Saturday, March 11, 2006

Chapter 16: Recovery at the 12th Evac Hospital at Cu Chi

When I opened my eyes again to tell the doctor not too cut on me until I was a sleep, I was in a different room and there was a nurse standing next to me in fatigues, not that green operating room outfit they wear. I still said “Don’t cut on me untill I’m a sleep.”

“The surgery’s over. Your in recovery now,” she tells me.

“Am I okay?” I asked.

“Surgery went well and your going to be fine,” she assurded me.

“What happened to me?” I asked.

“Here take a look.” And she reaches behind my head lifting it a little so I can see my body. I was completely wrapped in bandages except on my right arm. I looked like a frigging mummy.

“Wow, I got fucked up!” I said without thinking.

“She says with a little giggle, “Uh, yeah, I guess you did.”

I was very thirsty when I woke up and asked the nurse for a drink. “Sorry, you can’t have anything yet, but I’ll get you a gause pad soaked in water” she said. She got it and came right back and put it in my mouth. I sucked it dry but it wasn’t enough so I asked for more. “One more and then that’s it, you need to wake up some more first.” she told me.

I remember how pretty she looked, again a sweet looking brunette. I am partial to brunettes. After looking at all the Vietnam peasant women for the last month, any “Round Eye”, as we non-asians were known as, looked good to me. Damn she looked good, but this time I kept my mouth shut about it. I am a gentleman, at least sometimes, you know. I remember this time when I was in the hospital in Japan recovering, this really hot Hawaiian nurse with, I’m guessing C-cups, leaned over my bed to turn on the light and put her right boob right in my…….woops, I’m getting side tracked. I’ll tell you about that in a few more chapters. Now back to this chapter.

It wasn’t long before they wheeled me into one of the wards in the hospital and put me into a bed. The wards were long rooms with a lot of beds from end to end and a nurses station, little else.

I looked around the room and the place was filled with wounded soldiers. I saw a Vietnamese man in the bed across from me. I asked the medic getting me settled in, who he was. He told me “He’s a VC that has been wounded that night but don’t worry about him” as he pointed out an MP standing near by in case of trouble. The VC was out cold with tubes everywhere, so he wasn’t going to be a problem for anyone.

The surgeon came in after a little while to check on me. I asked what had happened to me and would I being going home. “Yes”, he said, “you will be going home.” Then he told me I had about 30 to 40 different fragment wounds all over my body, a few quite large, but all superficial. Meaning I may have a lot of wounds, but none of them that serious or life threatening. He also told me they had to leave the wounds open for about ten days to try and prevent infection. During those ten days, they’ll clean them all a few times and monitor them to make sure infection doesn’t develop. If everything goes fine, then they’ll close them. He did tell me they had to close the one in my neck, that one couldn’t stay open. He said a large piece of glass went into my neck just missing my jugular vein. It sort of bounced off my Adams apple lodging right under my chin. (So that’s why he asked me if I could breathe okay.) That took with 35 stitches to close.

Here’s a picture of the scar from that wound. It’s right above my collar. There is a nick on the front of my Adam’s apple from when the glass hit me. That’s how close it came to severing a jugular vein in my neck and killing me. The scar has faded quite a bit over the years so it may be a little difficult to make out.

Everyone left me alone and I went to sleep for a while. When I woke up I really started to be conscious of all of my wounds and was very uncomfortable. I asked for a shot for pain which, by then, was due. I started moving around a little to try and get more comfortable and then realized I couldn’t move my legs at all. I tried, but it was no use, they wouldn’t move I called for a nurse in somewhat of a panic. A couple of people rushed over to me and I told them I couldn’t move my legs. They pulled back the sheet and asked me to move them. I tried to move them, but they wouldn’t move, I was paralyzed from the waist down.

“Get the doctor!” the nurse ordered someone. A doctor came very quickly and asked me to move my legs. “I can’t! I’m trying but I can’t!” We went back and forth about this a couple of times and then poked me a few places on my legs and feet to see if I had any feeling in my legs. “Yes, I can feel it” I told him.

“Good. Now just try to move your big toes.” I tried and tried but no use.

“Yes you can, now concentrate.” I saw first the right toe move a little, and then the left. Not very much, but they moved.

“That’s great!” the doctor said with a big smile. “You be fine, but it’s going to take some time.”

“You mean I’m not going be paralyzed?”

“No. Like I said, you’ll be fine.”

“What’s wrong with me then? Why can’t I move my legs?

“You have two very large wounds on your back and one of them goes very near your spinal column. The spinal cord may have been bruised and there’s a lot of swelling. So once the swelling goes down and trauma to the spinal cord starts to heal, you’ll be able to move your legs more and more. Eventually you should make full recovery.”

What a relief!

The doctor sent for a physical therapist and the therapist and one person or another from the ward that became free, spent the next couple of hours and then the rest of the next day off and on, moving my feet and legs around. The therapist told me that it would encourage healing faster. He must have spent two straight hours doing that that first night. It hurt like hell, but by morning I could actually move my feet pretty good. Everyday after that I could move my legs more and more and then almost four weeks later, I was able to stand for the first time with the help of crutches. I went through physical therapy for the next 18 months, but eventually made a full recovery.

I should point out that about a year later when I was stationed at Fort Meade in Maryland, I checked into Walter Reed Army Hospital in Washington DC and had the scar on my neck and the two on my back, cleaned up by two plastic surgeons. Also, I never actually saw the two scars on my back or the one on my hip all that clearly until I bought my digital camera in early August 2005.

Click the picture to enlarge it a little.