In the second installment of extracts from My Journey as a Combat Medic, Patrick describes saving lives in the firing line and adjusting to civilian life.
Chapter Five: Medical Training
The most nerve-racking class at the time was the intravenous therapy class. We practiced on a dummy arm a few times to learn the basics. After that we would practice sticking each other. I got stuck several times during this part of my training. The testing portion was quick-paced also. We had to demonstrate how to spike the bag of fluid, but we didn’t start any fluids. We just stuck each other until we got a good IV in. Some soldiers passed out as they were getting stuck; others just bled profusely. I enjoyed it; it was fun. Learning to start on IV on someone is what being a medic is all about!
We practiced on training manikins for the skills that we could not do on each other such as applying tourniquets, airway management, needle decompression, and learning to assist mothers during childbirth. Those manikins are not the same as real life, but it was a good starting point. I was sure I did not want someone putting a tourniquet on or sticking me in the chest with needles!
Chapter Six: The Combat Medic
The helicopter landed, and the Syrians and the US Special Forces soldier loaded the three wounded men onto the floor of the bird. The smell of spent ammunition, burnt flesh, and the exhaust from the helicopter is still fresh in my memory. Looking at these three men in front of me, I thought to myself, “This is for real. I hope I don’t screw this up.”
I tried not to pay attention to the soldiers’ moans. Instead, I focused on keeping these men alive while they were in my care. It was hard not to hear the moans though. They already had tourniquets applied to the stumps, and there was a moderate amount of bleeding. I made the tourniquets tighter and decided to dress the amputations to cover them up. One of the wounded was looking up at me. I don’t know how confused he was due to his blood loss, but I heard him moaning, “Allah, Allah,” and I could not understand what else he was saying. I looked at him and smiled.
Chapter Twelve: Dear New Medic
Dear new medic,
Welcome to the best job in the world. There is no job like that of an Army medic. You will travel places and see things that others can only dream about. It is not an easy job, but it is a rewarding one. The rewards are not badges, ribbons, or bonus money; the rewards come from the good feeling you get from helping people. You will learn new skills on the battlefield that doctors are not taught in medical school. You will experience highs when you save a life. You will experience the lowest of lows when someone dies on you. This comes with the job. Don’t let it get to your head either way. Your job requires many things of you. You have to stay physically fit and mentally alert. Believe me, no one wants a medic who cannot carry his or her own load on the battlefield. In fact, you will often be called to carry someone else’s load on the battlefield. You never want to be a liability, only an asset. Just because you don’t have to do physical training with your unit does not mean you don’t have to stay in tip-top shape. Nothing is worse than having the medic struggling to keep up with everyone else. You don’t want to be that medic.
Chapter Thirteen: The Final Years
I had to get used to being a civilian again. I spent a month at home before I returned to my civilian job. I would go outside and sit in the grass as it rained; I missed the grass and the rain when I was in the desert. My neighbors gave me strange looks and some of them quit talking to me. I didn’t care. I spent hours just sitting in the grass. I would look up at the sky during the day and at night sometimes and ponder about life and what our destiny really is. I don’t think life ever really gets normal after coming home from war. I guess I should say I wanted things to be as normal as possible. It was hard getting used to being a full-time civilian and a part-time soldier. I was used to going everywhere with my body armor on and having my weapon at my side. I would wake up in the middle of the night in my bed at home and feel for my weapon. I would wake up startled not being able to feel it, then I remembered I was at home, not in Afghanistan.
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