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two Navy hospital ships to see ser- vice in Vietnam, from March 1968 to March 1969. (The other hospital ship was USS Repose [AH-16].) Sanctuary was a full-service hospital with 450 beds, three operating rooms, a neu- rosurgeon, an ophthalmologist, two general surgeons, three internists, two orthopedists, and 23 registered nurses. In addition to severe combat injuries, medical personnel treated numerous patients who had con- tracted potentially deadly diseases such as malaria and pneumonia. Indeed, cases of disease were very common at most military medical facilities in Vietnam, nurses report. Lt. Col. Lynda Alexander, USAF

(Ret), processed patients at the 21st Casualty Staging Facility at Tan Son Nhut air base outside Saigon. As one of several nurses who worked at the 78-bed facility, part of her job was to triage patients as they arrived, stabilize them, and prepare them for transport to medical facilities out of country. If patients crashed before they could be evacuated by air, they were sent by ambulance to the nearby 3rd Field Army Hospital, Alexander notes. It was Air Force fl ight nurses like

Marsha Jordan who accompanied wounded servicemembers back to military hospitals in Japan, the Phil- ippines, and elsewhere aboard an Air Force C-141 that was specially confi gured to carry litters. It wasn’t unusual, Jordan says, for the plane to carry 50 to 60 patients on a fl ight. Most fl ights contained two nurses

and three medical technicians. “We were constantly looking after the guys,” Jordan says. “We were the only medical people there, so when any changes in their status occurred, we had to treat it as best we could. There was no doctor we could call.” Jordan recalls one patient who started bleeding around his trache-

otomy mid-fl ight, so she sat on the fl oor and applied pressure to the man’s neck until the plane landed. The one thing fl ight nurses did not do was change bandages because the plane was fi lthy, and they didn’t want to unnecessarily expose wounds to dirt and dust. Instead, they just rein- forced existing bandages.

Risks of service Providing medical care in Vietnam was long, hard work, often requiring 12- to 14-hour shifts when casualties were heavy. The situation was made worse by the ever-present danger to medical workers’ safety. “Was I in fear for my life? All the

time, but it wasn’t something in the forefront of my mind all the time,” says Scarborough. “I had no control over that, whereas there were criti- cal things happening to my patients that I did have some control over. It would have been weird not to be afraid if I stopped to think about it. People were shooting at us, and there was always the chance you could be killed by shrapnel.” Such was the fate of Army 1st Lt.

Sharon Ann Lane, who died from shrapnel wounds received during an attack on her hospital in June 1969. Lane was posthumously awarded the Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Palm and the Bronze Star for heroism. Reynolds was injured on Christ-

mas Eve 1964 when a massive car bomb exploded in the parking area below her quarters, a building previ- ously used as a hotel. She was looking out a window when the bomb went off , and she was thrown backward by the blast. Despite a severe lacera- tion to her leg, Reynolds immediately went outside and began triaging sur- vivors. “Two people in the room next to me were killed,” she says. “When the bomb went off , their fl oor col- lapsed, and they fell through and

were buried by debris.” Reynolds re- ceived a Purple Heart for her injuries. Unsurprisingly, a great many of

the nurses who served in Vietnam re- ported symptoms of post-traumatic stress (PTS) upon their return to ci- vilian life. “When you’re taking care of a patient who has lost an eye and both arms and both legs, that’s pretty devastating,” says Brautigam. “So it’s very understandable that there may be nurses who developed PTSD from that experience.” Adds Scarborough: “I thought I

didn’t have anything to have PTSD about, but I found out diff erently later. I just had a black hole in the middle of my life.” Scarborough, like many Viet- nam veterans, took solace in writing, incorporating many of her Vietnam ex- periences into her award-winning sci- ence fi ction novel The Healer’s War. “I don’t think I stopped crying the whole year I was writing the book,” she says. Tyrrell also turned to the written

word, penning several poems about her experiences in Vietnam that were published in the journal The VA Provider and elsewhere. “I thought, I have to do something,” she says. “Po- etry was very cathartic for me.”

Best care possible Despite tremendous adversity and long hours, nurses who served in Vietnam never shirked their respon- sibilities. In almost every instance, the patients came fi rst. “We were extremely dedicated, compassion- ate, empathetic, and deeply involved in the welfare of every patient we cared for,” says Alexander. “I would like people to know that we were not hardened by what we encountered each day but only more emboldened to provide the best care possible.” MO

— Don Vaughan is a freelance writer from North Carolina. His last feature article for Military Offi cer was “Mission: Ebola,” May 2016.


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