Military Tales: There’s no crying in medicine

Note: I've changed the names of people to keep their identities anonymous for reasons of 1. Not being a jerk and 2. HIPAA regulations. 


By the age of 18, I was a young Airmen in the United States Air Force and living nearly 3,000 miles away from home working at the training hospital on the base.  It was a very large training hospital (I believe the second largest in the United States) so we saw a great deal of patients both active duty, retired and their dependents.  

The first memorable event that happened to me while I was in the military was at this hospital.  I was very young at the time and still learning the ropes of medicine and the hospital.  I had the chance to meet some very interesting people while doing work on the various wards of the hospital.  

One lady in particular I'll never quite forget, for the purposes of this story we'll call her Amihan Smith.  Amihan was an elder asian lady married to a retired Air Force officer.  The amazing thing about Amihan was that she was a survivor of the Bataan Death March, she had met her husband shortly after.  The two had been married for quite a long time and were each other's first loves.  After he husband left in the evenings, I spent my free time talking to Amihan to keep her company during the sleepless nights and hear her tell stories of her journey on the March, it was a heart wrenching story and hearing it first hand from a real survivor was something that the history books could've never taught me.  

Despite her failing memory, she recounted the entire thing in nearly perfect detail and had many stories about her husband.  She was taught English by her husband and he took very good care of her, he was the only thing she had in the world as her entire family was either killed during the initial attack in the Bataan peninsula or were tortured and killed during the march.  

Her adoration for her husband and the length of time they had been together was incredibly touching it had a very romantic feel to it to meet a woman who had sought safe harbour in the US as a victim of war crimes, fell in love with her and had been each other's one and only up through their elderly years.  

Amihan was the first patient that I grew attached to and I was taught many things because of her.  That's why, when I got the call from the ward that she had passed away, I had taken it especially hard.  One of the side tasks that I did as part of my first rotation in the hospital was initiating death certificate paperwork and everything that went along with a patient's death (organ donation stuff, autopsy stuff, coroner case determination and getting the doctor to sign off the cause of death and such), problem was I had never actually done one before.  It was the first time I had a patient die on my shift.  It was also the first time I had to deal with a death since my friend Tilde had died in high school. 

I read through the manuals and gathered what emotional fortitude I thought I had and went up to the ward.  Getting the doctor to fill out the death certificate was the easy part, going into the room with Amihan and her husband was the hard part.  

I stepped in the room thinking I was prepared to deliver the messages I had to, get his signatures where I needed to and go.  How wrong I was.  I stood there in silence looking at the lifeless face of the woman I had grown so fond of and admired.  Her cooling hand was being held in between Mr. Smith's hand and he called me over in a quiet and defeated voice.  He said to me, "Airman, did Amihan tell you how we first met?" 

I was paralyzed with emotion, I bit the inside of my lip hard in an attempt to hold back any emotion so not to make things harder on him.  Mr. Smith didn't want to sign or answer anything until he recounted in his words a brief summary of his life with Amihan.

I cried.  I wept the first tears I had wept since my mom had died when I was 16.  The only thing I could think of was how unfair it was for him to have lost the only woman he had ever loved.  My first death case toppled up with some emotions I had been holding back for a while wasn't as clean as I had hoped it would be.

Trying to compose myself, Mr. Smith did something even more unexpected. He stood, wrapped his arms around me and patted my back and said, "She led a good life and she won't be alone for long.  Don't cry, she's better now." I was taken back as he then went and took my paperwork and filled out what he needed to do and simply asked me, "Can I stay with her alone a bit longer?" I just nodded and backed out of the room a bit puffy eyed and shocked at how it had all went down.  

After he had left, I insisted on helping the med techs clean up and get Amihan's body down to the morgue, helping clean everything off of her and remove the various tubes and needles that had been attached to her and making sure to careful remove her personal affects and place them into neat little containers to have for Mr. Smith to pick up later.

Later never came.  I kept her things down in my department in the safe where they should've gone and asked daily if Mr. Smith had come down and called his number and left messages.  I found out that two weeks after Amiha's passing, Mr. Smith had passed away in his sleep at home.  It was almost like he had decided on his own that he had no purpose past being with Amiha.  

 
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