By Louise Eisenbrandt, Army
Writing Type: Prose
By Louise Eisenbrandt
To paraphrase poet Robert Frost, upon my graduation from nursing school in June 1968, I chose to take “the road less traveled.”
I received my commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Nurse Corp. Following officers’ basic training in Fort Sam Houston, Texas, and nine months as a nurse at Walson Army hospital in Fort. Dix, N.J., I received orders for Vietnam. The 91st Evacuation Hospital in Chu Lai was my final destination. I knew, shortly after arriving, that this would be a year unlike any other I might experience.
After I had spent three months on the medical wards treating soldiers with malaria, hepatitis, intestinal parasites and infections of their feet with jungle rot, the chief nurse offered me the chance to move to the emergency room (R&E- receiving and emergency). Without hesitation, I accepted the opportunity. The thought of caring for those who had been wounded really appealed to me. I had had excellent training in my nursing school, spent time nursing stateside and now felt acclimated to life in a war zone. I hoped that I was ready to tackle what I considered the most intensive of the nursing specialties, especially in a combat theater. The date was Feb. 20, 1970, eight days before my twenty-third birthday.
Looking back on that day, I realize that no one can truly be prepared for the type of trauma nursing that I would experience over the next eight months. On my second day in R&E, a young man was brought in on a stretcher missing both legs. I had never seen a bilateral amputee before. Dried blood was caked to his fatigues, hands, face, and the IV bottle lying next to him on the litter. The medic in the field had bandaged his stumps, started the fluids and given him morphine; it was up to us to take it from there.
The standard procedure was to cut off all his clothes so we could thoroughly assess the extent of his injuries. Modesty took a backseat to saving a life. In many cases, time was of the essence. After we made all the necessary adjustments and notes, he was covered with a sheet and whisked into pre-op on his way to surgery. He was 19 years old.
When I got off duty later, a bunch of us celebrated my birthday with a cake sent from home by my mom. That evening I was blowing out birthday candles; the next morning my patient was waking up to a new life, without legs.