Physician Heal Thyself: The Lingering Burden of the Combat Medic

A combat medical technician carries a med kit designed for combat operations, April 16, 2009  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Shawn Weismiller)

This post is an original article written by a combat medic. While desiring to remain anonymous, they also wanted their story heard. Any effort by any veteran to tell their story, in any way, is beneficial to both the veteran and the reader.

I was standing there listening to Martinez tell that same stupid joke for what must have been the tenth time, while at the same time scanning the crowd of people that filled the narrow street we were currently stopped on. I hated stopping, it was when we were most vulnerable, but it was also the only times while on patrol that afforded me the opportunity to do my thing and check up on everyone, and I took it.

As the medic, that was my responsibility, my burden. These were my guys (and sometimes girls) and their health and welfare was my main focus. I was just about to make my rounds when I heard it. A subdued, yet clearly audible beeping.

My heart stopped.

I knew that sound.

I turned to Martinez to ask him if he heard it when the world around us exploded, and we were thrown to the ground by the force of the blast. The heat was intense, but I couldn’t feel a thing. I was shaken, but uninjured. I quickly sat up and looked over at Martinez, who was way too quiet.

I never even saw whatever it was that killed him, but judging by just how little of his face was left, it had to have been big. For a split second, I wished it was me. It almost was..

It was then I heard the screams. So many of them. The smell of burnt flesh and motor oil assaulted my nose.

I knew immediately that a bomb had done this, a big one. I could see injured lying in the street, both civilians and my soldiers. Many were screaming, and I heard my name being called. Some were lying totally still, and they said nothing at all. I grabbed my aid bag, which had been in my hand when the bomb went off, and tried to stand.

I couldn’t move.

I suddenly felt like I weighed a thousand pounds. I couldn’t breathe. The smoke was filling my lungs, and I knew i was dying. I tried to scream, but nothing would come out. I heard the awful beeping sound of the bomb, somehow louder now, still beeping out its song of death.

That was weird…

My eyes spring open and I sit upright in the dark, my chest heaving, covered in sweat, my hair matted to my face and neck.

Damn it, not again. I reach over to my bedside table and slam my hand down on my alarm clock, silencing the infernal machine.

I am quite certain that I will hear that sound in my head all day, however. I’ve been home almost a year now, and yet the nightmares persist. They said they would fade, as would the other wounds, both physical and mental, but what if they were wrong?

What if, for the rest of my life, I’m forced to play these scenes out over and over again? The worst of it is, that particular nightmare isn’t even one of the worst ones.

I fall back down on my pillow, pressing my palms hard into my face, trying to steady myself. I have a 24 hour shift ahead of me, and I have to be on my A game. As a medic, I can never be distracted, or complacent. Lives depend on me, even now.

I steel myself with a deep, shuddering breath, and force myself out of bed.

I live to fight another day.

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1 thought on “Physician Heal Thyself: The Lingering Burden of the Combat Medic

  1. This will resonate with so many veterans. Fortunately, the last sentence says it all – I live to fight another day.

    We owe to ourselves and those who didn’t make it back to keep fighting…

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