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.


October 03, 2008

Name: RN Clara Hart
Posting date: 10/3/08
Stationed in: a civilian military hospital in the U.S.
Milblog url:

Today, I came to the realization that I long for the days when I was a coldhearted, cynical trauma/medevac nurse. It was so much easier taking care of inner city trauma patients, where the knife and gun club was in full swing and the much used excuse of “I was just standing on the corner minding my own business and this dude, this dude, man, he comes up and shoots me for no good reason” was ever present.

Now I long for the days when I didn’t care. For the days when the majority of my patients were where they were because they had been doing something they shouldn’t. For the days when I had no compassion. For the days when a scornful sneer was the expression fixed upon my face as I listened to my drunk or stoned patient alternate between whining, cussing and crying. For the days when I wouldn’t even attempt to make time to deal with the wife or mother reeking of alcohol claiming her baby was "a good boy who never got into any trouble",  though this “good” boy had shot four people.

Four years ago I made a change, and in making that change my heart melted. But now some indifference would be welcome, a reprieve for a heart that hurts too much. I want to be that cynical nurse again, the one so cold and standoffish they nicknamed me "the ice princess". God, please! I want that ice. Please take away this pain.

Today, my first day back to work after ten days off, I learned that a patient I have cared for since June has taken a turn for the worse. He was shot in Iraq and gravely injured, and his wife has been at his bedside since the moment he came through our doors. A woman my own age, she and I quickly became friends. She has nothing left of her life before his injury, and her children have been uprooted to live with their grandparents so she can be with him.

She stood up when she saw me and started to talk. She said she had learned from the doctors that due to the latest setback he would no longer get better. He would spend the rest of his life needing 24/7 care and remain in a vegetative state. She said knowing her husband, that would not be what he wanted. Today she made the heart wrenching and difficult decision to withdraw life support. Tears rolled down her face. I wrapped my arms around her shoulders and whispered to her, ”If there were anything I could do, I would do it.”  She nodded and told me she knew I would. We stood that way for a minute, her stifling the agony inside her and me brushing away the tears flowing from my eyes.

So the children came. After we spruced him up, put on his favorite aftershave, I watched his children come into the room. I watched as they crawled up on the bed and lay beside him. I watched these children, far too young, say goodbye to their dad. Tomorrow when the children leave for their temporary home with their grandparents we will begin to withdraw life-supporting care. His wife asked me how long it would take after we stop everything. Hours, days, weeks? I don’t know and I could not give her an answer.

Tomorrow when I go back to work I will begin the process once again of helping a family whose loved one is dying. Please, can I have that ice?


I doubt I can truly fathom the emotions filling you at the moment, so forgive me if I miss the mark. Though an ice heart might prevent that pain, that pain highlights the good in humanity. Some days might be worse than others, and the pain might near a tipping point, but as Nietzsche said, "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger."


From an old soldier, thank you for what you do for our soldiers and their families. You are truly a remarkable woman.


You can't be icy, you are the cause of global warming - thanks for giving the wife and family time to say good-bye to the soldier that has given it all, you must have the greatest heart and the most hurt in your hospital, bless all your best. True love is all you have... and you give it away so well.

Holding the hand of a dying soldier and standing by the side of his/her family is an incredible gift that you are giving. God give you the strength and love you need so that you may continue to be there for these military families. Thank you for all that you are doing.

You did it again Clara, my face is all wet again. Hang in there...He doesn't sent anything your way that you can't handle.

Clara, if there was anything I could do for you, I would. You are the frontline to me, and I appreciate you being there for all of us. Don't close off - stay open. It might hurt, but when it does, come to us and we'll be there for you.

You are special person and you are doing a job that no one would ever wish upon another, but a job that has to be done.

All of our warmth and love to you and those you care for.


Your email is eloquent and heartbreaking; you have the great courage to keep your heart open to the truly unspeakable emotional and physical agony and share your strength with those who don't believe they have any left. You touch more lives than you can ever know. You will be in my prayers. Mary Coleman

I'm a retired soldier who went through some fairly traumtic times as the result of a MVA, not enemy action. You still appreciate the fact that there are people like you spending their psychological and emotional credit looking after us.

You are not the ice princess. You are the angel from above who is doing all she can (and more) under the most trying of circumstances. God Bless you nad watch over you always, as you do for all of your patients.

Thanks for being there. You make a world of difference to people that are in their darkest hour. I wish that we could help you while you're helping them.

Thanks for being there. You make a world of difference to people that are in their darkest hour. I wish that we could help you while you're helping them.


Keep writing. It helps to put at least that distance under your own control. You are so needed and I am so very glad that you had a few days away.

Thank you

trust me, you need to hold onto your objectivity at all costs. your connection to your patients is touching, but you can't help if you're burnt out...and that comes quicker than most think.
good luck, and thank you for what you're doing.

A simple and touching passage, beautifully written. Thank you.


With family and friends currently overseas, I worry every day. But IF anything were to ever happen, there is comfort in knowing they'd be well cared for by someone as special as you.
Keep your chin up.

thank-you for all you have done and continue to do for our loved ones every day.

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