“Baby, Are we freaking you out?”
This was the question posed to me by one of the women that I have been working with in the hospital, while we were having to pack a horrible pressure ulcer. You could see spine and it was pretty gnarly. My facial expression I am sure was not too pleasant, but it was not because I was freaked out, I was just pissed that someone had neglected a defenseless person so long. So the question caught me by surprise. I said “No, it takes a bit to freak me out.” We packed the wound, it had an acrid smell, something I have not sensed since some of those combat engagements. There is a particular scent to open human flesh and it sticks with you.
I had worried when I started out into the medical field that what I saw in combat and my reaction to it might cause some difficulties even issues in providing care in the hosptital setting. I was dead wrong. It if anything has strengthened me on both counts. I am not only better medically because I have seen worse and I can spend my time learning not freaking the hell out while one of the care takers sticks three fingers deep into a patient’s back where a hole gives a clean shot view to bone. I can evaluate how the dressing is done and what should have been done to prevent it and how the patient is taking it. On the other side, me seeing this stuff in a controlled environment like the hospital, takes the sting and the myth away from the combat stuff. It makes my horrific imagniation have to face realistic first hand experience and tone down those adrenaline filled memories. Making my overall reaction to those memories dampened and dulled.
So back to “Are we freaking you out?” My internal monologue looked something like this: HA! Lady, I have been ass deep in casualties after a rocket strike, performing CPR on one Kid while lifting a stretcher with the other hand. I have had 60 patients with not a single first responder with more training than a 4 hour course. I have done everything from being a glorified IV stand, to tension pnuemothroax needle decompressions all while being under gun fire and rocket barage. I have taken life, saved life, and watched it fade out of too many teenagers and twenty year olds. I have given IV’s with NVG’s which is freaking impossible because you have no depth perception. I have been up to my elbows in blood and it wasn’t all from the same guy. If you knew how many pairs of ACU’s I went through in a year it would blow your mind… do you have any clue how hard it is to break in new boots! You are not freaking me out, you ain’t even impressing me. To freak me out, this guy would have to die and then jump up and start doing an Irish Jig.
My real response,” No, its takes a little bit more to freak me out.” Because words would not suffice nor explain nor even scratch the surface of how jacked up and screwed up our time over there was. In that fact, I find not just solace but pride. You can’t shake me, you can’t even make me take a double take as with most of the veterans you find.
“What the house is on fire? well, walk out.” “What do you mean you will kick my ass? I will break your neck.” “We don’t have any beds? Sleep on the floor.” This is what combat and war with all its gruesomeness has brought us, a baseline of what chaos is so far above everyone elses’ that we will forever be the clear head in the room. In the back of our minds there will always be one ever poignant phrase, ” This ain’t nothing to me.”
I find strength in my stigma, yea I got PTSD, you would too if you saw the stuff I did. I am stronger for it, I get a couple of nightmares and freak out everyonce in the while…. thats an incredible accomplisment all things considered.
So the real question in that room was not are you freaking me out, but am I starting to freak you out with just how calm I am about, blood, guts, gore, death, saving and or taking life. While these things are something you are remotely familiar with this is something I was immersed in for years and could do it all while eating an Otis Spunkmeyer Blue berry muffin and playing the celebrity name game.