When I picture the image of a wounded soldier lying bleeding on a battlefield somewhere, I know close by a nurse is waiting in nervous anticipation to come to his aid. I have always felt that nurses and soldiers go hand in hand throughout the history of war and peace. They compliment each other in a relationship that cannot be defined. I have never fought in a war, but I have spent time caring for our Veterans. They are a unique bunch of people who I have had the privilege of meeting.
Of course it was our founding sister, Florence Nightingale, who rose to stardom through her bravery caring for the wounded of the Crimean war. She set the stage for the war-time nurse, the lady with the light, going from soldier to soldier in the night caring for their wounds, reading them letters, or holding their hand as they passed from this world. I know there were plenty of Florence Nightingales before the Crimean War, and plenty after, but it was she, who truly made the soldiers bedside nurse someone to be proud of.
I don’t think there’s anyone braver than a U.S. soldier. When this country goes to war, our men and women never falter. Time and again we have watched so many go off to war, and only some return. And even those that return are changed for life; whole on the outside, but somehow broken on the inside. As it is a soldiers duty to go to war, and obey commands, it must be our duty as citizens to honor their sacrifice and their service.
I spent four years in the early 1990’s working for a big university hospital as a research coordinator. During this time I was set up with an office in the Veterans Administration Hospital. The majority of my work would be conducted there. Upon entering the V.A. hospital I was greeted by security guards and asked to show my I.D., then I was shuffled through a subway turnstile type entrance into the main lobby. Past that first checkpoint, as I made my way to the elevator banks, I remember so clearly seeing a man with no face, literally a hole where his face should have been. I wasn’t sure how this person was able to get around, but quite clearly he was, I on the other hand was having some difficulty.
My office was on the fourth floor, but my clinic was in the basement, along with all the outpatient clinics that veterans attended; anything from gulf war syndrome to sexual dysfunction. I felt like a fish out of water. Not only did I know nothing about conducting research, I knew even less about working and caring for veterans. As I slowly started to learn my way around this hospital with its rules and protocols, and constant stares, I also slowly started to learn my way around these men. What I found was a cast of characters more colorful than any rainbow, but as solid as the colors on the flag. I met men from just about every war, from WWII to Vietnam. Some were demolitions experts, some were prisoners of war, others had lost their way and ended up in prison, or living in S.R.O.’s (Single Room Occupancy Housing). But all had captured a piece of my heart. And as the patient load grew, my best friend came to work with me and soon discovered for herself what a crazy, mixed up world the V.A. hospital was.
Even though we were probably too young for the responsibilities of a research job, we were not lacking in our responsibilities to care for and do anything for our Vets. Kindness goes a long way, and that was one thing we could give unconditionally.
Like I said, nurses and soldiers go together both on and off the battlefield. There’s a certain grit that comes off a Veteran, it’s something I trust and admire. But then again it takes a certain grit to become a soldier in the first place.
So on this Veterans day this one nurse would like to thank all our soldiers who have sacrificed their time, their limbs, and their lives to support the freedoms that this country has provided for all of us!!