Friday, November 30, 2007

My Kids' Pediatric Nurse Was Almost Sent to Iraq - After 6 Years of Inactive Duty

As father of two young children, one of my rituals is the seemingly monthly visits to the Pediatrician's office. If you don't have kids, then you can't possibly understand the bonds that are created between parents and the people who stick our kids with needles every visit, but they grow exponentially through familiarity and repetition.

Yesterday we popped by so that 4-year old Daughter could get her flu shot. She knew what was coming, had told me that she was OK with getting the shot, was ready, willing, and able for the trauma.

In fact, it was her lucky day, because she went in thinking she'd be getting two shots, but only got one. So, armed with this good news, she sat in my lap, sleeve rolled up, face towards me, eyes crammed shut in anticipation.

The Pediatric Nurse, a friendly woman in her mid-30s, promised Daughter that the ordeal would over in the blink of an eye. She explained that, as Daughter knew, there would be a quick pinch of pain, but that she, the Nurse, had been doing this for so long that she was an expert and Daughter wouldn't notice a thing and oh, by the way, we're done.

And Daughter gasped and looked down at the tiny Tweety Band-Aid already on her shoulder, in awe. I thanked the Nurse. This had, indeed, been quite easy.

"Oh, that was nothing. Your Daughter's great. Heck, I've stuck soldiers who were bigger babies than her."

At the word "soldiers" my ears perked up. Soldiers?

"I spent years in the Army. Just got my Honorable Discharge last month. Finally."

"They let you out? I thought they were pulling 70-year olds back in to make quota."

"It wasn't easy."

I asked for the story.

"I was in Desert Storm. Not fighting, of course, but as a nurse. I trained soldiers on CPR, basic first-aid. Taught classes over there."

"You were in Desert Storm?"

"Yeah. Talk about life-changing. But it was good. Anyway, that was years ago. I moved into the Reserves, did my weekends. Thought I was more or less done. I was inactive for almost six years."

"Inactive? Then this Iraq thing started and they activated you?"

"Not right away. I had back surgery four years ago that didn't go so well. So that left me on their inactive list. But about six months ago, I got the call. I was shocked. But the orders were just to start teaching again at the base. So I figured I could handle that. Teaching first-aid is always a good thing."

At this point, 2-year old Son started banging the window blinds and Daughter squirmed out of my lap. I wrangled Son away from the blinds.

"Sorry about that. I think he bent one of the blinds."

"Oh, and he'd be the first toddler to do that."

"Right. Sorry. You were saying? You got recalled?"

"Yeah. I went, no problem. Held a few classes. But then we got word they were shipping the entire unit to Iraq. Me included. I was going to be triage. Riding in on helicopters and picking up wounded in combat zones."


"No way was I doing that. I'd been inactive for six years. My back was supposed to keep me out of Iraq. They knew, it was in my file."

"What happened?"

"They don't care anymore. They need bodies. Too injured to work? A little sun and sand'll do you wonders."

"There's a lot of sun and sand in Iraq."

"My doctor started writing letters. Bless him, but he wrote two a week, objecting. But I never heard one way or the other. A week before we were supposed to ship out I was going nuts figuring out what I was going to do."

"You're here. You're not there."

"I got my Honorable Discharge. It showed up in the mail. That's how they told me. And I was freaked out, because it came in a huge, thick package. I assumed the package was my travel orders. It was so thick. But I open it, it's 100 copies of my Honorable Discharge."

"100? Really?"

"I counted. So I've got 100 copies of my Honorable Discharge, in case anyone ever asks."


"It's like I was given a new lease on life. I mean what they wanted me to do, on the helicopters, that's a death sentence over there. The mood of the soldiers is so different then I remember from Desert Storm. Back then they were young, happy, felt good about what they were doing. They were regular people. But the ones I taught this time, they're surly. Angry. Bitter. Older. I enjoyed teaching in Desert Storm, but not this time. They didn't want to be there, and neither did I. It's a different army."

And it was time for us to go. I thanked her for her story, Thanked her for jabbing a needle into my daughter's arm. Told her I'd see her in two weeks when we came back for another shot.

We went out, paid the cashier, got free stickers, and went home.

But the Nurse's story stuck with me. How bad has it gotten that the Army tries to send someone inactive for 6 years, someone with a documented back injury, over to Iraq? That's the best they can get? This woman had already served, with honor, the first time we were over there. She's served her time.

I've heard the stories, of course. World War II Veterans accidentally getting notice that they're being shipped out. It's funny, because it's an obvious clerical mistake.

For now.