I took today off from the ambulance to go on a military assignment. With two other JAG officers, I went to a Wounded Warrior Transition Unit to address the legal concerns of injured soldiers recently back from combat zones.
I felt sorry for many of those soldiers, not only because of the physical challenges they face, but because several of them have run into enormously frustrating administrative problems. It's hard to believe that an employer would refuse to rehire a returning veteran in violation of federal law, but that's what happened to some of these soldiers. It's hard to believe, too, that even as a soldier lay in a hospital bed, his wife would abandon him, and move with his children into the home of a convicted drug dealer. I heard that story today, too.
Despite these problems, I found the soldiers to have remarkably good attitudes. They talked openly about their service and their injuries--most without any hint of anger or bitterness. They were proud to have served their country, despite the personal sacrifices they had made.
I found one story to be especially touching. It didn't come from any of the wounded soldiers, but rather, from a sergeant who learned a valuable lesson. He told this story to a group of officers who were training to work with injured soldiers, and one of them repeated it to me. And while it doesn't have anything to do with EMS, it has everything to do with the relationship between patients and those who care for them.
I was a drill sergeant for six years, the sergeant said. I enjoyed doing that, but after six years, I was ready to do something else. I wanted to get back to the fight. I wanted to go to an infantry unit, to do the things I was trained to do.
So I put in my request. After a while, I get a letter in the mail, with my new assignment. I opened it up, and I couldn't believe it. I was like, 'Walter Reed? They're sending me to work at Walter Reed Army Hospital? What the fuck is this? I don't want to work in no fucking hospital! I want to fight!'
I did everything I could to get out of that assignment. I made phones, sent e-mails. Nothing worked. And it's the Army, so what could I do? I've got to go on the assignment, right? I packed up and moved to D.C., and reported for work.
I was furious when I got there. I'm going to be the NCO in charge of a hospital. What a stupid assignment! They don't even do PT at the hospital! I couldn't believe it. I'd been assigned to a facility where the soldiers don't even have to exercise!
On my first day, the commander gives me a clipboard and a bunch of concert tickets. They were donated by some guy named Kid Rock. The commander wants me to pass out the tickets to solders, and write their names on the clipboard. I was so disappointed. I thought to myself, 'Is this what my career has come to? Giving out tickets? What a waste of time.'
But an order's an order. So I go to the first room, to the first soldier, and I don't even pay any attention to him. I just walk in and ask him, 'You want a ticket? It's for a concert by some guy named Kid Rock.'
The soldier tells me, 'Yeah! Sure!' He sounds all excited. I give him the ticket, and I start to walk out, and I hear the soldier call to me, 'Hey, Drill Sergeant! How have you been?'
I turn around and look at him, and I see that he's one of my soldiers, a young private I'd taught in Basic. He'd gone to Iraq. I looked down, and I saw that his legs were gone. They'd been blown off by an IED.
And that's when it hit me: My assignment was not a waste of time. That soldier was who I'd be working for. There's nothing more honorable than helping someone who needs it.
And who was I to complain about that? There I was, complaining about not getting the assignment I wanted, and about having to give out concert tickets, while one of my soldiers was sitting there on a hospital bed with with his legs blown off.
I realized at that moment that I was fortunate to be able to help him, in any way I could.
That seemed like a good sentiment for all health care providers--including me--to remember.