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Another Tale of Independence Being Lived Out

Discussion in 'News, Politics & Debates' started by goingonhope, Jul 4, 2007.

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  1. goingonhope

    goingonhope Member Premium Member

    Another tale of independence being lived out

    July 4, 2007

    Today is Independence Day. Here is a the story of an independent woman who has lived by her principles and heart.

    “Marianna” lives in western Oregon, not all that far from me. I interviewed her in the context of my interest in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder for a book I am writing on healing the wounds.

    PTSD is the lasting physical-psychological-spiritual damage done when a person experiences terrible things, such as war, abuse or an accident. In this case, the war was Vietnam, but Marianna’s experience ties into the flood of casualties from our current atrocities in Afghanistan, Iraq and other places. These are Marianna’s words.

    “I once was on my feet in the medvac tent from just after breakfast on Wednesday until I passed out, still on my feet, about four in the afternoon on Friday. I had a latrine break about every six hours. Funny, despite all that went on, I still wonder how I held it that long.

    “Nurses — female nurses — weren’t supposed to be anywhere near forward combat zones. Yeah, and we were all supposed, back then, to look like Hot Lips Houlihan. Not bloody likely. My friend, Frieda, crew-cut her red hair for comfort in that beastly heat and the men — docs and enlisted — called her ‘Fred.’ But they mostly let her alone. Not me.

    “I was 24 and, by my pictures, looked a lot like a young Debbie Reynolds. I had messed around with boys, for sure, but never went all the way. Things were different for nice girls back then.

    “Being a young nurse meant taking orders and being on red alert for stupid, sexist b------- or worse. The guys, if they were lucky, bonded with each other. It was harder for us because there were so few, and we just weren’t wired like the men.

    “None of us thought war was noble or an adventure. We weren’t after glory or proving anything. And we were in our mid-20s, not just out of high school. We were there for our own idealistic reasons: bringing succor and healing to the wounded and, God help us, serving our country in a wholesome way. At the time, we believed that, in those innocent days.

    “Think about what it takes to be a combat nurse. You have to be able to learn and think as well as operate equipment. You have to improvise in unrehearsed nightmare scenes. You have to have empathy, but be willing to perform painful or embarrassing procedures. You have to have initiative and take orders. You’re expected to be Florence Nightingale, everyone’s mother and stay objective. Then, when you’re dead tired from mopping blood, cleaning up vomit, installing catheters and doing technical procedures which, wrongly done, can kill as easily as help, a guy grabs your buns or ‘accidentally’ touches your breast. Most of us developed attitudes toward any man on his feet.

    “It was one night in the Officer’s Club, over my third whiskey-sour, that I met Ronnie. He had just started a practice as a pediatrician back in Denver, but was serving his time in the NVC-infested rice paddies like the rest of us. He seemed nice and we got to comparing notes and even had a couple of laughs. Later, back in my bunk, I tussled with no-answer questions. ‘Why hadn’t he made any moves on me? Had I lost all appeal? Why wasn’t I relieved?’ Dumb girl questions.

    “Turned out he was a romantic idealist. Wanted to be a virgin when he married, because he imagined that was the key to happiness. Silly boy. It didn’t take long to have him reconsidering that idea in the face of his transfer to another unit coming up in a couple of weeks. Front lines. Most forward unit in an adjacent sector. We both were due for a week’s R&R in Tokyo before he had to report. It was the happiest week of my life.

    “Not to drag it out, he went forward. I went back into the O.R., slapping instruments into docs’ hands and staring at young bodies blown apart by ragged steel, infected with God-knows-what in the paddies while those boys begged to be told they were all right or they cried out for their mothers. Heavy. Beyond heavy. A 16-hour day was normal.

    “Then, it was a Sunday morning, a chopper came in with a load from the adjacent sector. Ronnie was aboard, but not as a doc. On a stretcher. Head wound. Back of his skull blown off. Just as I recognized him, he opened his eyes, recognized me. No words. Long message. We married with that look. I committed myself to him in that moment, as he died. I’ve never been unfaithful to the husband who shared his virginity with mine. Yep, that week in Tokyo was our life together. How I wish we hadn’t been careful not to get me pregnant. How I wish there had been a child?”

    When Mariana told me her story, she was 57 years old. She’s still a nurse, but a supervisor now. She lives alone, raises show collies and is a dedicated bicyclist. She’s never had another love relationship and explains that anything she can imagine would cloud her memory of Ronnie and the message in his dying eyes.

    Does she have PTSD? Clinically, yes, what with the flashbacks, stunted life and nightmares. Was she delusional about their communication as she tended Ronnie in his dying? Why did war so irrevocably alter her perceptions and life direction? Her experience can be seen as crazy or sublime. Does it matter? No one gave me a God license: I’m a social worker and storyteller. I don’t feel called on to pass judgment, only marvel at the power of the independent human spirit.

    Source: Gazette-Times, Corvallis, Oregon
    By Peg Elliott Mayo, Columnist
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