Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Corpsman Chronicles XIV: Note to self, it's hard

A long time ago
on a carrier
far away

In the middle of a
A medical emergency was called away to a mechanical space just beneath the hangar deck. The space was taken up almost entirely by a stores conveyor. Pallets of boxed stores would be broken up on the hangar bay and the boxes placed on the conveyor to be whisked away below-decks for a working party to collect and stow away.

Anyway, a sailor had gotten himself caught in the conveyor. Some part of his body had tripped an interlock and stopped the conveyor from moving. When the MRT (medical response team) arrived there was only room for one of us to squeeze into the machinery space. A Chief was guarding the entrance because the conveyor was still energized and might begin moving at any time.

At the time I was a know-it-all third class who had yet to learn how to properly deal with authority, and I had a pretty much perpetual chip on my shoulder whenever The Man was, in my most humble opinion, wrong.

I wasn't the senior man on the team by a long shot, but I did have by far the most hands-on field trauma experience. By a wide, wide, margin. I was the subject matter expert of the ship (a fact which still astonishes me) and I acted like it.

In my mind the problem looked like this. There's a hurt guy. I'm there to help the hurt guy. The Man is preventing me from helping the hurt guy. Firetruck the The Man.

I basically bum-rushed the Chief, entered the space and wiggled under the conveyor, and assessed the poor hurt guy. He was wedged into the conveyor but good, and in retrospect I realize the only thing preventing the conveyor from moving was the guys torso. He was unconscious but breathing and bleeding spectacularly from the head. He was more or less on his back, with his head hanging below the level of his shoulders. A lot of this I had to suss out by feel because there were a lot of mechanical parts in the way.

To get the poor guy out, the conveyor would have to be deenergized and turned backwards by hand, which wasn't going to be all that hard. We'd have to do our best to secure his cervical spine with a c-collar and the rest of his spine with a backboard.

But in the meantime, he was beginning to choke on blood. I'd recently learned the skill of naso-tracheal intubation and proposed that I do so with this fellow to prevent him choking. After a quick consultation with the Medical Officer I did so.

Within about five more minutes we had the guy out. He had a skull fracture and some ugly facial injures, a broken shoulder and a collapsed lung. He was remarkably lucky. Maybe the naso-tracheal tube kept him from choking. Maybe it didn't.

I caught some legitimate grief for charging ahead before the conveyor had been deenergized. I didn't take it as well as I should have, but I took it better than anyone expected me to. Spending time in that tight space of potential mayhem was a valuable lesson for me.

I also caught some kudos for charging in where angels fear to tread. So in some sense it was a wash.

So why did I do that stupid shit?

In a nutshell, I believed that I owed the injured guy my best shot. I assessed the risk and thought it was worth taking. I didn't completely understand the risk, and if I had been wrong I'd have doubled the casualties to no avail. I was also young and dumb and immortal and had a chance to stick my thumb in authority's eye.

Was I right or wrong?

Well, both. And neither. Reality only rarely provides a binary solution set for problems. I did what I did. It worked out. I learned some important lessons. Other people learned important lessons.

When I think about the First Principle, it's hard. Is it better to try something and end up with two dead guys rather than one if it all goes pear-shaped? It depends. I want to be able to treat others as I would be treated. Part of me would very much like someone to try to save me in a similar situation. But another part of me -- hell, maybe the same part of me -- recoils at the notion of another person being hurt or killed on my behalf, particularly if it had been my own mistake that put me in peril.

It's really pretty easy in a situation like this, where all the players are Good Guys of the U.S. Naval Service, fighting for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.

And now we get to the thing that prompted this post and had me dredge up an olden me-hero story.

What if the players aren't all Good Guys? What if one of the players is a bad guy, like the female army vet who shot her service dog and put the video on the interwebs? She killed herself yesterday, or perhaps the day before.

I don't know all -- or even many -- of the details. She'd firetrucked up by the numbers. Was certainly abusing alcohol, maybe drugs. Looked like a freak with all the tats. I suspect she was rasslin' with some powerful demons. I suspect she was hurt very badly by something. Maybe I'm wrong. If I'm right, I'd like to think that someone was at least willing to put their ass on the line for her.

You never know how things will turn out. It's always a crap shoot.

I feel bad about that girl.

I feel bad about the folks who are cheering her death.

Sigh. It's hard.


  1. Thanks for the post. Also for sharing some more of your life's experiences with us. I hadn't heard/read about the last part, makes me glad that I avoid the tube of U though.

    Paul L. Quandt

    1. Thanks Paul. You would think that would be a big story in the major media. I guess if it doesn't fit the narrative it's not news.

  2. People like the woman you mentioned were one of the things I hated most about being a deputy. The mentally ill can lead to nightmare welfare checks. The people who applaud her death need to rethink their positions, as sick people need treatment, and when they die by their own hands, pity for a life wasted.

    1. Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. There's no single one-size-fits-all answer. Your mind can take you to terrible places if you let it. Sometimes just providing a rational frame of reference can make all the difference in the world.

  3. Damn!

    No further comment. The story in the Daily Mail leaves me speechless. Demons indeed.

    1. There really isn't anything else to say, is there?