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Won't Be Long And They Will Be Gone
From a Military Doctor
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 in 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
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
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 grave side, 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
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 Bataan 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 Corps Commander. 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 have seen a 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 particular citizens has
made Me think that perhaps all is not lost in the next
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.
Posted on 6/29 8:23 PM | IP: Logged