Monday, May 25, 2015

Corpsman Chronicles V: The First and the Last* **





Our helo was on the outbound leg of a standard plane guard orbit. The boat was shooting jets and preparing to recover aircraft from the first go of the day. I didn't see the crash.

I heard the Boss's call though.

"PLANE IN THE WATER, OFF THE BOW!"

Our Sea King made a quick, steep banked turn, followed by an immediate call.

"Jaguar's tally, inbound."

Over the ICS, "S-3, four chutes."

In the back I was shucking out of my SV-2/LPA, flight suit and boots, and shucking into fins, mask and snorkel, and SAR vest. It was January in the Mediterranean, so I was already wearing a wet suit.

Training. The muscle memory of endless training was driving my body, freeing my mind to prepare, review, anticipate. This would be my first real swimmer deployment. Part of my mind recognized a gut filled with butterflies. Another part was icy calm and professional.

I sat in the door as we came to a hover. Twenty feet below an aviator struggled with a sodden and sinking parachute. There was blood in the water.

"Go, Go, GO," shouted the crew chief, each "go" accompanied by a slap on the back. I levered myself out and dropped feet-first into the sea behind the survivor, sweeping shroud lines aside as I plunged beneath the surface, then spinning the man to face me as I bobbed back up.

Automatic. Training.

About a third of his head was gone.

I signaled the situation to the crew chief and the helo moved off, horse collar descending as the rescue hoist paid out cable. There were three other aviators in the water.

I opened the koch fittings on the victim's torso harness and let the chute sink away into the depths. I pulled the beads on his LPA and he bobbed higher in the water as the flotation lobes filled with gas.

Then I waited, one hand clasped to the victim's harness, and watched the rescue unfold. The helo plucked one survivor from the sea and sped off toward the boat. Another helo hovered over another sinking parachute. The ship's motor whaleboat chugged past, heading for the fourth parachute.

Eventually the whaleboat returned. Their rescue had become a recovery as well. We chugged back to the ship with the mortal husks of two American heroes aboard. The other helo delivered a third hero to the flight deck.



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The boat shuddered as she crashed through storm tossed Mediterranean waves. Another January in the Med. Different boat, different decade. The storm was a big one and the Ageless Warrior was closed up tight, sailing into the heavy seas. White water was coming over the bow, lashing the jets and helos chained to the deck with heavy weather tie downs. There was no flying, of course, and the weather decks and sponsons were secured. It was far too dangerous for men to venture outside the confines of the ship.


A few minutes after a particularly severe wave-crashing shudder came the "medical emergency" call over the 1-MC. The medical response team dashed off. Reports began coming in, and they weren't good.

"CPR."

"Can't get an airway."

"Defibrillating."

As the stretcher bearers bustled into the treatment room with the injured sailor, the surgeon took one look and told me to scrub.

"You'll have to rub his heart."

I scrubbed and donned gloves.

With the casualty on the table the surgeon called for a knife, then slashed the chest open on the left side.

"Spreader."

As I turned from donning my gloves I heard the ratcheting sound of the rib spreader opening, allowing access to the heart. I slid my hands into the sailors chest and clasped the heart between opposing palms. The heart should have been turgid with blood and beating, but it was flaccid and still.

"Heart's flat," I reported.

The surgeon glanced at me and mimed "heart compression" with his bloody hands, then quickly performed a stab thoracotomy on the right side of the chest. The internal pressure of hemorrhage in the chest was relieved, finally making it possible to get air in. The gas passer quickly placed an endotracheal tube and began squeezing the ambu bag.

As I compressed the heart, I could feel the left lung inflating. A good sign?

A pair of flight surgeons started large bore IV's, one in each arm, and began administering Ringer's Lactate as fast as it would flow. The gas passer injected a cocktail of medicines to make the heart beat and raise blood pressure.

Within my hands the sailor's heart began to quiver in fibrillation. Another good sign?

On the floor of the treatment room a pool of blood began to grow, supplied by a steady stream flowing out of the casualty's mangled torso.

As room-temperature Ringer's Lactate replaced warm blood, the sailor's heart began to cool.

Then it stopped fibrillating.

The senior medical officer stuck his head in the compartment.

"I've activated the walking blood bank," he said. "How much will we need?"

The surgeon glanced at the casualty and quickly, silently polled the treatment team. He sighed.

"We won't need any, Spud."










*With apologies to Dolfo Galland.
**This was supposed to go this morning, but Blogger did what I told it to do, not what I wanted it to do.

4 comments:

  1. You did you best for a ship-mate. Sometimes one doesn't get much to work with.

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  2. You did what you were trained to do, they did what they were meant to do... God bless all of you.

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  3. You did all you could. Just like some car crashes I have been to, sometimes it just isn't going to turn out right.

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