I walked in just minutes after his arrival, amazed at what I saw. I watched as HM2 Gavin Rampertaap was performing CPR. I watched HM3 Kevin Hines assisting the patient’s breathing with a bag-valve mask through a breathing tube inserted by the medic (I don’t know how he placed the tube; you could barely see where the patient’s mouth was on his face). I watched HM2 Alonzo (I call him Zo) Shields running to the OR to get equipment. I watched HM3 Hasan Hafiz and HN John Hitchcock cutting off the patient’s pants from what was left of his legs – both were mangled. I watched HM2 Patrick Malveda applying a tourniquet to what was left of the patient’s right arm. I watched Doc Z, bald head and all, inserting a large bore IV into a big vein in the patient’s chest so I could start transfusing blood. I watched LCDR Sue Howell documenting everything that was being done to the patient while at the same time trying to get information about the incident from the medic who brought him to us. I watched CDR Charlie Godinez directing the entire team as he pondered his next intervention; which happened to be another emergency thoracotomy (see earlier post Birthday Cakes and Bombs). After all of the above interventions failed to get the patient’s heart to beat again, he was pronounced dead. This resuscitation was different for me. I had a different perspective. Maybe it was because I was only transfusing blood – I don’t know. I kind of stood back and watched the expressions on the other team member’s faces as they worked. It was surreal, like I wasn’t really there.
We decided early on in this mission that we would debrief as a group after every resuscitation – to talk about what we did well, or not-so-well, and to provide “lessons learned” in the event we have a similar patient in the future. Whoever led the trauma resuscitation leads the debrief then proceeds around the room asking for input from every member of the team who was involved. So, CDR Godinez started and when he was through he went around the trauma bay asking for comments; I was somewhere near the middle of the group, but I wasn’t really listening to what anyone was saying. I just kept thinking about the effort those young corpsmen just put into trying to save that man’s life. I’m almost certain none of them ever saw anything so shocking in their lives. Any one of them could have easily thought the situation was too overwhelming for them and just walked out, and everyone else there would have understood. But, they didn’t. They pressed on, without missing a beat. The next thing I know I hear CDR Godinez say my name, but I found myself unable to speak. I was so overcome I was crying – tears and snot running down my face. I simply shook my head side-to-side. I wasn’t crying because a great American just died in front of me with injuries that would make almost anyone else vomit. I was crying because I was overwhelmed with pride; I was proud to be a part of this outstanding team, doing incredible things, under austere conditions, in a fourth-world country. But mostly I was proud of the corpsmen. They are all between 22 and 29 years old. Many are married and most have children. They don’t get paid a lot and the most junior often get some of the worst taskings here, but when the shit hits the fan like it did on this day, you know they are going to be there, doing what they do, and it’s an unbelievable thing to witness. I am honored to know, and get to work with, every one of them!
THE FST NINE
Front Row Left to Right; HN John Hitchcock, HM2 Zo Shields, HM2 Tommy Turtle, HN Anthony Funk
Back Row Left to Right; HM3 Hasan Hafiz, HM2 Gavin Rampertaap, HM2 Shamica Wilson, HM2 Patrick Malveda, HM3 Kevin Hines
One of the greatest bands in America, Live (from Pennsylvania, of course), released a song called "Overcome" that became synonymous with the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. It’s been almost 9 years since I first heard that song and I am still overcome. Here is a link to a great performance of that song.
I usually try to end my posts on a good note, so here goes.
After the debrief I didn’t want anyone to see me crying any more so I went back to my hooch (slang here for living quarters, I didn’t use it at first, but it’s grown on me). Shortly after I sat down there was a knock on my door. My first thought was, Motherfuc$! Who is that? Then I hear LCDR Robbie Ladd, one of our CRNAs, say, “There’s someone here you have to see”. I’m thinking, unless its Judi there can’t possibly be anyone I want to see right now, but he pressed the issue. So, I come out of my hooch and he leads me out the front door of the FST and there in front of me is this beautiful dog. Not just any dog, but an actual working dog – a bomb sniffer – and since she’s a working dog you are allowed to interact with her. Turns out just that afternoon 9 working dogs reported to the FOB. When Robbie saw this one he yelled to her handler and actually chased them down to have him bring the dog back to the FST because he knew I’m a dog-lover and seeing her might cheer me up. Boy was he right. I played with her for nearly half an hour. Her name is Sonya. She’s no Cowher, mind you, but she’s an excellent substitute.
Me and my new best friend on the FOB, Sonya.