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Mary To The Contrary

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Nurse

A Wound That Never Closed

My high school years are filled with memories, some good and some not so good. This is one of those memories that was not so good.

I was 15 years old and working for the family that owned the bowling alley in our small town of Lebanon, PA.  I babysat their children and my brothers, Michael and Patrick, worked as pin boys in the bowling alley, which was next door to their home so we three would go to work together after school from 5 – 10 PM.  In those days we didn’t have automated bowling alleys, pin boys like my brothers gathered the fallen bowling pins and re-stacked them. It was hard worked but my brothers enjoyed it.

One of the other pin boys was a handsome young man named Ammon Peffley.  I found out later that the word Ammon meant Greek God, which made sense because he was so good-looking. Ammon was also 15 and in my class in high school and we met at the bowling alley.  I had a mad crush on Ammon and my brothers somehow sensed this. They were typical brothers, always pestering me about Ammon.

Pin boys

The man who owned the bowling alley would take each of us home in his big old Chevy at the end of the day.  The boys would sit in the back and I would sit in front. One night we were all in the car waiting for the owner, my brothers in the back seat (no sign of Ammon) and they asked me what I thought of Ammon Peffley.  I didn’t want them to know how I really felt, so I replied something like “I can’t stand him!” and other descriptive words to make sure no one knew the truth. What they never told me was that they had silently put Ammon in the back seat and he was listening to everything I was saying.

For the rest of my high school years Ammon Peffley ignored me and never spoke to me.  I was the President of one class and he was the President of another. He would speak to everyone at lunch except me.  He never asked me to dance at the sock up, and when I was a Junior and tasked with putting the sock hop together I eagerly waited for him to ask me to dance – I was very popular then – but he wouldn’t ask me.  He was a quiet boy, stoic in fact, but likable nonetheless. He was Captain of the football team with my good friend Pat Anderson. Pat asked me once why Ammon didn’t like me and I said “I have no idea”.

Still, I would still be faced with Ammon Peffley.  I knew that I wanted to be a nurse, and heard about this elderly couple that needed some help on the weekends so I volunteered to care for them.  As it turned out, it was Ammon Peffley’s grandparents. Every Saturday that I would be working with them at their home Ammon would visit them. He would see me and mumble something inaudible.

When the senior dance came around I was still holding out hope that Ammon would ask me, and everyone was waiting and wondering who Ammon would be taking to the dance.  All the pretty girls were spoken for and I was one of the few left – it should to be me.  I had set things up so that I could bring someone in my neighborhood, you know, just in case, but never really asked him because I wanted Ammon to ask me.  He didn’t. After class one day we (the “in” crowd) were all at the malt shop, and Ammon walks in and everyone asks him who he is taking to the prom and he replied “Susan Hill” – a person I was not fond of.  He later told the boys that the nuns sat him down and told him that he had to ask Susan Hill to the prom. Out of spite, I did not go to my senior prom.

high-school-prom-1

Several years after high school when I was in nursing college, my brothers and I were home sharing stories from our days in high school.  We spoke about the fun we had at the bowling alley and they told me what happened that day in the car, how they questioned me about Ammon and that he was hidden in the back seat.  I have cried many times since learning this.

Michael is now dead and Patrick is too old to care, but I never got over it.  I understand that Ammon married and had children and died in his 50’s.

This is one of those wounds that just never closed.

 

TEARS

During the Vietnam War, I was a 1st lieutenant nurse stationed at Clark AFB hospital in the Philippines. During my tour, more than 90 percent of Vietnam casualties were routed through Clark.  They were treated immediately or they were rerouted to other military establishments throughout the Continental United States to continue their care.

My first year at Clark was spent in charge of two operating rooms.  They were the most bloody of all the rooms; all of the surgeries done in these rooms were performed on multiple casualties on individual men.  Most days I was so glad to end my 12-hour shift,(my feet, back, hair, knuckles, brain hurt) except that this was the week before Christmas and all hands were on deck.

Christmas carols were blaring in the halls throughout the hospital. After my shift, I walked down to the huge recovery room to see if the staff needed extra help. At first, the recovery room looked empty.  It WAS  empty, except for one stretcher in a corner, with the sun still streaming on the face of the patient.   I walked over to the Marine Captain, (his chart was at the foot of the bed.)  All the recovery staff were at the nurses desk, singing White Christmas. Apparently, all The other patients were sent to the wards.

The staff had checked on my Captain within the last few minutes.  At first I thought they were taking the rest of their time on duty to relax from a very busy day.  As they had only one patient left, I wondered why they were all still there. They were softly singing White Christmas, all with tears in their eyes.  I thought they were homesick especially since it was a holiday… I went back to the only patient they had left.

clarkafb

Clark Air Force Base

The Captain was lying quietly, his young and handsome face bathed in the sunlight.  As I approached the head of his bed, I saw the tears.  The sheets were wet with tears. Apparently  the Captain had been weeping for quite a while. I read his chart.  It was easy to see why this veteran marine was crying. I too, cried unabashedly.

It’s not as though this was the first patient I wept over, and he would certainly not be the last.  War, disease, accidents- many reasons to cry  for any nurse during his or her career, and especially at a military hospital in the middle of a war. However, the Captain’s situation was heartbreaking.

My Captain, a Father of 2 little boys, had spent 4 years in the midst of the war in Vietnam. He spent those years in the middle of the severest fighting. He was being decorated for his bravery just prior to stepping onto the plane to take him home forever.

A stray bullet from a nearby firing range on base made the Captain a quadriplegic; he would be forever paralyzed from his neck down.                                                    

The Captain never said a word while I stayed by his side until he was transferred to the ward.  

And the holiday music played on…

 

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