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 24, 2008

Name: RN Clara Hart
Posting date: 10/24/08
Stationed in: a military hospital in the U.S.
Milblog url:

“You could be the poster child for nurses," said one of the docs.

“Uh huh.”

What’s that supposed to mean?

I don’t want to be a poster anything. An hour left to go on my string of 12-hour shifts, I anxiously await the arrival of my relief. One more shift not going home on time. Another patient crashing, circling the drain and all of our energies focused on trying to save them.

Another family, a husband and grown daughter this time. Huddled in a chair, tears free flowing. Me hardening my heart and turning away. Busy with my own patients and devoid of emotional reserve to share, I call the CDO’s* desk and ask that they send the chaplain forthwith. It’s all I can do. 

Another night shuffling out of the building too tired to think. Grateful not to have to return the next day, or the one after, but finding sleep interrupted by dreams of MASCALs* and dead bodies everywhere.

A group of nurses and techs attending the funeral of one of our OEF patients.Talking with young coworkers, hearing about their tears, anxiety and nightmares. Listening to them put to voice all the symptoms of compassion fatigue, PTSD and whatever else we struggle with. Another aerovac arrives and hell starts again. No relief in sight, we get no help.This stuff gets to us.

CDO: command duty officer
MASCAL: mass casualty/disaster


Clara, I hope that another nurse who needs to see this post sees it. Nurses see all and spend more time with patients and loved ones than doctors. My mother has been in and out of ICU for the last five weeks. It isn't trauma like what you witness as a testament to the violence of war. Ours is just regular living and trying to keep on living. If you need a leave, please consider it. I don't know if you have counseling available for yourself, but if you do it might help. I wish we could see an end to all the destruction.

Thank you for writing.

Have you checked yourself for the PTSD? You are still in the war, and only Bob Woodruff from ABC News would understand and cover it, the rest of them think it is the Economy and the election. Rest this weekend, or go to a petting zoo, think about child care - infants and toddlers - or find the other end of human life - the beautiful parts, the really beautiful parts. What is happening too often to you is why I wish women would stay home and allow the men to make a mess of things in battle far from home, but then they do need your care when broken and battered and beaten - it is so hard to leave that bloody mess behind and no one ever understands unless they were there and shared. You will be in my prayers as they all are.

Clara: I have been reading your posts on Sandbox for some time. This one sounds like a call for help. Don't simply sacrifice yourself to PTSD or overwork. If you leave, they will find a replacement. You have done more than your share. No one will benefit from your marching over a cliff.

Thank You Clara. I've sent up things to share, knowing you are the front line, today, for the war in Iraq. It must still be a war, because people are still shooting and dying.

I wanted to share something else, too. I counseled vets as a volunteer from 1984-1986. I was just a beginner but I used TLC and figured these guys had been dipped in crazy, scary sh*t, and mebbe they still stank a little of it. But I quit doing that. I did it when I realized that some vets were 'taking'. I felt resentful, tired, and overwhelmed.

One guy called me late at night. He'd ben doping and drinking all that day, and he was talking a lot of suicide sh*t. I came over, listened, tried to feel empathy and forgiveness, but my mid just screamed, "JFC, if yer gonna commit suicide, why can't you just do it at a reasonable hour, so I can get some sleep!"

I didn't say it, but I felt it. OMFG, I felt it. When I went to counseling, I was made aware of 'burnout' and that was one of the biggie symptoms. It took me years to get right again. I had my own issues, and I was taking/using/helping others with their issues. It was too much. I had to stop or destroy/sacrifice/deny my own self. I'd like to tell you my keen intellect grasped the conundrum instantly and my finely honed survival skills instantly kicked in. But that's not how it happened.

None of that occurred. I felt like crap, like I had abandoned buddies in the field. It took weeks, months, who can really say how long it inflluenced my life, to come to accept my inability. Even if I gave my life to help others, it wouldn't really matter. There just wasn't enough of me to fill the void. Point is, there probably isn't enough of you, or any other human being, to fill the voids where you are. Point is, you may be trying to do too much. I'm sure you can see there is so much to be done, that's left undone. Point is, that's humanity for you.

Point is, you deserve to survive.



You do what you have to to survive and maintain some semblance of sanity. Not many can do what you do every day. Sorry that is true. Thank you for your service.

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