January 26, 2009
Name: RN Clara Hart
Posting date: 1/26/09
Stationed in: a civilian military hospital in the U.S.
Milblog url: www.mcneillysperspective.blogspot.com
“Good Morning!. . . Hello? Anybody home?” Slowly one brown eye slid open.
“Hi! My name’s Clara, I’m going to be your nurse today.” The brown eye peered out at me from underneath a headdress of gauze.
“How are ya feeling?”
“Any pain? Nausea? Dizziness?”
“No, no and no.”
“Okay then, here’s today’s plan." I rattled off a list of things to accomplish. “You ready?”
“Huh! Well! That’s not really an option. So this is what we’re gonna do," I said with a smile.
A long-suffering sigh was the only response.
My patient, injured three years ago in Iraq, had returned for additional surgery and so, in caring for him with tasks to be completed, I forged on with the morning.
At one point the causality affairs officer stopped in and asked if a high profile visitor could come by. Since my patient was stable I said it was fine with me as long as the patient didn’t mind. My patient looked at me, then reluctantly agreed.
“Damn, man! If I known today I was going to have a VIP patient who was going to have a VIP visitor I’d have done my hair!” I joked with him. For that quip, my patient awarded me with a crooked smile and a gurgle of laughter.
Timetable for the visit set, we began to complete some of the day’s tasks. While working, my patient, in slow, deliberate speech, said, “They come in, shake your hand and tell you how proud they are of you. They say thanks for serving your country, how grateful they are for men and women like you. They struggle to figure out what to talk about next and try real hard not to stare at your blown off leg or damaged face. Then they leave and you never see or hear from them again. If you’re lucky they might remember you, but most don’t.” Brown eye looked out at me, sadness clearly evident. “I get so tired of being on display for these people. People that don’t know me.”
Later, while charting as my patient lay sleeping I looked up to see the VIP striding down the hallway,entourage in tow. I stood and moved into my patient’s room, waking him by calling his name.
“Visitors," I said.
The VIP came into the room and began to speak. At times my patient’s speech was slow and halting, softly spoken, and the VIP had difficulty understanding. To cover the awkwardness, I began to joke with my patient, the mood lightening when the crooked smile appeared on his face. As quickly as he came the VIP left, and with a remembrance gift in his hand my patient simply looked at me, tired expression on his face. I told him to go back to sleep, and returned to work.
Several hours later a second visitor approached me, another liaison, inquiring as to the status of my patient and asking if he could see him. As my patient was finally getting some much-needed rest, I threatened him with great bodily harm if he even attempted to wake my patient.
“Oh no, Ma’am, I wouldn’t do that! I just wanted to make sure he was okay. See, we served together in Iraq three years ago, and the last time I saw him was a couple of days before he got blown up. I won’t wake him, and if you tell me he’s doing okay, that’s good enough for me. I’ll see him some other time."
“I know you,” he added. "You’ve taken care of another one of my guys and you’re good people. Protective as hell of your patients, but I like that. Makes me feel better knowing someone like you is looking after my guys when I can’t.” I smiled and nodded not sure what to say especially since I didn’t remember ever working with him.
After some prodding on my part he began to tell me about the crooked path that had taken him to two other duty stations before being tasked as a liaison. “Come on,” I said. “Let’s go wake him up. You’re one visitor I know he’ll want to see."
Walking into the room, liaison slowly following, I again called my patient’s name. Leaning toward his head I softly spoke his name, then louder said “Wake up! There’s another visitor here to see you and you’ll like this one."
I heard the sigh he gave before the brown eye reluctantly opened. I began to smile as I watched recognition slowly dawn as he looked at his visitor. Then, as with an overexcited toddler whose entire body moves, my patient struggled to get his hand out from under the covers. He grinned, “How ya doing, man?!” All of us laughed, the visitor and the patient shook hands, then with hands tightly grasped, simply looked at each other.
Finding a chair for him, I urged the visitor to sit and talk. As I went about my work I heard snippets of the conversation drifting out of the room. Talk of guys they served with, promotions, life’s paths, laughter, tears, war stories and more laughter. Later, as the liaison stood up to leave, I wandered back into the room. With grins stretched across our faces we all gazed at each other.
I have no need to wonder which VIP my patient will remember most.