We are thrilled to bring you a new book installment this May. We bring to you A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael.
The Stryker carrying Doogie and the children arrived first. She let the nurses at Camp Dietz pull them off and into the exam rooms while she waited by the door for the next truck.
A short, stocky corpsman from the second Stryker burst through the trauma center doors. His gaze darted around the room until it landed on Doogie. His breath came in short bursts. The scarf covering his mouth moved in and out with each breath.
Screams penetrated the walls of the hospital. From the yelling, it sounded like the soldier wanted more morphine, but they couldn’t give him any more if he wanted to be operated on in a timely manner. With a quick nod in Doogie’s direction, the medic shouted, “Who’s in charge?”
“Here!” Captain Jace, the head surgeon at Camp Dietz, pushed through, his hand shot into the air.
“Okay, you’ve got tourniquets on both legs. The right one is totally gone below the knee. It’s been a little over an hour. He lost a lot of blood, but has a continuous IV. “The medic looked from Jace to Doogie. “She did a good job, Doc.”
Doogie ran out the door to meet the gurney. The medic’s words faded behind her.
The soldier was ashen and shaking. The large number two and the letter T Doogie had written in the field were still on his forehead, letting everyone else know he had two tourniquets on for an extended period of time. Her heart pounded as his wailing became louder.
“Hey Doogie,” the crew chief said. “Aren’t you with the Three-Six Lima? Slumming with another unit?”
“My unit is taking a rest. Eagle needed an extra corpsman to go with them to the school. I volunteered.” She jogged after the men carrying the wounded soldier, her blonde braid flopping over her shoulder.
“Some rest.” He laughed.
“It was supposed to be a Goodwill Mission. We weren’t prepared to be attacked. To have the school . . .” Doogie sighed. “I just wanted to spend some time with the kids.”
They burst through the doors. Jace was standing in the middle of the room, shouting out orders. “We need vitals. What fluids did you give him?”
“This is bad. This is so bad,” the soldier on the gurney repeated over and over.
The men wheeled him into the initial exam area. Needles went into his arm and blood pressure was taken.
“I know what’s going on.” The man groaned.
“That’s a good soldier, but I bet you wish you didn’t,” Jace replied while he assessed the damage.
“Please give me something. I need something.” His pleas grabbed at Doogie’s emotions. She dug her fingernails into her palms trying to alleviate the need to break down.
“You’re at the best hospital in Afghanistan,” the nurse assured him when they rolled him into an operating room. Doogie followed closely behind. She needed to know he would make it. She told him he would make it, and after all the death she’d seen today, she needed to know he’d be okay. The heat in the surgical room hit Doogie like a wall. The rooms were kept excruciatingly hot to avoid the patients going into shock. Unfortunately, it was like working in a tropical jungle. The nurse put in a new IV, calling out his vital signs. “Temp ninety-seven-point-nine. BP is one-thirty-five over sixty-five. Pulse one-seventeen.”
“You’re in the hospital now. We’re going to take care of you. Can you feel this?” The doctor ran a sharp instrument up the soldier’s foot.
Through his moans, Doogie heard him mumble, “I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die.”
Doogie moved to his shoulder and grabbed his hand, squeezing tight.” Look at me. Look at me.” When his gaze met hers, she smiled. “You’re not going to die today. We have a date. I’m holding you to it, so be strong.”
For a moment, he was silent, a tear slid from his eye. He looked hard at her, attempting to read her expression. “Don’t lie to me.”
“Never,” she lied.
The nurse put an oxygen mask over his face before he closed his eyes.
“Doogie, if you’re staying to watch, lose the dirt and find a mask,” the doctor barked.
“Roger that.” She dropped her jacket on the floor and put on a pair of gloves and a mask. There was no way she was leaving her man.
The ventilator hissed air in and out of the soldier’s lungs. He’d pulled through surgery and was in his first fifteen minutes of recovery.
After six hours of work, his amputated leg was cleaned up and bandaged. The IED already did most of the work. He would have it opened numerous times in the next few days to make sure they got out all the crap the enemy packed into the IED. The hospital found everything in the wounds; buttons, toys, nails, whatever the Taliban had handy got stuffed into the make-shift weapons. And they did their job. They blew up and out. Taking off limbs—filling bodies with a mess.
Doogie had remained in surgery until she was sure he was going to make it; then waited in recovery for him to be wheeled in. Exhaustion had taken over long ago, but she needed to know something she did today had gone right. None of the children made it. Setting a hip on the soldier’s bed, Doogie settled in with a bowl of warm water and a rag.
“Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid,” (John 14:27) she whispered.
“I can take over.” An older nurse came up behind her, lightly placing her hand on Doogie’s shoulder. “You should get some rest.”
Doogie shook her head. “I’ll go in a minute.”
“His name is Joey. Joey Mitchell. Nineteen years old.” The nurse moved around, checking vitals.
Doogie leaned in and whispered in his ear, “Joey. You promised me a date. I’m holding you to it.”
“A few men from his unit are outside.”
“Give me a minute to clean him up, and then send them in.” Doogie scrubbed at the markings she’d written on his forehead.
“You okay?” The nurse pulled the sheet up around Joey’s shoulders.
Doogie nodded. “Yeah. Been a long day. I didn’t think we were going to see action.” She ran her arm across her forehead, trying to push her sweaty hair away from her face. “It was a school. We were going into a safe zone. I was naïve to think a safe zone was even possible.”
“Not naïve. Just hopeful.” She squeezed Doogie’s shoulder.
“I wanted one day without the war in my face. Is that too much to ask?”
“Maybe you should take a break when your unit takes a break. Not try to do everything.” She paused, and then added, “I saw what you brought in. They were kids.”
“It was a humanitarian mission. To see if the kids needed anything.” She shook her head. Doogie was deployed as a Hospital Corpsman, HM2. Corpsmen were in the mix with the men. She went out whenever she got the chance. The Navy gave her emergency medical training while the Marines provided her with the skills to fight. She had the option of wearing either uniform. She’d dropped her bloody Marine jacket in the hall and wore dusty Navy issued digi pants. The best of both worlds.
“You know, the nurses try to get together a few times a week. Let off some steam.” The nurse smiled. “Or maybe you just need to get some sleep.”
“Sleep? Don’t remember the last time I was able to sleep. Every time I close my eyes . . .” Doogie waved her off. “It’s just bad.”
“I can get you some Ambien. Doesn’t leave you groggy,” she suggested.
“Doesn’t keep the dreams away.”
“True. Well, next time you’re here, you should hang with us nurses. Let your hair down. Have a few drinks . . . relax. You need some girl time. Open invitation.” She headed out the door.
“Sounds like a plan.” Doogie carefully wiped the dirt and blood from each of Joey’s fingers, and then moved over his body so the only traces of the trauma were the bandages covering his wounds. Finally, she ran her fingers through his hair.
She didn’t want to be there when his buddies arrived.
“Is he gonna be okay?” they would ask.
She couldn’t answer them. The hardest part of the war was going home.
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