Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Body And Fender Shop.

If you haven't yet, drop over to the sidebar and click on Quality Weenie's Site. She just got out of some surgery and could use a little company. She is lucky enough to be home now. I'm not quite sure she's up for a comment party yet, though. Maybe next week...

I've spent enough time in the body and fender shop to know that it's a pain, although it's better to go in as a civilian that as an enlisted man in the Service. A mistake the military made was to give medical people rank. When I went to the hospital in early '67 I had a couple of stripes, I finally left the same rank as that Beauchamp character was when he got published...

This was not unusual. It wasn't just the real silly stuff, laying at attention was always a pain but there is something about medicine that attracts bossy people in general. Now I got hurt in February of '67 and eventually ended up at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in Oakland, California, after the stabilisation work in other places.

I was just about 20 when I got to that hospital, they sent me there because I had family near there, otherwise I would have ended up in one of the other big hospitals, Maybe Balboa down in 'Diego or Bethesda outside of DC. The one thing the Services did good back then was as soon as you were able to travel they'd put you in the closest hospital to your family that was able to handle your condition. If it had room, of course.

Oak Knoll was huge, at the time, dozens of buildings spread all over a hilly section of Oakland. These buildings were all connected by ramps for ease of moving in a wheelchair or gurney. Now a military hospital is different from the civilian hospital. Most of the patients are young and, especially in wartime, injured rather than sick. Now a patient was kept longer than a civilian, too. Most of the civilians were sent home as soon as possible we, on the other hand mostly had no civilian homes nor was our pay enough to handle going back and forth as outpatients. Most of us were two years in before our pay got more than a hundred and ten bucks a month, outside of the whopping $55.00 bucks a month combat pay. Yanno, back then lots of us volunteered for 'Nam for that $55.00 a month.

Now, imagine this great big place full of (mostly) young, healthy men recovering from injuries. Even when hurt, young men have energy. Young men in the Services haven't lost their competitive zeal just because of an injury. I was in the ortho ward, my right leg was badly broken. The other guys had broken bones, amputations, etc. My ward had few men with internal injuries, those of us that had bullets through lungs and bellies were on a different ward.

It wasn't long at all before we had to go to the Mess Hall for our meals, first in wheelchairs or gurneys, then walking or on crutches, depending on the injury. Now it wasn't so bad with an injury to the lower leg or foot or an arm, or ribs, it got bad though when it was a spine or upper leg injury. A broken thigh or hip required a spica (sp?) cast, a cast from the toes to above the belly button on one side and down below the knee on the other, with the um, elimination ports uncovered. There was a plaster covered piece of broomstick between the knees to keep everything good and rigid. Imagine the itching during the summer, those wards weren't air conditioned.

The Navy, being what it was, did not bring these guys their meals, either. Nor did they push us to the mess hall. Instead they'd put us on gurneys and give us one crutch, we'd use it like a stick on a raft, poling ourselves from place to place. Others were on wheelchairs or crutches. Given the competitive nature of young men, racing was real common. Crutch races, wheelchair races and the most fun of all, gurney races.

It was always an adventure, a new guy learning to use crutches or a wheelchair, or even a guy in an upper body cast trying to learn the new balance, and here come two guys racing gurneys down the walkway at a full tilt boogie.

All Docs and Nurses are Officers plus all kinds of other Officers running around, medical supply, medical services, etc. Every one of them would have hysterics at the racing, arm wrestling, etc. This led to a lot of fines and demotions. It alawys started the same way...."Don't you know you know you could get hurt?" "Why didn't you think of that before sending me to get shot at?" "You have a Bad Attitude!" "Why yes, I do. There is something about having to lay in bed at attention for a bunch of people who have never heard a shot fired in anger that gives me a Bad Attitude. And why can't you do something about my pain meds being late, again and why am I trying to mop a floor from a gurney?" "Why can't these important people do their damn' jobs?"

Boom! Another Article 15. I've been a civilian for a lot of years now, and hospitalized a few times since. It's still hard not to "lay back, tall when the Doc comes in the room.

I wonder if the military hospitals are still such a mess. Probably, they're big on tradition.

I just read that the Oak Knoll Naval Hospital was closed in '96. Part of the Peace Dividend. So wounded, injured or sick Sailors and Marines from that part of the country won't be anywhere near their families.

No comments: