Thursday, 17 November 2016

Pointless Stories from the life of El Gringo Viejo....but interesting


     Several hundred years ago (1969), El Gringo Viejo was rudely conscripted into the United States Army to go and kill the Yellow Man (according to Bruce Springsteen, proving that he did not know Shinola from Peanut Butter, but I diverge).

     Although Basic Combat Training was not a cup of tea...I did excel.  Number 2 in physical and number 2 in intellectual.   Out of 320 volunteers and four draftees....that was pretty good.
    El Gringo Viejo was, obviously, much younger several hundred years ago.  El Zorro can speak to the fact that I was spoiled, indulged, and considerably excessive in matters of evaluating my own importance.   Operating in a military environment and being told what to do, and when to do it, was supposedly something that I should have eschewed sleeping and waking.

     But, a funny thing happens on the road to reality.   I found it to be challenging, obviously, but also it was something that struck my inborn conservative instincts and impulses.  The order and procedure along with knowing who was what and upon which tooth on the gear the olive-green clad person in front of one might be was a pleasant game.

      In any regard, late in the cycle...when all of the abuse and posturing and scaring and hazing was long over, El Gringo Viejo woke up one morning with a knee so swollen he could not fit his fatigue pants on.  Coupled with the fact that I was having a small bout with a fever....and before long, fellow BCT troopers had reported me to the Captain Minihan, before formation.   He arrived, out of uniform, and ordered trainee Joy Mayo to take me to the infirmary and order transfer to Beaumont.

     The line of duty was that anyone with a fever over 101 had to go to the infirmary, because of the constant fear of meningitis.  I protested, sincerely, because my niche had been found and I was one with these men and all of that stuff.....but Minihan deliberated briefly and then suggested in his kindest manner, "Shut the XXXX up, and Mayo you stay until he's transported or I'll have you up for a 32!"
    Mayo bravely stood up to the basic training Company Commander, and growled back, "Yes, Sir!"

     Once there, a medic with hard-rank....and three rockers....looked me over, took my temperature (103F), and asked if I knew that there was an Olympic swimming pool of blood in my left ear.   I blubbered something, and the medic discharged Pvt. Mayo...who protested saying, ''I was ordered to stay until he was transported to Beaumont."

     "Captain Minihan called here to have me order the ambulance.  He might be a "minnie" and we need to get him out of here.   You are free to return to your duty station."

     I was on my own.  Laying helpless in a small cot in a small infirmary in a training facility at Fort Bliss, Texas....surrounded by El Paso, Texas....feverish and feeling small because my high scores and nouveaux affection for the military way was being shredded before my very eyes.....and ear....and knee.    The Army saw me as a compound disability claimant and a combat liability and as the fourth oldest of a BCT unit that was obviously volunteering so as to gain the excellent and free medical services afforded by the Army.   The joke was on them, because my BCT company was a volunteer company, but I was one of the four who were conscripts.

     ONE INCIDENT WHILE AWAITING DISPOSITION:   The story of my service becomes convoluted.   Some of my service was designated to be "non-operational" and various promises mad were never fulfilled, nor did I ever press the issue.    But, while awaiting various decisions by various poobahs in the military and Department of State, we served as an orderly on Wards 5 and 7 of the old section of William Beaumont General Hospital - United States Army.   Since they had detected a problem with my left ear, I had been assigned to Ward 5...Eye, Ear, Nose, and Throat.

     Your humble servant volunteered for any duty and he was adopted by a Sergeant Deal, who was the ward commander and served a tour per day, as well as overseeing all the general operation of Wards 5 and 7.  He told me that most of the guys there were malingerers but some were post-op and really needed attention.   My job was to stay awake 24 hours a day and keep an eye on especially Negro non-coms who had had tonsillectomies and mandilar reduction surgery.  Etc. etc. etc.
     He showed me how to do TPRs and and certain eye-colours and gum-colours and the like, and also how to inject emergency whatever to those with cardiac and/or respiratory arrest.  Sergeant Deal was thorough and meticulous in these instructions.   Very Serious.....and he told me after all was said and done...."Take this seriously, because some soldier will live or die based on how you react and what you do."

     There was something about the way Sergeant Deal made that last remark that really stuck with me.    You, the taxpayers, would have been proud of how I earned my 80 Yankee greenbacks per month (plus room and board).   Working essentially a 24 hour shift....sleeping at moments....and also attending to the accommodations of the On-call doctors (they had an "apartment" in the administrative area of Ward 5).  I maintained them as would a valet.
     It was my interior-soul-calling to do the TPRs  "by the book"....Nurse Demurse told me "This is the best way"....(and yes, Virginia, there really was a "Nurse Demurse" on Wards 5 and 7 in those times and during those days)....  She was a scrawny girl, but very smart....maybe 5' 2'' and 90 pounds, from West Virginia, if I remember correctly.   She and I agreed that people who complained about the "crummy Army food" were jerks.   My impression of the Army cafeteria at my service area was that it was excellent.....and with all due respects to no one in particular, I had been accustomed to the best.

     Then one early morning-tide (03:50) your humble servant began to hear a chortling of a person  having "sloppy cough"  issues.   It came from  the bed of Sergeant Willie Pounds, who at age 39 had had a tonsillectomy.    Because he had high complication issue problems due to his age, and because of what I was told is a heightened concern especially for adult Black men having this type of operation,  my instructions had been to "keep keen" on Sergeant Pounds.
     I went to his side, and tried to understand what this very wide-eyed, very tough sergeant was trying to was something in his that....he could not verbalize in any real way...and there was copious amounts of blood appearing on his chin, the bed, on your humble servant, etc.   There was something deep in his throat....and the only way to do anything about it was to dig it out.
       A soldier who was being treated for a broken jaw was sent to the ICU, next door, to find an RN or Doctor, to come or death hung in the balance.    I dug around (failed to wash my hands, of course), while another soldier shone a flashlight into the yawning mass of blackness and redness and unseen targets.   Finally, persisting....with luck....with a man in great pain and edging to the point that we all wanted to avoid.....your humble servant entwined between his right index and middle fingers,  the wadding that was supposed to have pressured against the tonsil area that had been operated.  Bleeding had started and the Sergeant had swallowed instead of coughing or hacking up the mass of wadding.   No real fault....he was slumbering....still woozy from the operation's anesthetic.
     I had been provided a large amount of wadding, "just in case", and immediately began stuffing it at the area the flashlight showed where the incisions had been made.  Truly knowing little or nothing about proper procedure, my intuition told me to stay with my thumb deep in this poor man's gullet, on the side that seemed to be bleeding, until competent authority arrived.
     Finally, after about three years and two months, a doctor and an RN came dashing in and shoving me out of the way .  A roller-gurney followed and my Sergeant was whisked away.  The nurse turned around and yelled, "Get up here and hold that gauze wad where you had it!"   Which I did, while running a 200 yard dash at three-quarter speed.   It was all clumsy.   They took him to the Emergency receiving because it was the best equipped and relatively close, all things considered.   The general surgery facilities alternative was much more suited for scheduled procedures, anyway.

     To lessen the length of this nearly pointless vignette of a person's life, all ended well.  Several medically competent people laboured for twenty or thirty minutes and came away satisfied with their work and their patient.  When they encountered me waiting in the corridor that entered into the Emergency Suite, they stopped and the "old doctor" (a fellow of about 32 years 0f age) said, "Well soldier, you did your good deed for the day!"
    "How is that, major?" I responded.
    To which the doctor declared, "Well, you saved the Sergeant's life.   And he's a bronze star - silver star fellow."

    He then suggested that it would be good for me to visit him in the morning.  I did go, but during the early afternoon.  Willie Pounds was still in bed, but he was holding his saucer cap, of all things.  After sincere greetings, the Sergeant moved to the business at hand, "You say you're checking out next week, but you don't have a saucer cap for the A-1 report to the discharge officer.  Now you do."  He held a almost new saucer cap up for my taking. "I picked it up about a month ago when I got back from Nam.  It would be an honour for you to keep it."

    We had had a few days together in Ward 5 whilst Willie was going through tests, and one thing and another.  We have gotten along well.  He had war stories, a Zippo lighter adorned with a bronze star on one side and a silver one on the other, and he had asked questions of me about my politics, my education, family, and so on.  We had gotten to know each other fairly well in a short period of time....such things were common in the Army.

    I still have the saucer cap.   Sergeant Willie Pound's gift to a guy who was just doing his job.

El Gringo Viejo