Thursday, October 1, 2009

Honored to Serve

A 92 yo male arrived to the ED complaining of severe abdominal pain. Upon examination, I could immediately tell that he had a severe surgical abdomen because he displayed rebound and guarding on physical exam. When I asked if he had any past surgeries or medical problems, he said "Son, I got shot by a German artillery in WWII when I was young. Besides that, I dont have any medical problems." I was rather interested and asked him what he did during the war. Turns out he was a fighter pilot.
He was a very humble and nice man. I knew his chances to survive were slim after I saw his upright chest x-ray illustrating free air under the diaphram. I called the surgeons and soon forgot about him. For some reason I recently searched his name on Google, and learned about him through his obituary. He was a true hero.

As an ED physician, you often encounter certain patients that make you wonder what kind of person they were to touch your life so genuinly- even if briefly. I'm not sure why he stuck in my mind. Maybe it was that he reminded me of my grandfather. I wanted to know more about his career and what "the war injury entailed." More importantly, I wished he was still farming and alive to tell the rest of his WWII stories. In a way, I feel honored to have served him during his last days, just as he served his country and the world during WWII. He served a greater good and higher power then I can ever dream to serve- salute and cheers.

-Doc Sensitive


TechnoBabe said...

Very warm and kind post. Nice of you to google the gentleman and then to write a tribute to his life and end of life. I am sure your work brings you in touch with all types heroes.

Anonymous said...

I had the privilege recently to care for one of the Tuskegee Airmen on our medsurg unit. He was in end-stage renal failure and probably won't last long, but I too was awed by the courage and grace with which he faced his last days. Gentlemen like that are way too far and few between in our society. He couldn't sleep and we had a low census that night, so I sat on the edge of his bed while he told story after story of his life and adventures. I'll never forget him.

Anne H., SN said...

I love to hear the stories of these people. It was a time I don't think any of us could imagine and yet so many people don't want to take the time to listen. It will be a sad day when no more of them are around to tell us the stories and the only ones we will be able to read will be in the history books. Great post, thanks for sharing.

08armydoc said...

Thanks for the sweet story.

Oddly, we were swapping stories about interesting patients just yesterday (over the belly of an advanced cirrhotic I was tapping), and the patient started talking about a Medal of Honor recipient that he'd worked with a few years ago - talked about how nice and sweet he was to work with and what amazing things he'd done.

It's an honor to be in the same room with these gentlemen. Once, while in the Tripler Army Hospital (in Honolulu) cafeteria during the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, 4 Medal of Honor awardees came in while on a tour of the hospital - the entire cafeteria stood and saluted, then started applauding.

There's a series of interviews with all of the remaining Medal of Honor awardees on the Pritzger Military Library website - you can download them all for free, and they're absolutely amazing to hear. There are only about 85-90 still alive, and there have been only 6 awarded (and none since 2006) for the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts (most believe this is for political reasons).

ERP said...

I used to see a guy regularly who would come in from the nursing home with uti's, pneumonia, and hypoglycaemia. He was a little demented but told me about how he lost his arm on D-Day +5 from a "Damn German 88!" while has commanding a Sherman Tank.
I was sad when I heard that he finally died.

RehabNurse said...


I cared for one of those guys too. (Major European theater battle--can't say which one). He left us for the afterlife far too soon in his stay. I was honored to take care of him.

What a character!