanity.
The night before that, it was my turn. Brad's squad leader, a tough muscular guy, came up to me once we got back to FOB Rustimayah. Red faced. Quietly distraught. Compelled to tell me everything that had happened, everything he had done. I looked at him, in his eyes, put my hand on his shoulder, and told him "You did the absolute best that you could in a really shitty situation." He looked down and away, and nodded, once.
Only you can answer the question of when enough is enough, and when it is time to fall back and regroup. You need to take care of yourself, too, just as your husband said. I would just tell you, as a soldier in the middle of this mess, that compassion and gentleness are truly the most rare of all commodities here. I truly pray that you can find the strength to carry on. Your soldiers need you, and I can absolutely tell you that your kindness will live on within them; they will take it with them for the rest of their lives, and remember it gratefully.
It sounds horribly insufficient, but---thank you.

Thank you; thank all of you. Martha Huntley, Clearwater, FL

You do what we can't do... God bless you...

God bless you and your loving, understanding husband. All of it is so hard and yet so many of you do your job every day - and suffer because of it. God bless you all.

dear nurse,

when i was going through combat medic training (many years ago), my instructor impressed upon us a very important fact:

a dead medic is no good to anyone

take care of yourself first. you never know, you may come back to your calling :-)

I am an RN who worked ICU for many years, no soldiers but often young people facing crises of illness or accident. I know what you are experiencing. Caring people can never and should never cease caring but try to determine where the level of caring would be if you stepped back just one pace emotionally. On my last ICU day, a Priest visiting one of my patients came as out of nowhere and in essence pronunced a benedicition on my ICU career - Someone appreciated my long and often painful time of giving and He appreciates you too. Finally, always know that when you leave, there will be another who will lovingly fill your shoes. God bless you, thou good and faithful servant.

dear nurse thank you for all you have done for us.
for truly you have been a gaurdean angel to many of our boys and girls in uniform. but now is the time to think of you and your sacrafice that you have made. thank you for being there for us all..

You hang in there! I want you there in case my husband needs you! Take care of some yoga. We are all so grateful for what you do. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I will buy a beer for the next Nurse I run into in your honor...maybe a shot of tequila!

Dear Nurse, Please know you are in my prayers and thoughts. You, with your words and work, are changing the world from negative to positive. All I can say is I admire your courage and commitment. Do as much as You can, be true to yourself and be willing to pass the job on to another when the time is right. Your work is a blessing and a burden not meant to be forever. Blessings to you and yours. Please let use know if there is anything YOU need. You have partners that you have never met but want to help.

Dear Nurse,

Thank you so much for all you have done and all you are doing. I cry when I read all the things you write about and the pain you and your soldiers feel. I realized long ago that you have to take care of yourself in order to be able to take care of others. The world is a better place because of you. So, do what you have to in order to be whole again.

with the warmest of good wishes,


Thank you. We are beyond blessed to not have needed your services or the services of your fellow brothers and sisters on my husband's tour in Iraq.

In my day to day life I try to remind myself I'm no good to anyone else if I'm not any good to myself. Take care of you and keep your faith strong and your chin up. Everything else will fall into place.


Dear Nurse--Bless you and your husband both. You're good people.

Please stay, they need you. My son may need you one day God forbid. Please...please stay

There are many people who work in a variety of roles providing direct patient care. Although a good number of these folks are very good at what they do technically, it seems that many do not “care” about the people they take care of. I suppose for many this is a defense mechanism for their psyche. We all have our own threshold for empathy and caring. For those who care and give of themselves freely they have to realize that one can only give so much and still be able to effectively care for your charges.

The emergency brief given by the airlines before you take off includes a blurb about the oxygen masks that will drop down in case of an emergency. Part of the instruction is, if traveling with a child, don your oxygen mask first and then help the child with theirs. The reason being that if you help some one else first you may not be able to put on your on mask and there by become a casualty yourself.

Give all you can, but realize that you have to take care of yourself as well. Take some time off to recharge your batteries and regain your focus. If you burn out totally other wounded will never know your skill, encouragement, smile and caring.


People that care are in short supply these days.
What do you say to a person like you that is dying little by little each day because they care.
I don't know, and I wish I was smart enough to figure it out.
The casulity of war goes way beyond the military.
You are living testament to that.
The only comfort I can give has to do with all the good that you have done for the military people that have crossed your path.
Take comfort in that fact however small, and remember just as they have had an impact on you, you have had an impact on them.
Bless you, angel of mercy.
Tony Venturo

If anyone ever needed proof of the existence of angels, all they need do is to look at you.
Also, as a few others have said previously, please take care of yourself.
Thank you so much!!!

Sorry things have been so rough for you

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