Before I transitioned to civilian life, and before I became an RN, and Long before I became @MurseWisdom, I was "Doc" the Combat Medic.
I enlisted prior to 9/11... Hell, I enlisted when Clinton was in office. I became a Combat Medic and a Practical Nurse in 2001. I will leave specific details out to maintain anonymity. I was a assigned to a combat arms unit. I spent a tour of duty in Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, we were the first troops in. Well, our task force went in on the first day as did the 101st and the 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (MEF). As a matter of fact, I was assigned to the same task force as Jessica Lynch, if anyone remembers her 15 minutes of fame.
The purpose of this blog is not to talk about combat, or my personal experiences there. That's between me and the VA. Suffice it to say I saw my share of the "Shit" and it is wild, terrifying, and surreal. Men died, men were wounded for life, and I know what a man being burned to death smells and sounds like. My intention here is to talk about the self reliance and the amount of responsibility one has as a Combat Medic in a forward area.
First off it should be understood that almost all decisions made by a Combat Medic has one general purpose and that is to "Preserve the Fighting Strength". Which means to keep 'em healthy enough to fight or send them to someone who can. We always operated under the "guidance" of a Medical Officer (PA) and a Brigade Surgeon (MD) however they were usually distant and only reachable by radio. (Cell Phones had yet to be widely used by the military at this time)
Let me do some copy and paste work here and provide the Army's description of a Medics duties and then I will compare and contrast.
The Health Care Specialist is primarily responsible for providing emergency medical treatment, limited primary care and health protection and evacuation from a point of injury or illness. Health Care Specialists are often called "combat medics" in the Army, because some Soldiers in this MOS are assigned to deploy with Army combat units, and provide emergency medical treatment directly on the battlefield. Other Heath Care Specialists are assigned to military hospitals and clinics to assist doctors and nurses with the health care needs of patients.
Duties performed by Soldiers in this MOS include:
Administer emergency medical treatment to battlefield casualties.
Assist with outpatient and inpatient care and treatment.
Interview patients and recording their medical histories.
Take patients' temperature, pulse and blood pressure.
Prepare blood samples for laboratory analysis.
Keep health records and clinical files up-to-date.
Give shots and medicines to patients.
Prepare patients, operating rooms, equipment and supplies for surgery.
In addition to all of that listed above I also had to know how to be a diesel mechanic to fix my Humvee and to fix generators if needed. I also had to be an expert on indigenous wildlife, including venomous arthropods and snakes. And specifically for my mission, I was the team "Wheeler and Dealer" trading medical goods for supplies/services to help with the mission. I was especially good at trading. I was once able to trade some OTC meds for a case of Starbuck's Carmel Frappachinos which made me a hero amongst the 11 other men in my team.
I have performed minor surgeries, however minor they may have been it still involved local anesthesia in the form of a total nerve block, along with the cutting and stitching involved. Yes, I did stitches, staples, & I prescribed meds. All of those things well beyond my scope of practice. I would on occasion have the opportunity to call in Dustoff, but most of my Evacs were by ground. I assisted in the inoculation of some 10,000 troops with Anthrax and Small Pox vaccines. I was doing all of this without the supervision of my Medical Officer and all at the age of 20, and without ever losing a pt under my care.
Now, here I am, almost 30, and I have to call a doctor to get an order for a band aid to treat a <1cm skin tear. And I've had more training than I ever had as a Medic. It is frustrating to me that we have achieved so much throughout nursing school and so much in the last century as a profession and we still have our hands tied. "Dr Mom" is allowed to do more than we are without a Doctor writing an order.
Don't get me wrong, I don't want to go back into the Army. My body is broken down now thanks to the Army and I'm afraid that is a young man's game. Any of you considering military service after nursing school need to approach it with an open mind. My service was unique to me and my unit, and does not reflect the everyday mission of nurses in the Army or other branches of service. However, I currently have a Congressman's card in my wallet who wants me to call him about serving in the National Guard, apparently he is also a Colonel or General or something. Don't hold you breath, pal!
I am interested in working for the VA or the DHHS. Hell, I would love to work for the CDC or FEMA, but those are dream jobs... The VA is attainable and I may try that in the near future.
If you have any comments, please feel free to leave them. Questions can be emailed to Mursewisdom@gmail.com be sure to follow me on twitter @MurseWisdom.
I would also like to give a special thank you to Wes Helton, @BigWesYall for plugging us on his website www.weshelton.com Go check out his website, I think he sells edible clothing, which is always good to have in the event of an emergency. It may prevent starvation.