Friday, March 03, 2006

Chapter 24: SHRAPNEL

While I was digging through some old junk researching my stories, I came across something that might interest you. I found an old envelope I’ve been keeping a few pieces of the shrapnel they removed from me at one time or the other, over the last 18 months of my Army service. When I was wounded, I was literally sprayed from head to toe with shrapnel from the exploding claymore mine. All of the large pieces of shrapnel were removed during my surgery in Vietnam right after being wounded and the again when my wounds were eventually closed about ten days later in Japan. Of course, not all of it could be found and removed, especially the small pieces. A few times during those last 18 months I was in the army, a piece would start to bother me, so I’d have it removed.

Here are some photographs of the shrapnel I saved. I know there’s not much, but I’m still proud to show it off. I’m certain there was a lot better samples, but I think to ask them to save them for me when I was operated on.

Here are close ups so you can get a good look. Yes, the reddish stuff on the gauze pad is my blood.

This pretty silver one was right on the top of my foot under where the laces of my shoe are. I had this one removed in January while I was still recovering in St. Albans Naval Hospital in Queens New York. Whenever I wore shoes, It bothered me, so I had it removed.

I think this one is the most interesting and my favorite one. See that yellowish stuff sort of coating it on the left? That’s some of my flesh. Cool huh? You can also see some dried blood if you look close.

This little blood tinged, rusty baby was the last piece I had removed and stayed with me for well over a year. It was on the outside of my left arm and I could grab it with my fingers and show it off as that “Piece of Shrapnel Under My Skin”. After a while, all my squeezing showing it off, caused it rise very close to the surface so I had it removed.

This isn’t shrapnel, it’s a hunk of flesh that was stuck to gause pad. I saw it when I moved the pieces of shrapnel to scan them. I’m not sure where this came from. Pretty cool, huh?

Even to this day, I still carry a lot of shrapnel throughout out my body. I’m not allowed to have a MRI. The magnetic field generated by the MRI machine may cause the metal shrapnel to move with unknown results. So they told me I shouldn’t take a chance.

I have so much shrapnel left in me, virtually every time I get x-rayed they ask me about it.

There was the time I was applying for life insurance and needed to get a chest x-ray. I was still very young and with no medical issues, so I wasn’t worried at all what the x-ray would show. I had the x-ray done and a few days later, the doctor’s office called to tell me there was a problem with my x-ray and the doctor needed to see me right away and could I come in the next day? I asked the nurse what was wrong but she wouldn’t tell me. She said that I needed to see the doctor and he would talk to me about it.

I about crapped my pant and my wife freaked out obviously. So all night and the next day, I couldn’t get there until I got out of work the next day, we were very worried about what the x-ray showed. I had been smoking for about 10 years at that point and was a regular pot smoker so lung cancer was my major concern.

When I got out of work, I headed straight to the doctor’s office. I was sent to an examination room to wait for the doctor. I was sick to my stomach I was so worried. I waited for what seemed like forever, and then the doctor finally came in. He said hello and then hangs a couple of my chest x-rays on the light board on the wall.

The doctor turns on the light on the light board, points at the x-ray and says, “Did you know you have metal fragments in your chest?”

(Pause here for the laughter to die down)

Well, I didn’t laugh when I heard that. I was fucking pissed off and let the good doctor know exactly how I felt. (I will leave out the profanities) “Of course I know! I was wounded in Vietnam by a mine explosion from head to toe and I still have a lot of shrapnel everywhere in my body, not just my chest!”

“I’m sorry, we didn’t know that, he says. “You can go then.”

Now, I’m boiling, “Why didn’t you ask me that over the phone? I asked the nurse what was wrong, but she wouldn’t tell. She said I had to come in. My wife and I have been worried sick and that’s all you have to say!”

He didn’t really say anything and walked out of the examination room in one direction as I stormed out in the other. I walked over to the desk to check out. There were a couple of people in front of me so I waited for a few minutes. When I was my turn, the nurse looked at my chart and said, “There is no charge. Do you need another appointment?” I just glared at her and stormed out mumbling expletives the entire way.

When I got home my wife came out to meet me and asked me what the doctor said. I told her when we got inside and, to this day, I can still hear her saying at the top of her lungs, “WHAT! THAT’S WHY THEY TOLD YOU, YOU HAD TO COME IN? WHY DIDN’T THEY JUST TELL YOU THAT OVER THE PHONE?” (Insert a lot of expletives between the words) You know what, that was the first time since I’d known her, that I heard her curse so much and she did it almost as well as me.


Fabsterrant said...

Hiya Tony, that's some story. I was in the 101st ABN DIV, Field Artillery. It was back in 69 to 70 Good that you made it. That was a well written recollection of history. Wish you could get it published and make a huge bundle of money on it. You really earned it. All the very best to you and your family, and thank you for your service and all that you endured.

Sincerely, fabsterrant

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all those great stories. Hope you're going well.
Aussie Adam.

The Swede said...

Thanks for the great stories!

It was terrific to read them altough I'm not american.

Regards from Sweden!

BTExpress said...

Thank you. I'm glad you enjoyed my stories.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting your stories about the Vietnam War and thank you for your service to our country.

Jerry Springer said...

Thank you for your story, I read it start to finish. First welcome home brother. I was assigned to the 25th Evac. hospital as a medical research photographer making movies to send back home as training films for Doctors going to Vietnam. I was trained at Walter Reed for medical photography. I was a few months ahead of you as I left country two days before Tet 1968. I know all of the places you named and it was like I was right there along side in your story.

Anonymous said...

I got drafted 04/15/68 so was a little ahead of you. Ended up with the 4th Div. I also remember stepping off the plane when I smell an old truck diesel smell. I also have told the story about the smell getting off the plane and the wire over the windows on the bus. I made the medivac ride in March of 69. Spent 50 days in the Air Force Hospital in Cam Ranh, then did the 249th for 10 days and then Walter for 18 months. I've met a crew member on the plane that picked up patients at the various Evac hospitals and brought them/me to Cam Ranh ( Thanked him for doing a great job). Even got to know someone who was a medic at the 249th while I was there. We didn't compare notes until after knowing each other for a number of years I mentioned that I had come through the 249th and he said he was a medic there at that time. Small world. Welcome home brother.