Saturday, August 19, 2006
A Day In The Life
Life at the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, that is.
I spent my morning in the ICU at the largest military medical intensive care unit in Europe. This is the first critical stop for U.S. Military personnel (and coalition forces) injured in Iraq and Afghanistan. They come from the Bagdad ER, Ramadi and all the 'hotspots' in the Middle East. They all come here before going off to Brooke Army Medical Center for burns and/or prosthetics, Bethesda Naval Hospital for brain injury and Walter Reed for rehab.
This morning I saw two Purple Heart ceremonies and thirteen wounded come in. I talked to several brave, young soldiers, unbearably stoic and upbeat for the conditions in which they find themselves. One of the Purple Heart recipients, a 22 year-old soldier who was thrown from a humvee after an IED went off under his vehicle, especially touched me today. He was reintubated this morning after not being able to breathe deeply enough to maintain adequate oxygen content. He suffered blunt force trauma over much of his body, severely bruised his liver, and lost his spleen. He looks beat-up but is remarkably alert and 'talkative', he wrote comments and answered questions on several sheets of paper. He wrote to me in a steady but pained hand, that in the explosion, his driver-buddy had died. He told me that when they came to pick him up off the street where the attack happened that guys from his own unit didn't recognize him. These young guys are so amazing in their display of bravado . I told him that there are many, many Americans hard at work on trying to get all of our people home and that we thank him for his service, bravery and love of Country.
The intensive care wounded ranged from gunshots with shrapnel that had invaded lungs and wreaked carnage over multiple organs to wounds from IEDs that broke so many bones that the count was uncertain. Permanent injuries to the genitalia, limb loss, burns so severe that before being sent to the burn unit, these guys mut be intensively stabilized in order to survive the journey to Texas. It is unending horror and they just keep coming. And I was only in the hospital until noon.
The hospital staff is incredible. Starting outside with the Soldiers and Airmen, Pilots and Doctors, Nurses and support staff that fly these guys in, transport them by bus-ambulance to the hospital and unload them with the gentleness one might expect for an infant. Next in exquisite synchronicity, the begin the process of unloading their precious cargo, beginning a cadenced hand-off, "Got him, got him, got him, got him. Ready? Ready. Lower. And down." Each patient is handed to a ready team, complete with chart, notations and any special instruction specific to his care. Once in the ICU a symphony of care commences. Every new arrival gets complete review of every event from the first contact after attack to every nuance of care received up to that point. From their arrival until they are shipped out or released, a concerted effort to heal exists at the Landstuhl RMC. This facility is the first in a long line of transfers where each patient get the intensivist medical evaluation and treatment needed for the best recovery possible.
I met and spoke with an ICU Nurse today. She is a Reservist with one year left in her Military commitment. She tells me when she entered service she was a "conservative Republican". Now she says she no longer relates as such. She's compassionate, smart and angry. She's worried about "stop-loss", the policy that may not allow her to leave once her commitment is completed. She's concerned about the state of the world and what information she may not be getting in order to make good decisions for her future, but she seems most troubled by her feeling that her vote won't make a difference.
The belief that what we do doesn't matter is the most prevalent attitude I've encountered since being here in Germany. It is the same sense I get from most US citizens I talk to in the States as well. The overwhelming sense of powerlessness that is registering in the American psyche must be stemmed. The mainstream media must be awakened from their stupor and exercise in stenography of 'Rovian talking points'. I can feel change coming. It happens one person at a time, it begins with me and is fueled by you. It is the time to take Our Democracy back. Show up and do your job.