Friday, September 24, 2010
Did I Waste My Life? A Confession
In 1968, I somehow found myself in the most exciting and meaningful job ever quite by accident. I was drafted into the Army, trained in Light Weapons Infantry and by a fluke wound up as a medical corpsman. Instead of being sent to Viet Nam, I had the incredible good fortune of going to Germany to fight Socialism in the Cold War.
Taking a crash midnight course with the Army Corpsman Manual helped me get assigned to handle a busy treatment and surgery room. There was a shortage of school trained medics in Germany, so I was accepted for on the job training on the basis of good testing scores.
During this stint I delivered babies, sutured hundreds of wounds and performed miracles on seriously injured or people suffering from critical medical conditions. The military skirts the licensing requirements. Of course I did most of my work under direct supervision of talented physicians but there were lots of those times when no doctors were available.
Thankfully I was taken under the wing of a career military nurse coming to the end her 30 years of service. Her name was Major Hoppe whose advanced age by my standards made her irrelevant to me until I discovered what a gold mine of training and information she was. I was in serious competition for my treatment room position and had to be the best or get reassigned to a lesser spot like an ambulance driver. Major Hoppe began training me with protocol, sterile procedure and absolute cleanliness of my work area.
I learned how to take simple X-Rays mostly skull series because GI’s had a bad habit of whacking each other in the head with beer bottles. Additionally I also had to learn how to fill prescriptions and label them properly for patients. I became proficient at the application of plaster casts to immobilize fractures. I was the local champ of using the marvelous Ace elastic wrap bandage.
Emergency medicine is akin to being a plumber. You must stop the leaks of blood and air on people rather than objects. Of course it was more complicated than that and mistakes were out of the question. I remember well the very first injection I ever gave was a .05 cc of Epinephrine, inter-muscular application to the thigh of a five-year old girl suffering from a critical asthma attack. Moments later the sight of this little girl breathing normally gave me a real thrill.
I soon had a marvelous offer from a military physician and wonderful mentor I was lucky to have worked with by the name of George A. McCarty, MD. Dr. McCarty and his physician father were going to partner up at their OB/GYN practice in Royal Oak, Michigan when he got out of the Army. They were willing to put me through whatever college I needed to finish and on to medical school. The deal was that I would work with them.
Stupidly, I wanted to be a cop instead. I also had a serious aversion to advanced mathematics and was deathly afraid of failure in that area. There were no calculators back then, but there was an instrument of the devil called a slide rule. It damn near took an engineering education just to learn how to operate that blasted thing.
Without the advanced math knowledge, chemistry and biochemistry was impossible. I feared the slide rule more than armed criminals on Chicago’s streets. I took the coward’s way out instead.
Being a mathematics coward and having the immature desire for adventure as a cop derailed my entire adult life. I can’t do it over and the older I get the more I regret making that terrible mistake.
Instead of being brought up by two responsible parents, I had a dysfunctional, single mother who let me raise myself. I was on my own since I was 14 years-old. I can’t really blame it all on her but I ask myself if things might have been better with real parents.
Being a cop and later a private detective and investigative TV news producer gave me some satisfaction and quite a bit of adventure. Now it all seems so hollow and frivolous in hind sight.
I must admit now that my military service that included 18 months as a corpsman in Germany was the most excellent adventure of my entire life. I even found time to learn how to speak German.