I am a doctor specializing in Emergency Medicine in the
Emergency Departments of the only two military Level One trauma
centers. They are both in San Antonio, TX and they care for civilian
emergencies as well as military personnel. San Antonio has the
largest military retiree population in the world living here, because
of the location of these two large military medical centers. As a
military doctor in training for my specialty, I work long hours and
the pay is less than glamorous.
One tends to become jaded by the long hours, lack of sleep,
food, family contact and the endless parade of human suffering
passing before you. The arrival of another ambulance does not mean
more pay, only more work. Most often, it is a victim from a motor
vehicle crash. Often it is a person of dubious character who has been
shot or stabbed. With our large military retiree population, it is
often a nursing home patient.
Even with my enlisted service and minimal combat experience in
Panama, prior to medical school, I have caught myself groaning when
the ambulance brought in yet another sick, elderly person from one of
the local retirement centers that cater to military retirees. I had
not stopped to think of what citizens of this age group represented.
I saw "Saving Private Ryan." I was touched deeply. Not so
much by the carnage in the first 30 minutes, but by the sacrifices of
so many. I was touched most by the scene of the elderly survivor at
the graveside, asking his wife if he'd been a good man. I realized
that I had seen these same men and women coming through my Emergency
Dept. and had not realized what magnificent sacrifices they had made.
The things they did for me and everyone else that has lived on this
planet since the end of that conflict are priceless.
Situation permitting, I now try to ask my patients about their
experiences. They would never bring up the subject without the
inquiry. I have been privileged to an amazing array of experiences,
recounted in the brief minutes allowed in an Emergency Dept.
encounter. These experiences have revealed the incredible individuals
I have had the honor of serving in a medical capacity, many on their
last admission to the hospital. There was a frail, elderly woman who
reassured my young enlisted medic, trying to start an IV line in her
arm. She remained calm and poised, despite her illness and the
multiple needle-sticks into her fragile veins. She was what we call a
"hard stick." As the medic made another attempt, I noticed
a number tattooed across her forearm. I touched it with one finger and
looked into her eyes. She simply said "Auschwitz." Many of
later generations would have loudly and openly berated the young
medic in his many attempts. How different was the response from this
person who'd seen unspeakable suffering.
Also, there was this long retired Colonel, who as a young officer had
parachuted from his burning plane over a Pacific Island held by the
Japanese. Now an octogenarian, his head cut in a fall at home where
he lived alone. His CT scan and suturing had been delayed until after
midnight by the usual parade of high priority ambulance patients.
Still spry for his age, he asked to use the phone to call a taxi, to
take him home, then he realized his ambulance had brought him without
his wallet. He asked if he could use the phone to make a long
distance call to his daughter who lived 7 miles away. With great
pride we told him that he could not, as he'd done enough for his
country and the least we could do was get him a taxi home,even if we
had to pay for it ourselves. My only regret was that my shift
wouldn't end for several hours, and I couldn't drive him myself.
I was there the night MSgt. Roy Benavidez came through the Emergency
Dept. for the last time. He was very sick. I was not the doctor
taking care of him, but I walked to his bedside and took his hand. I
said nothing. He was so sick, he didn't know I was there. I'd read
his Congressional Medal of Honor citation and wanted to shake his
hand. He died a few days later.
The gentleman who served with Merrill's Marauders, the survivor of
the Baatan Death March, the survivor of Omaha Beach, the 101 year old
World War I veteran, the former POW held in frozen North Korea, the
former Special Forces medic - now with non-operable liver cancer, the
former Viet Nam CorpsCommander. I remember these citizens. I may
still groan when yet another ambulance comes in, but now I am much
more aware of what an honor it is to serve these particular men and
women. I am angered at the cut backs, implemented and proposed, that
will continue to decay their meager retirement benefits.I see the
President and Congress who would turn their back on these
individuals, who've sacrificed so much to protect our liberty. I see
later generations that seem to be totally engrossed in abusing these
same liberties, won with such sacrifice.
It has become my personal endeavor, to make the nurses and young
enlisted medics aware of these amazing individuals when I encounter
them in our Emergency Dept. Their response to these
particularcitizens has made me think that perhaps all is not lost in
the next generation. My experiences have solidified my belief that we
are losing an incredible generation, and this nation knows not what
it is losing.
Our uncaring government and ungrateful civilian populace should all
take note. We should all remember that we must "Earn this."
Written By CPT. Stephen R. Ellison, M.D.
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