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.


April 05, 2007

Name: RN Clara Hart
Posting date: 4/5/07
Stationed in: a military hospital

I went back to work today after taking a few months off for some much-needed "rest and recovery". I decided to try two days a week, and strictly on a temporary basis. As I walked down the hallway, my footsteps echoing, I wondered what the day would bring. My hand tapped the silver button on the wall and the pneumatic doors opened with a quiet swish. It was still too early for any patients to have made it out of the OR, and the recovery room was eerily quiet. I wandered into the staff lounge, opened my locker and stowed my things. Then, like my Marine and Soldier counterparts readying for a mission, I loaded up with the tools of my trade. Pens, sharpie marker and index cards in one pocket, pen light, clamps/hemostats, trauma scissors in another, stethoscope draped over my shoulder, I was ready to start my day.

Walking to the nursing station I picked up the schedule, scanning it to get a feel for how many patients were lined up and what types of surgeries they would have. Looking at the assignment board I saw the bays I had been given, and headed over to make sure all the equipment was in working order and I had all the necessary supplies. Once that task was completed I sat down to wait.

As the patients began arriving I quickly acclimated to being back in a military hospital -- being called “ma’am” and “Ms. Hart” instead of plain ole “Clara”.  It was wonderful to once again have patients who were respectful, polite, and genuinely appreciated the care they received! Having spent the better part of my career working trauma/ER and flying medevacs, not always caring for the nicest, most law abiding people, this behavior was not the norm, and returning from my hiatus I appreciated how nice it is.

My day flew by, patients arriving, recovering and then heading out the door. Pretty soon one of the float nurses came over to relieve me for lunch, and I gave her a report on my patients and headed off in search food. Returning from lunch I watched as yet another patient was wheeled into one of my bays. I hurried over to take report and sent the float nurse off to relieve some other starving caregiver. As I listened to the anesthesiologist I learned my patient was a 33-year-old man, OIF, injured when an IED exploded under his vehicle. I did my assessment, noting his dressings, carefully making note of his injuries and his previous surgeries. I looked at his face, arms, and hands, peppered with shrapnel and cloaked in white gauze. I studied his chart and orders and set about finishing the post-op tasks. As I worked I paid close attention to him and the monitors, watching his vital signs, gauging how quickly the anesthesia was wearing off and if he was in pain. 

I called his name and saw his one unbandaged eye struggle to open. I told him his surgery was over and he was in the recovery room. I asked him if he was in pain and he said “No”. As I waited for the last vestiges of anesthesia to wear off and for him to emerge from his slumber I spent a few brief moments completing the infernal paperwork that makes the nursing world go round. 

I glanced up at the monitor and then over at my patient and was shocked to see tears silently streaming down his face. Moving closer to the bed I asked him if he was in pain, already thinking what pain medications he had ordered, but he only shook his head no. I quickly moved even closer and, grabbing a Kleenex in one hand and placing the other on his chest, I started to dry his tears. He looked up at me and in response to my silent questions said, “Ma’am I’m not crying, I just got something in my eye.” I nodded my head somberly and placed the hand holding the Kleenex on top of his head, lightly touching the stubble military guys call “hair”. In a choked voice he said to me “Marines don’t cry, ma’am, and I’m not crying." As I continued to dry his tears I took one of his hands in mine. He grabbed on tightly, as if I was his lifeline, and I felt him taking strength from my quiet unquestioning presence. I went back to my charting, ignoring the sorrow draining down his face, all the while keeping my hand securely tucked in his. Minutes passed, and I felt him regain his composure, and the grasp on my hand loosed. I slid my hand out from his and walked over to the phone, my back to him, to call report to the floor nurse. 

As I talked with the receiving nurse I glanced over my shoulder to see him wiping his face with his bandaged arms, looking around to make sure no one else had witnessed his private anguish. I quickly turned my back to him again, finishing my report. Striding back to his bedside I readied him for transport, and as I did he once again looked at me and implored, “Ma’am, I really wasn’t crying. Please don’t tell anyone I was." I looked at him and with a smile responded, “Can’t talk about something I didn’t see." He smiled back at me, relief evident in his face, and I asked him to do me a favor. “Anything, ma’am, just name it,” came his speedy, earnest reply. “Please don’t call me 'ma’am',” I said. “It makes me feel old and decrepit. You can call me 'Clara', okay?” “Clara?” he asked me. “Yep.” I replied. “No more 'ma’am', got it?” “Got it, Clara,” he said. We shared a smile and then he was whisked away on his journey toward healing.


Glad you are back, for you and them that needs you most, and old paratroopers don't cry either.

And we sailors only cry when we're drunk - or read great stories. Welcome back.

Thank you for holding his hand and helping to get the "debris" out of his eyes.

God bless you and keep you
Cause his countenance to shine upon you
And give you peace

Clara, Welcome back and thanks for sharing your experience.

For their sakes, so glad you are back.

God bless you Clara. People like you are what help make this the best place on earth to live. If something were to happen to me over there I hope someone like you would be back here for me.

Hey Clara,

I know the troops are so thankful to have your compassionate hands to hold, wipe their eyes when they "get something in them," and guide them on their paths to recovery. Give all those soldiers a big hug from me, and take one for yourself too. God bless you and all you do to ease the pain of those who serve our country.

I've visited military hospitals here in the states from time to time. I've encountered many men & women who "have something in their eyes." Like you, I've never seen a thing. I think it's because by that time, I've usually "got something in my eye," too. Keep up the good work, Clara. My hat's off to you!

yeah... got something in my eye too. Glad you are back.


Thank you, Clara, for being the first person some of these brave soldiers see. It can't be an easy job.

Heidi's Mom

Glad you are back and thank you for your service.

Blogs are so informative where we get lots of information on any topic. Nice job keep it up!!

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