He was a young man in his early thirties... a handsome young man with a wife and children and he had just recently served time in Iraq and was now back at home with his family. The day I met him, he was preparing to have surgery.
We nurses took an instant liking to him. He had a great personality and was "cracking" jokes constantly.
We rolled him back to the Operating Room with him smiling, joking and laughing even until the point he was placed under anesthesia. The surgical procedure went well and was uneventful until it was time for us to wake him up from anesthesia and move him over to his stretcher.
We were calling his name, and became slightly amused at the expression on his face. We were expecting to be able to laugh and joke with him once more, especially because the stress of impending surgery was now over. He, at first, looked at us with intense confusion on his face and then he started yelling "What!" over and over as if he couldn't hear what we were saying. We still thought him to just be joking with us, but it soon became apparent that he was in another world...one we as nurses and civilians knew nothing about.
As I was wheeling his bed into the recovery area, he started asking me with great urgency, "Am I in the green zone?" I believe those were his words. I apologize to those with military experience who may read this if I am not using the correct terminology. I later discovered he was asking me if he was now in an area that was considered safe by his military unit in Iraq. In his mind, he thought he was there...in Iraq.
Several times I had to firmly hold him back in the bed because with great terror in his eyes he would say, " I've got to go see about my unit...I've got to go see about my men." Sometimes he would ask with fear in his eyes and voice, "Did I miss a bomb?" There was nothing I could do or say as a nurse that would convince him that he was safe in his hometown in the states and that he had just had surgery. If I mentioned he was at home he would want to know if he had been wounded so badly that he had been sent home. If I mentioned he was safe in a hospital, he wanted to know if he was in Germany in the hospital. Time and time again he would briefly lie back in the bed for a few moments and then suddenly bolt up in the bed holding his stomach wanting to know once again if his unit had been hit by a bomb and was that why he was hurt. This would lead to him, once again, begging me to let him go see about his men to make sure they were all okay.
At one point, I called his wife back to Recovery hoping she could orient him to time and place, however this only caused him more stress because he thought she was in Iraq with him where it wasn't safe! He thought she had been flown over to be with him and he begged her to leave saying, "It's not safe over here for you." She held his hand and tried to reassure him over and over and he finally he began to relax somewhat.
As I monitored his vital signs and watched his reactions, it became obvious to me, and the nurse anesthetist, that he was having a post traumatic stress incident that had been triggered by the anesthesia.
His wife talked to him and reassured him and stayed so amazingly calm as he asked her the same questions he had asked me with the same stricken look of fear in his face. It hurt me as a stranger just to witness the fear in his voice and his face, but what was it like for her as his wife? His reactions and statements had to have confirmed a lot of the fears she had dealt with night after night as she waited for him to come home safely to her and the children.
I was struck with amazement at the integrity and courage this young man displayed. He thought he was injured yet he felt compelled to go see about his men, to make sure they were okay. He felt responsible for them. He never once exhibited concern for what he thought was a bomb inflicted injury to his own body. His wife later told me that he had been over a unit in Iraq that would travel up and down the roads looking for roadside bombs. A young man from our area that had been killed by a roadside bomb a few months earlier, had been a part of her husband's unit, however her husband had not been on duty that particular night. She said he had always felt that if he had been on duty that night, he might have been able to prevent that young man from being killed.
I had to leave the soldier and his wife to take another patient back to the Operating Room, but I checked in on him about an hour or so later and he was in his room seemingly back to himself except groggy from the anesthesia. His wife later told me he had no remembrance of what had taken place in Recovery.
He may not remember, but I always will. For almost an hour, I got just a tiny glimpse of the fear and stress that a soldier endures while at war. The intensity of his emotions were so strong, I felt as if I were in Iraq with him. I just simply cannot fathom the courage it takes for men and women to willingly put their lives in harm's way day in and day out to preserve our freedoms and way of life.
That young soldier and his wife will never have any idea of the impact they made on my life that day.Before that day I thought I appreciated the men and women who serve our country, but because of them, I have a far greater idea of the sacrifices they have made. Undoubtedly, he saw things and endured stress that was such that it will remain with him the rest of his life.
As this Veteran's day approaches, please go out of your way to thank those you know who serve or have served in the military. You may see a tear or two of appreciation well up in those eyes that have seen and experienced so much.
If you are a veteran and reading this...thank you from the bottom of my heart and please know that I do my best every day to take advantage of the great freedoms you have so bravely protected and will never take them for granted.
Thanks for reading!