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Authors: Michael Anthony

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Mass Casualties: A Young Medic's True Story of Death, Deception, and Dishonor in Iraq (7 page)

BOOK: Mass Casualties: A Young Medic's True Story of Death, Deception, and Dishonor in Iraq
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Torres is still talking: “First Sergeant Mardine really wants Cost strung up. I heard she's going to give her extra duty and loss of pay for a month.”

I realize First Sergeant Mardine can be quite vindictive and overly dramatic. Extra duty and loss of a month's pay, just for having sex?

“Do you think they're just trying to send a message, since she's the first one to get caught having sex and the Army doesn't want us having sex?” I say to no one in particular.

Torres starts laughing.

BAANNGGG!

The noise is loud but it's not a mortar. It's a gunshot. It's close, maybe even in the hospital. We jump up and run toward the front of the hospital where the noise came from.

A small group of people are gathered around the front door looking out. Sergeant Elster walks through the door. He looks confused. His head is hanging low and he's holding his weapon at a weird angle, cocked to the left and down at the floor. He just had an accidental discharge.

At the front of our hospital there are two armed guards and two metal barrels filled with sand. Before going into the hospital, everyone must put the nozzle of their weapon into the barrel, pull back the charging handle, and show that the inside chamber of their weapon is empty of bullets. Then you pull the trigger to prove that there are no bullets. Once the guards check to make sure that the chamber is empty, the person is allowed to enter the hospital. Most of the time the guards are tired, bored, and don't pay close attention. I know what happened: Elster was coming off a guard duty shift, something that anyone below a sergeant rank has to go through.

(Every seven to ten days, everyone has to do a day of guard duty. It consists of six hours on duty, six hours off duty, six hours on duty, six hours off duty, and then back to the regular schedule of work in the hospital.)

Elster was tired from being on guard duty so he didn't pay attention when he locked his weapon to the rear. The guards were tired from being on duty and they didn't pay attention. Elster pulled the trigger and fired a round into the barrel. With the crazy hours we are working in the OR, it was only a matter of time until something like this happened. Luckily, though, it was only into a barrel of sand and not a fellow soldier.

Elster walks by us and toward the commander's office for disciplinary action.

WEEK 3, DAY 7, IRAQ

0700 HOURS, OR

We have three injuries on the way: two amputees and a GSW, all Iraqi civilians. When the patients arrive, I'm working in the one-bed OR to perform an amputation. We cut his arm off and on each leg give him an external fixator (ex-fix) — a type of instrument we use for broken bones. We put a drill on either side of the broken bone connected with a carbon pole; it's like a child's toy.

1520 HOURS, OR

When I get out of surgery I notice that Crade, Chandler, and Reto are all in the main OR talking to Torres. This is strange because we usually talk in the break room. I wonder why they're all out here in the main OR. I turn and see that the break room door is closed.

“What's everyone doing out here?” I ask as I sit down with the group.

Crade looks at me.

“Gagney had to come in to deal with Elster's accidental discharge of his weapon. When he did, Captain Tarr saw him and started yelling. She was shaking and her whole face was red. Then Hudge and I came in, and Gagney, Hudge, and Captain Tarr all went to the break room to talk.”

“What's her problem this time?” I ask.

“She's yelling at him because of Torres.” Crade points at Torres.

Torres laughs uncomfortably. “Well, Captain Tarr was our nurse in surgery today. I asked her for an instrument but she gave me the wrong one so the doctor yelled at her. She told him that I asked her for the wrong one.”

The break room door bursts opens and Gagney walks out. His face is beet red and it looks like steam is rising from his bald spot. He storms out of the OR. Captain Tarr walks out and she's redder than Gagney. Tears are streaming down her cheeks and her hands are shaking.

Hudge walks out; her cheeks look pink. “You guys will not believe what just happened,” she says, almost laughing.

“Tarr pulls Gagney and me into a meeting and I have no idea what's going on. Tarr is making no sense; she's yelling and her entire body turns red: face, neck, hands, and arms and her whole body starts shaking uncontrollably.”

What none of us immediately knew was that Captain Tarr had been broken. Being in war is a true test of character. First I blow up at Waters and now Tarr is losing it. Everyone has their breaking point, the only question is who will reach theirs first. Only time will tell if Tarr's able to pick herself up and move on.

WEEK 4, DAY 1, IRAQ

1500 HOURS, OR

The next patients come in: One is an American soldier and one an Iraqi insurgent. The Iraqi is someone our guys have been trying to find for a long time. Only minutes earlier both had been trying to kill one another — now they're lying next to each other.

In my mind I can see the families and friends of both victims. They would begin to pray for them, praying for the death of the other, saying as long as their son “didn't die in vain” it would be okay.

Hudge is in the single OR, so Crade and I have to do surgery on the American and Iraqi in the double OR.

Crade is twenty-two — two years older than me — thirty pounds overweight, and has a baby face that makes him look about thirteen. Tattoos of satanic symbols cover both of his arms. A few months ago, I saw him reading the
Satanic Bible
by Anton Szandor LaVey. He tried to convince me to read it with him, telling me that I'd get a lot out of it. But I turned him down because of something my eighth-grade health teacher said a long time ago. She told me that if someone ever asks me to worship Satan, politely say, “No thank you.” So that's what I said to Crade. “No thank you.”He told me he's dating a specialist from the mental health section, but he won't tell me her name. He also has an ex-girlfriend back home who is pregnant with his child, but that's all he says — he doesn't like to talk about it. Even though I think it's a little freaky that he worships Satan, he's my friend; I love him.

I'm working on the Iraqi. Both patients, sworn enemies, look so fragile and vulnerable next to each other.

“Scalpel!” Dr. Bill yells.

It takes me out of my daze. I shake my head and get back to work.

Two men walk into the room, joined by Captain Tarr. All are gowned up in the proper sterile medical gear: hat, scrubs, and mask. One of the men is carrying an expensive camera. He is young and has long black hair pulled back in a ponytail. The other man looks older and tall. He doesn't look happy as he writes on a note pad.

I look over at Dr. Bill.

“They're from the
Boston Globe
.”

We finish our surgeries and both of the patients leave the OR — alive.

MONTH 2

“… I HATE THE ARMY AND WISH I'D NEVER JOINED.”

WEEK 1, DAY 1, IRAQ

2230 HOURS, MY ROOM

Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.

I'm tired. I don't want to get up. I want a day off . It's now the beginning of month two and I feel as though I can no longer hide the insanity. The constant change in sleeping patterns is really starting to take its toll. I can visibly see how the shift changes are affecting all of us in the unit. Denti chain-smokes and has heavy, dark bags under his eyes. Crade has gained weight and spends his day drinking coffee and snapping at everyone. I can't remember seeing Reto and Torres for days or weeks. During surgery I spend my time chewing gum to try and keep from falling asleep as my head bobs up and down. The doctors all think I'm a slacker because I keep dozing off . I see the first-shift doctors every third day. They all assume I only work every third day and have two days off . The doctors and nurses don't know we change shifts every day so they say nothing. This is the Army; we can't complain.

I have a different sleeping pattern every day. On the days that I do fall sleep, mortars constantly interrupt me. Yesterday or I think it was yesterday, I worked eleven hours and fifteen minutes. I know it was eleven hours and fifteen minutes because everyone else only worked eight hours and I keep track. I came home after work and fell asleep. Three hours later we were under a mortar attack. I grabbed my weapon and ran to a bunker. An hour later the base was all clear and we were told there was a mass casualty. After sitting around, we are told there really was no mass casualty and to go back to our rooms. Two and a half hours later I wake up and lie in bed thinking about everything that just happened. My sleep is no longer natural. When I lay my head down to sleep every night I am exhausted but I can't fall asleep. I can't get any sleep. My body isn't getting used to the changing shifts. It doesn't know when I'm supposed to be awake, so I take pills to make it sleep.

When I first started taking the pills I had to wait two days for the store to get more in — they're always sold out of sleeping pills. I'm not the only one with this problem. I only took half a pill the first time. Now I have to take two and a half. I know that I shouldn't be taking that much, but I can't sleep. The pills make my body sleep, but because of my constant fear of the mortar attacks and shift changes, my mind doesn't. My mind continues to race and I think about home. I think about why I'm fighting this war and my eyes tear up. I think of all the people we've killed. I think of all the people's families — mothers, fathers, siblings — and how they'll never see them again. I think of my parents, brothers, and sisters worrying about me. I think about my friends, all of them living their lives as if I've never existed — these are all the mediocre nights.

Sometimes I go into the hospital and have to do surgery just as the sleeping pills begin to kick in. I spend the rest of the night pinching myself and throwing cold water on my face. At night I tell myself it's not worth it. I tell myself I hate the Army and wish I'd never joined. I curse the war on both sides, American and Iraqi. I wish everyone would just … die … so that I could go home.

Other nights I lie in bed and think about everything and anything, and the only thing I can feel is nothing. I think about the war and I feel nothing. I think about life and death, mine and everyone else's, and I feel nothing. I think about myself and I don't care if I live or die. On these nights, mortars go off and I won't get out of bed. I'll lie in bed as the bombs go off. I tell myself it doesn't matter if I live or die, nothing matters — I like it when I feel nothing.

“Hey man, you just going to lie in bed, or you going to get up for work?” my roommate Markham asks. “Are you all right, man? I mean, seriously, you've been looking pretty bad lately.”Markham sits up in bed as he looks at me. I can tell he cares, but today I feel nothing. I stare at him and keep silent. Then I sit up and put my socks on.

“I don't know if you know it or not, but you were talking in your sleep last night. You started yelling at me. You didn't know what time of the day it was, what day, or when you were supposed to be working.”

BOOK: Mass Casualties: A Young Medic's True Story of Death, Deception, and Dishonor in Iraq
5.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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