Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Corpsman Chronicles Teh First: Angles of Mercey

Burgle hasn't cancelled me again. Yet. Strange.


As you will see below, this post has been recycled once before, just over a year ago. Yesterday was a particularly hard day for me. It feels like I arrived abruptly at a confluence of events which sparked an excursion down a roiling stretch of life's river. Is that a workable metaphor? Perhaps. Another metaphor might be sailing a particularly stormy sea. In such times my salvation is prayer. My little problems subside; God throws joy and wonder and majesty at me and my cup runneth over. Things are looking up.

Yesterday was a brilliantly beautiful morning.

This morning is different, far more uncomfortable with 20 degree air temps and snow driven by 50 mph gusts. It's no less brilliant and beautiful.


This one went up on January 3, 2015 and was the first Corpsman Chronicle.


When the father walked into the ER with his son, I saw at a glance that the kid was very sick. He was pale as a ghost, trembling, and hunched over. He was a junior high kid (they didn't have middle school back then. Or the internet. Or smart phones.), probably 12 or 13 years old, skinny and gangly, just starting his growth spurt.

I pegged dad as an enlisted guy, probably an E-6, probably an aviation rating, probably a wrench turner over at AIMD. I was pretty sure I'd seen him around.

I intercepted the pair before they reached the check in desk and whisked them toward the treatment room. I glanced at the clock for a start time and wrote 1540 on the back of my hand. I motioned to a couple of underemployed junior corpsmen, signaling one to start the paperwork and the other to get a set of vitals.

"What's going on?"

As we eased the kid down onto a gurney dad brought me up to speed. The boy had been speared playing touch football during PE class about two hours earlier. The PE teacher thought he'd just had the wind knocked out of him, and the school nurse decided to park him on the cot in her office for the last 90 minutes of the day. When dad picked him up he'd been in quite a bit of pain and was very shaky and weak. They'd come directly to the clinic from school.

Neither dad nor the kid were worried. I was. The boy looked shocky to me, and a blow to the belly could mean an organ injury and internal bleeding. He'd walked in under his own power, so that was good, and he hadn't cratered in the two hours since the injury, so that was good, too, but he looked rough as hell.

The clinic at Naval Air Station Oceana had a very good ER and was certified as a Level IV trauma center, but it was not a hospital. It had labs and x-ray and all the tools and skilled personnel needed to assess and stabilize trauma cases, but no ability to perform surgery or provide inpatient care. Our job was to stabilize trauma cases and quickly transport them to the appropriate major hospital for definitive care.

As HN Patel scribbled madly on the ER form and HA Gross took vital signs, I continued to assess and examine the boy. He was alert and oriented and in moderate distress from pain. He was pale but his skin was warm and not clammy. His belly, however, was rock hard, abdominal muscles rigid and "guarding" the belly in response to injury.

"B/P 60 over 30," said Gross, "pulse 130."

Yep, the kid was shocky. He was reasonably stable at the moment but he was almost certainly bleeding on the inside. Maybe not a lot, but some. My guess was a contused or lacerated spleen. We were going to have to get him to a hospital and a surgeon. I didn't really need to see a lot more, but I wanted to get some lab work to get a better feel for what was going on. A complete blood count and urinalysis would tell me how much and how fast he was bleeding.

"Okay, Bud," I said to the kid. "It looks like you've probably hurt your spleen."

Wikimedia commons. Abdominal organs.

"It's a little organ here in the left side of your belly and it's kind of fragile. Tends to bleed a lot when it's injured. What we're going to do is get some lab work and start an IV, then we'll drive you over to Virginia Beach General so a belly doc can take a look at you. First let's get a urine sample. Do you think you can walk into the head here and pee in a cup for me?"

"Sure," said the kid. We eased him up and he wobbled into the bathroom a few feet away. I watched closely as he moved, continuing to assess his condition. I could have collected the sample while he lay on the gurney, (something one of the navy nurses would have demanded, had they not been terribly busy with a major bureaucratic project) but having him get up and walk was a quick and dirty tilt test to see how shocky he really was. I hovered close to catch him if necessary. He moved pretty slowly, mostly because of the pain, but he didn't show any signs of lightheadedness and that was another reasonably good sign.

I sent Patel to get the ambulance crew spooled up and had Gross go fetch the ER doc. Benny was a career navy doc. He was a General Practitioner and Flight Surgeon who had been trained in trauma. He generally saw sick call but along with all the other physicians at the clinic he took a turn working in the ER.

As I jotted down my SOAP notes on the ER chart, HM3 Diaz, the duty ambulance driver, stuck her head around the corner. "Where we goin', Mikey?"

"VA Beach (pronounced, in this context, 'VAH-beech'). Thirteen year-old male, belly trauma, pretty shocky. You're probably gonna roll pretty quick."

"Roger that," she said, and dashed off to collect her EMT attendant as the boy came out of the head, clutching a pee cup half filled with dark red liquid.

His face told me that the bloody urine had scared him. It scared dad, too, and the pair shared a concerned look. It surprised the hell out of me, though it shouldn't have. Damn. Probably not the spleen, then, more likely a kidney, maybe ureter, maybe bladder. Maybe all three.

Wikimedia commons. Human urinary system: 2. Kidney, 3. Renal pelvis, 4.Ureter, 5. Urinary bladder, 6. Urethra. 7. Adrenal gland Vessels: 8. Renal artery and vein, 9. Inferior vena cava, 10. Abdominal aorta, 11. Common iliac artery and vein With transparency: 12. Liver, 13. Large intestine, 14.Pelvis.

Almost certainly a more serious injury than a bruised spleen. The red liquid in that cup made me want to get this kid to a surgeon most rikki-tik.

"Okay, Bud," I said, taking the cup and guiding him back onto the gurney. "Time for an IV, then we're gonna give you an ambulance ride to the hospital." As I prepared to start the IV, I explained what we were doing and why, being both explicit about the seriousness of the injury and upbeat and confident about what was going to happen. Father and son relaxed.

As I was starting the IV, Benny breezed in, asked a couple of questions, and palpated the boy's belly.

"We're going to send you to Virginia Beach General," he said...

Five minutes later the ambulance was pulling out for the short trip to VA Beach. "Thanks, Doc!" yelled dad as he sprinted for his car.

I glanced at the clock. 1605.

A week later the boy was back in the ER, this time with both mom and dad. He was still hunched over, but he looked a lot better and had a big smile on his face. Mom and dad were smiling too.

"Hi Doc," said dad. "You were right. They had to remove his kidney."

"Show him your stitches," said mom.

The boy lifted his tee shirt and proudly showed off a sutured surgical incision.

"They treat you okay over there?" I asked.

"Yessir," said the boy.

Mom dug into her purse and pulled out a card. "I don't know what else to say but thank you. Thank you so much." Her face scrunched up and tears began to flow as she gave me a fierce hug.

"Hey," I said, "that's what they pay me for, right?"

After they'd gone I opened the card and passed it around.

The navy nurse snorted at the coarse handwriting and misspellings.

Me, I was fine with Angle of Mercey.


In the spirit of the season, trust God and seek not the counsel of your fears. Open your eyes and see what is, not that which is proclaimed. There is joy and wonder and majesty out there, and there are true Angles of Mercey everywhere.

Be well and embrace the blessings of liberty.


  1. It's good that they came to the Right Angle, then.

    1. The Right Angle Bar, Grill, and Apothecary Shoppe! Reminds me of a story...

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting Scott!

  2. I'm glad you re-posted this, I missed it the first time around. I think you should contact someone ( such as Sarah Hoyt ) about indi or self publishing. I think that your writing could provide an additional income source down the road.

    Thanks for the post.
    Paul L. Quandt

    1. Good suggestion. I've already got a couple of fantastic contacts who happen to be retired naval officers. Really just a matter of pulling the trigger and getting the work out. And then falling flat like 99 percent of riters do. I suspect I'll be able to dedicate more cycles to a publishing attempt in the near future.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  3. Yet another excellent, informative, and motivating sea story. (You forget the opening line, so we would know it is a sea story, but that's okay.)
    Each of the HM chronicles stands alone, and would be great discussion starters for a variety of scenarios- HM "A" school (if we still has that); EMT classes; HM training during GQ when killing time; USNR drill time; volunteer rescue squads, etc. Give everyon a copy of the story, about 5 minutes to read it and then group discussion. Or, using whatever substitutes for overhead slides these days, reveal a bit of the opening scenario, then discuss, reveal a bit more, etc. Finally, critique how well it was handled. (Remembering, of course, it's HIS story, and others may recall it differently.)
    You are good at this stuff!
    John Blackshoe

    1. Some very interesting and intriguing suggestions, John. I wonder how a person would...

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  4. Well done, Shaun. Both in the actual event and in the telling of the tale.

    1. Thanks very much Sarge. Maybe I've added a bit of value to the interwebs. Pretty to think so. I know I've touched a lot of lives over the years, but I also know I was never in any way responsible for positive outcomes. God and the human body he designed were always responsible for that.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  5. Well done, and you take those cards and treasure them. I'm betting you probably still have that one tucked away somewhere.

    1. Correct. It's one of my treasured relics, right up there with the Sikorsky Awards.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

  6. Love this story, and the others as well. Thanks for sharing your life. Keep driving on, sir.

    1. Thanks for the kind words rickr, and for stopping by. We will indeed keep driving on.