May 26, 2012

Name: RN Clara Hart
 Stationed in: a military hospital in the U.S.
Email: [email protected] 

After eight years of taking care of the war wounded, I would like to re-post this 2007 Sandbox piece as a tribute to my friends who are currently deployed, and in honor of those who have given their lives for our great country. May their sacrifices and those of their families never be forgotten:

It is Memorial Day Weekend and I have suddenly realized a lot of things I never even thought about before. Years ago I was a sheltered Midwest kid whose only contact with the military was an uncle in the Air Force who I saw maybe once every five years. I’m ashamed to say the military never really meant much to me in those days. I simply never gave any thought to the people who fought, were injured and sometimes killed in serving me. As I write that it sounds incredibly harsh, and for that I apologize. 

Somewhere along life’s path I started making friends with people “in the military”. Things truly changed for me on September 11, 2001; a day I will remember clearly for the rest of my life. I lost friends that day, and I looked down at the faces of their beautiful children, who would never know their parents, lost to acts of indescribable evil and cowardice.

Soon after, a friend deployed to OEF, then another to OIF, and I gradually became more aware of the struggles and hardships they faced in serving. Cards, letters, toiletries, chocolates, meals in a can, little luxuries of home I packed in boxes and mailed off. Somehow at some point the military folks began to take up residence in my heart. They became, to me, the ones who fought to prevent future acts of terrorism. The ones who preserved my freedoms. And it was and still is my hope that because of what they did and continue to do I will never again have to experience the kinds of things I saw and lived through on September 11, 2001 and in the days that followed.

Tired and burned out from working trauma and flying medevacs I began to look at other nursing opportunities, and one in particular caught my eye. After many long months (we all know government jobs!) I was on my way to being indoctrinated into the military way of healthcare. They tell me I had to “in process” or “check in”, which really involved wandering around like a lost soul at various installations trying to get signatures on a single piece of paper. I learned quickly to bring a book, find a chair and settle in until they called my name. I learned when they ask “Last four?” they mean the final four digits of your social security number. An enlisted person took pity on me and began drawing a diagram of the rank structure so I’d have an idea of who was what. In the end the easiest solution was to call them all "Ma’am" and "Sir". Can’t go wrong there!

Later I would sit, mouth hanging open, bemusement etched across my face, as those around me discussed topics in what sounded like a foreign language. “Remember Janice? She used to be at USHS? Well she’s PCS’ing to BAMC. She finally got O6." "Smith, oh yeah, he’s TDY at MIEMSO." I still have days were I cannot even begin to understand what they are saying; too bad there’s not a dictionary that translates military acronyms into English.

When I began patient care, at least that was something I knew; familiar ground! In doing patient care I looked around and saw that these patients were respectful, they were polite and they actually said “Thank you”. Whoa!  What a concept! From an inner city trauma center where I had begun to think my name was “Bitch” to a hospital where I have patients who call me "Ma’am" and say, “Thanks for taking care of me." Awesome!

As Memorial Day is a time of reflection, I sit here and reflect on many things. I reflect and remember:

-- My trip to Arlington National Cemetery, section 64, where my friends, victims of the September 11th attack are buried. A trip to lay flowers at the graves and remember.

-- My wounded triple-amputee who told me I was the first woman (other than his mom and sister) to hug him without hesitation.

-- My OIF, who with his wife brought me small trinkets for my birthday and Christmas.  Never, ever, ever had a patient do that before!

-- My wounded special ops guy who hugged me so hard I literally couldn’t breathe until he let go. Thank goodness he didn’t hold on long!

-- The angel quilt that sits on my chair, made by the mother of one of my wounded. The box showed up totally unexpected and made me cry so hard the cosmetics ceased to exist. I hate it when the mascara runs!

-- The ones who leave and never say good-bye.

-- The ones we work feverishly on for hours and hours, praying "Please let this work..." but it doesn’t and our hearts are broken.

-- The amputees I ran the Army 10-miler with, all nine of them, and how proud I was to see each and every one of them cross the finish line!

-- The parents I spent hours with educating them on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) helping them to understand their son could not control some of the responses he was having.

-- The ones I watch struggle to stay in the military, but who are no longer able to do what they once did and so they grieve.

-- The courage, perseverance, and fortitude displayed by every single one of our wounded.

-- The ones I watched get married.

-- All the ones who I’ve cradled in my arms and allowed to soak the shoulder on my scrub top, and the ones whose hands I’ve simply held. Sometimes looking in the opposite direction.

-- All the ones I laugh with, pray with and for, and some who decide to hang around and become my friends.

-- All the new friends I have made, many still in harm's way, simply by posting my stories.

There are so many things to remember and reflect on this Memorial Day; three years of working as a civilian nurse in a military hospital have provided a plethora. Let me close by saying to all of you who have served, are currently serving, or will serve -- you have my deepest, most sincere gratitude and appreciation. You will always have a special place in my heart and in my prayers, and I will never again forget or take for granted your service and sacrifices.



It takes a special person to daily attend to those who have made the awful sacrifice required to keep "Freedom" alive. "Thank you", too inadequate a sentiment, but nonetheless, heartfelt, for all you do and have done for these brought to your care.

Always good to see your name in the Sandbox Clara... stay strong.

Chris Saulnier
Mechanic Falls, Maine

I am ashamed to say that I never posted this before, but my dad & both of my older brothers served in the military, & I did not. Its time to recognize the sacrifices they made for MY freedoms, & those of the rest of our family. We are all proud & happy that they made it back from combat alive. My oldest brother (US Marine) was wounded during the Tet offensive in Vietnam in 1968, & brother #2 served in the Navy during the Vietnam era, and my dad served as a merchant marine during WWII . I am thankful for their service and sacrifice, & that of all veterans in our country. They all deserve the best care, thanks & help we as a nation can give them. God Bless America & all our military families!

Thank you for this. It made me cry. Couldn't help the tears coming as I read this and wished that I could give you a hug as well for being their angel. We do forget their sacrifices until they come home to our own doors. Bless you for what you do on a daily basis to make their hearts heal.

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