18 NOV 2007 Who knows
They boy couldn’t have been more than 20. Better said, he was a young man. Everything about the trauma code read bad news. The helicopter came in hard and fast, dropping like a dark boulder out of the dusty night air. The gurney attendants were flat out running, one squeezing out deep full chest compressions on the fly. The young man left a wide gentle curve of dark purple blood spattered across the emergency room floor. The NATO gurneys are made of durable olive green mesh. When blood pools on them, it filters through in a red drizzle. His eyes had lost all spark and movement. His pupils didn’t react to the glare of our brilliant flashlights. His mouth was half open, lax lips resting on his teeth in a pause before the next breath he would never take. His skin was a waxy yellow grey with no promise of a flush to cross his cheeks. The vessel was emptied.
Did this young boy have a sweetheart? I hope he called her before the mission. I hope it was a good call. If he knew it would be the last call, I’m sure he would have made sure it was a good call. He wouldn’t have said anything hurtful. Did he have a child? I’m sure he would have told them he loved them and how proud he was the day he became a father. Maybe there was a letter on its way home. Perhaps there was a care package on the way to Iraq for him. Even if he didn’t get it, he knew that he was loved. Maybe he joked about the risk. He might have told his parents that he was sick of being here. He thought about what his high school friends were doing and a thousand easier ways he could be making a living. Perhaps he had had a close call before this one. Maybe he had just trained a new arrival to Iraq. No matter how he felt, he was here. He was doing his job. He had chosen to serve. He showed up the day of deployment and shipped out with the rest of his unit. He was on the job, doing his duty.
It’s hard to say exactly how he fell from the helicopter. Perhaps he become disoriented and thought the helicopter was on the ground when it was higher. In the dark of mission conditions, it must be hard to tell. All we know is that he died while performing his duties. He didn’t say what he was thinking and he can’t tell anyone now. The fall was enough to break bones, tear blood vessels, collapse lungs. Even if he survived the fall, his brain couldn’t have received blood flow for more than a few seconds. His crew wasn’t a medical crew. They swooped to the ground, scooped him up and hauled ass to us through the darkened sky over Iraq. By the time he had reached us, his heart hadn’t beat for a quarter of an hour. His brain hadn’t seen oxygen in that time and was irreversibly, devastatingly damaged. His empty eyes and ashen skin told us that nothing we were offering held sway over his fate. We gave him an airway, filled his damaged lungs with oxygen and pumped on his chest to circulate his chilled blood. We didn’t trouble him long, surrendering him to the peace he deserved.
The people who loved him from far away knew nothing of the sad scene we witnessed. Perhaps they lay awake worrying about just this, but more likely they were doing their best to get through their daily routine without his comfort and presence, dreaming of a far off day when he would return home. It wasn’t fair that I was there by his side, feeling his neck for in the empty hope of a pulse. They should be with him. They loved him in life and they have more right than I do to stare at the broad black frozen pupils of his eyes into which they had looked a million times. I was a lousy substitute.
We did what I would have wanted done for ourselves. We acknowledged the passing of one of our brave countrymen with respect but also anger and frustration. He served and died honorably He was dear to someone in a specific and individual way. He was dear to us in a different way as a military brother. Rest easy, brother. Pass your burden to us. We will get you home to the ones who love you. We are your family too, but it is more important we get you to them. Go to them, your duty here is done. I wish we were sending you home alive. Sometimes we cheat death. I wish we could have bent the rules a little further in your favor. We will stay here and keep trying. We will try to do better by the next one through our door. We will not forget you.
I will never ever accept this. Not one of the losses has been acceptable to me. Every single life that slipped through our tightly held fingers had a boundless value beyond anything we could have negotiated. How puny we are; to think something so valuable could ever be given up for us?
“Woke up late this morning; a storm was really rolling, frogs and dogs were raining from the sky. Everything seems awkward to me. Nothing’s just as it should be. If this keeps on I’m sure I won’t get by. But then I close my eyes and try to smile. I know things are bad and getting worse; but after all this I can rest awhile, and then I’ll party, party.” – from Shin Chen
“Carry on” -Gunn