Purple Heart, brotherly bonds: Critical care nurse in Afghanistan shares blog about a sniper shooting
Editor's note: The following is the conclusion of a two-part blog entry written by Patty Roth of Alexandria. She's deployed in Afghanistan as a critical care nurse in charge of the intensive care unit at the Kandahar NATO Role 3 Hospital. The first part told of a Navy Seal team member (identified in the blog as the patient) who came to the hospital with a bullet wound to the head.
THE PURPLE HEART
Within an hour, we heard that the base general was coming in to do a Purple Heart ceremony. These are always hard. The chaplain comes in and prays, and the citation is read while the general pins the Purple Heart medal onto the patient's hospital gown. This means a lot to the guys in his unit, but I have a sick feeling that the patient will never wake up to see the medal of honor.
Soon enough, the Air Force CCAT fight team arrived to evaluate him for transport out of Afghanistan to Germany, where his family would be meeting him. Within a couple of hours, the flight was arranged.
Once we moved the patient from the ICU bed to the litter in which he would fly, one of the guys came up to me and asked, "Can we have some alone time with him before he leaves?" I told them that I thought that we could do that, so the guys pulled the privacy curtain all the way around the bed, shutting out any of the nurses or doctors.
I am not sure what was said or done behind that curtain, but whatever it was, it was done between brothers. One by one, they came out from behind the curtain and headed for the door until they were all gone. I gave a little sigh of relief once they were gone, because we could get the patient ready to go to the flight line.
Soon enough we were ready, and with the flight team, we headed out of the ICU. As we rounded the corner, to the hallway that leads to the flight line, I stopped short as I saw all of his brothers lined up on both sides of the hallway.
As we walked between them, they saluted the patient as he rolled by. I can tell you without a doubt, there wasn't a dry eye in the house.
THE BEST WE COULD DO
When I got back to the ICU, I called all of the nurses and doctors together, who worked so hard on this guy. We talked about what went good, and what was learned from this experience. We said that it was good that his brothers had a chance to say good bye to him; that we did the best we could with what we had, and the biggest thing we learned is that we are all brothers and sisters now too.
This was a tough day. I was used to seeing this type of trauma when I was deployed to Germany, but the difference is that I didn't have to see the faces of his closest friends while I was caring for them. But in a way, I think we are doing more good here for the patient and for the unit.
We are all OK. We hang together and support each other. This was not the first trauma that we saw, and I am sure that it will not be the last. We will learn and grow as we go on but somehow, I don't think it will get any easier, and I think that it's OK. If this stuff ever stops bothering me, then it is time to go home.
A couple of weeks ago, I posted about a patient who suffered a gunshot wound to the head. He did not survive his injuries, as I had feared. He made it to Germany, and his family got to say good-bye to him, but he never made it back to the United States.
We learned from the Command that the Seal Team was going to be holding a memorial service for the patient we cared for, and we were invited to attend.
It was a beautiful sunny day when our ICU team met in front of the hospital. We quietly waited until it was time to walk the short distance to the camp that houses the Seals that live on Kandahar Airfield.
As we walked, we were solemn and nervous to go to our first memorial for one of our fallen. When we arrived on camp, it was apparent that this was going to be a well-attended event.
The hospital staff lined up in formation in the back. The ceremony was outside, and there were over 200 other military members there to pay their respects. The building directly in front of us was covered with a green fabric that rippled in the light breeze.
Centered on this green fabric was a large portrait of the patient. It was hard to believe that this was the same man who I had taken care of. He had a smile bigger than life...a very handsome young man. Below his picture was his rifle, boots and helmet.
THE GUY THAT ALWAYS HAD YOUR BACK
The service began with the patient's closest buddies telling the audience about what he was like...a jokester...a leader...a brother. The guy that always had your back. The guy that you would follow anywhere... The guy that loved his country so much that he carried a United States Flag with him every time they went out on parole. One after another got up and gave testament of what the world lost that fateful day.
GUN SALUTE AND TAPS
After the eulogies were complete, the patient was honored with a 21 gun salute. This was followed by a lone bugler who played taps, loud and clear. I was losing it by this point and stole a quick glance down the line of the other hospital personnel. There were tears streaming down their cheeks too, which made me feel better.
Slowly, once the taps were completed, the men who gave testament to the patient's life got down from the podium, slowly marched over to the boots and helmet memorial, turned and gave a slow deliberate salute, and then took a knee in front of that memorial.
From the faint shaking of their shoulders, I could tell that they too, were shedding tears for their lost friend and brother. After a moment, they got back to their feet, again did a slow deliberate salute, turned and marched off to the side.
TRYING TO HOLD IT TOGETHER
This continued throughout the audience in groups of four or five people. As it got to my turn to go up to the memorial, I tried to hold it together. We marched up to the memorial, turned, completed our slow, deliberate salute and as I took a knee, I said a quick prayer for his family and for all the service members around the world who voluntarily take the watch each night so that we can sleep safely in our beds.
Once the service was over, the buddies that were at the patient's bedside that fateful day came up to us to again thank us for everything that we did at the hospital.
WHAT WENT ON BEHIND THE CURTAIN
I told them that I wished we could have done more. I then asked them, "Can you tell me what went on behind that curtain in the hospital that day?"
One of the guys looked at me, and with a smirk, said "Ma'am, I could tell you...but then I would have to kill you."
We all laughed and left it at that.
I was very nervous going into this memorial service, not knowing what to expect and realizing that the emotion from that day was still pretty fresh. But after it was all said and done, I am glad that I went. I was a witness to the love and honor that was shown to this service member. It was a great honor to see.