I believe in lessons learned. I believe in the wisdom of the Army nurses who’ve gone before me and I thank them for teaching me one very special life lesson.
Even though I was newly home from Iraq, I still had one critical mission left. The commander of the combat support hospital where I was assigned in early 2005 asked me if I would follow up on a couple patients for him who’d come through our ER. It’s difficult if not impossible to remember all the patients who pass through the ER in a combat zone, but I did specifically remember the two boys our hospital commander asked me to follow up on.
I was assigned as a Trauma Nurse Coordinator in the Army Nurse Corps at one of the combat support hospitals in Iraq. I worked with the hospital staff, particularly the ER staff, and flight ambulance crews to help coordinate the care of the trauma patients we received. When I returned home to the U.S., I would be in Washington, D.C. for several days, so I thought I’d stop in at Walter Reed Army Medical Center to see if, by chance, those two boys were still there. Indeed, they were. Sergeant Paul was in the hospital. He’d arrived at our combat support hospital with a severe head injury and I honestly did not think he would make the flight out from our hospital. Sergeant Brian was staying at one of the nearby Fisher Houses and while he had severe shrapnel injuries, I remembered thinking that he would make it even though he might lose one of his limbs and possibly his vision. It wasn’t until after visiting both of them that I knew this would be a pivotal memory for me.
For several years, I’ve volunteered with the Vietnam Women’s Memorial Foundation. And I remembered hearing from Army nurses who’d served in Vietnam, how troubled they were, even decades later, that they’d never known what eventually happened to their patients who returned home from Vietnam. Did they live? Were they doing okay? Well, it was this lesson I learned from the Army nurses who went before me that I’ll always have with me.
Sergeant Paul was on the long road to recovery from his head wound. And Sergeant Brian, so proud to stand up from his wheelchair to walk me out of the Fisher House after our long visit, said to me, “Welcome Home Captain Otto!” Sergeant Brian was welcoming ME home.
Thank you to the Army nurses who went before me that they would share with me the important lesson that life does go on after war. This I believe.
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