Written by: Meena Dice
The M1A1 Abram tanks are moving into Cernicia, Serbia and I know it is time to get my mind right. I see a mound of rubble ahead and a group of people standing around what appears to have been a three-story home. A corner of the house is missing, and the layers have fallen directly on top of each other, like a three-layer birthday cake, but this is certainly no occasion to celebrate.
I get out of the Abram and am immediately surrounded by a dozed Serbs who know me from my daily medical rounds in the village. They are speaking much too quickly for my limited Serbian. Their incessant yelling combined with the intense sights, sounds, and smells make my head swim, and I feel a little claustrophobic.
From the back of the crowd comes Sergeant Young, swinging his M16 around in the air and yelling, “Get away, stay away from the building.” With the help of the interpreter, I am able to gather that a family is trapped inside, so I drop to my knees and begin crawling over slabs of cement, broken glass, and rebar.
About three feet ahead of me is an eighteen inch clearing, and I can see legs sticking out from underneath, but they are tucked too far back and caught on something, so I crawl into the space until my body from waist up can no longer be seen from above.
Next, I pull a hand-made billy club off of my belt (I would use it in riots to keep people away from me). With arms outstretched, I push the debris away from the legs and see the foot move to the side. I know if I can get my hands on that foot, I can pull it out. I begin to pray, “Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.” Good, I get a hold of the foot and start wiggling my body backward, not feeling the glass cut my thighs. I continue, “Be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil.”
I feel hands first on my feet, then my legs, and finally the back of my jacket. I'm being pulled out, clearing the cinder block wall, still holding the foot that is now attached to the body of a young woman. On this evening of metamorphosis, covered in sweat and blood, I am astounded by my internal revelation. The stubbornness that made me highly difficult child has grown into great determination and reasonableness. At last, my beliefs, my goals, and my successes, have melded into an unwavering devotion to help those who cannot help themselves, at all costs.
Sergeant Young begins to scold me. He asks, “What were you thinking? Why would you plunge yourself wholeheartedly into a dangerous situation? Why threaten your own life in order to save someone you don't even know?” I just smile and act as if I will not oblige him with an answer and begin to think to myself, “being a good medic takes a great deal of work, but being a great medic is a calling.”
A person has to want to be there, to be on a battlefield, holding the hand of an eighteen-year-old kid, who is thousands of miles away from his home, girlfriend, dog, and pick-up truck, telling him, “It's gonna be okay; I'm here; I can help you.” One must be willing to feel the pain of every patient lost and remind every soldier, “Your life will not go unrecognized, unnoticed, or unwitnessed because I will recognize you; I will notice you; I will be your witness.”
This is the most difficult trait to maintain because the giving of one's heart and soul so completely tends to drain the vitality away from the spirit. However, I have found that every action has a moment where one can either walk away or make a difference. I choose to make a difference. I'm afraid that Sergeant Young will not understand this, so I continue thinking.
A great medic will prepare for battle. Everyday, I checked my personal and medical equipment, fresh water in my canteens, two hundred and ten rounds in my clips, Kevlar, Flak vest, and clean weapon. IV's are already prepared, tourniquets at the ready chest tubes, occlusive dressings, and bandages of every size.
It is extremely important to know the aid bag, and I always practice technique with a blind-fold on, so when it's dark outside (and the enemy attacks in the dark), I can operate as if the sun were mid-sky. There are always feet to check, wounds to clean, jokes to tell, and morale to lift. Sergeant Young doesn't care how much time I devote to technique and, hence, preparation. So my thoughts forge ahead.
Great medics will assume responsibility readily and should have broad shoulders that are capable of carrying almost any load. There should be fine insight into all manner of things, like people, the arts, science, and a fixed idea of one's own worth. When things are really bad, and I think I can't stand it one second more, I recollect a statement I had once heard.
It states, “Being a combat medic is a noble cause, and it deserves a noble effort.” I tell myself to push on and think about it later. Long ago, I decided that I know how to take orders only because of a long-headed conviction that the way to become an order giver is first, and cheerfully, to be and order-taker. Great medics must do without help, do without equipment, and do without encouragement, be patient, be reasonable, and stay calm with an almost Machiavellian detachment.
As I'm finally thinking about the laundry-list of characteristics that a great medic should have, I finally know how to answer Sergeant Young's questions. I retorted, “Though I am loyal to you, I am not likely to have any loyalties that will interfere with my own code of ethics.
We are all going to die someday, I'd rather life be remembered by how I lived it.” Determining what I would and would not tolerate was a paramount strategy in my personal success. I don't think Sergeant Young would have asked me those questions if he had begun on his own path of triumph.