by: Marty Chrisman
The young intern frowned when he saw the empty bed. Quickly he hurried to find the nurse on duty. When he found her talking to another patient at the far end of the ward, he signaled for her attention. Excusing herself, she walked over to the irritated intern.
“He’s gone again.” The intern told her
“Not again.” The nurse said with a soft sigh knowing exactly which patient the intern was referring to. “Check outside. You know where to look. If he’s there, bring him back in. I hate to do it but we’re gonna have to restrain him. That leg has to stay elevated or he’s gonna end up losing it. Get someone to help you in case he gets agitated.”
The intern hurried off to do as she ordered. She turned on her heel and walked back to the supply room. She hated to restrain the patient in question but she had no other choice. Until they could get though to him and make him understand that he was safe now and that he had to stay in bed so his leg could heal, this was all she could do. The young man had been brought in three days ago with several other P.O.W.’s from the same camp. At first he was passive and docile but then he had become agitated and hard to handle. Even with his severely injured leg, he kept trying to escape every chance he got. They couldn’t seem to get through to him that he was safe now and no longer locked in a tiny cage in the middle of the jungle. Usually, he could be found outside somewhere around the building huddled in a corner sleeping.
She found a set of restraints and walked back through the ward. When she reached his bed, the intern had the young man settled back in bed and sedated for the time being. With the intern’s help, the nurse fastened restraints to the young man’s wrists and then to the bottom rails on the bed to keep him from escaping again. She also placed a security belt around his waist which also fastened to the bottom bed rail. Satisfied that he was secured and wouldn’t escape again, she put three pillows underneath his left leg to keep it elevated. She didn’t want to see him lose the leg and that was what would happen if he didn’t stay in bed.
Gently she took the young man’s vital signs which where all in normal ranges although his heart rate and blood pressure were both a little on the high side. With his dog tags missing and his present mental status, she didn’t even know his name, rank or the branch of the military that he was a part of. So for now, he was listed in their records as John Doe #324. Once they had gotten him out of the filthy rags he had been wearing when he was brought in and got him cleaned up, she had found that he was a very handsome young man. The only other thing she knew about him was that he had a strong southern accent. And the only reason she knew that was because he talked in his sleep. Being from Alabama herself, she thought that his dialect sounded like either Georgia or the southern part of Tennessee. Assured that he was resting comfortably for now, she hurried away to tend to her other patients leaving the young man’s care to the nervous young intern.
The young intern had only been in Viet Nam for a short time and was already more then ready to go home. He had seen so many terrible things over here in such a short time, so much death and so much pain. So many broken bodies and more then a few broken minds. Like the young man he was tending to now. A young man not that much younger than he was who should be at home dating girls and having fun, not fighting in a war that made no sense to anyone.
Somewhere deep within the recesses of his mind Luke could sense the activity around him. But he was afraid to believe that he was really safe. He was terrified that if he let himself believe that then he would open his eyes and discover that it was all a dream. Instead, he would find himself back in that tiny cage in the jungle or even worse.
Whatever hope he’d had died with Henry. And he had buried a part of himself in that shallow grave with him in that god forsaken jungle.
The young nurse finished her rounds and grabbed a bite to eat before returning to the ward. As she walked down the aisle, she glanced at each bed she passed automatically checking on the occupant as she passed. When she reached the bed of the young man she had tended to earlier. She noticed that his eyes were open. It wasn’t the first time he had opened his eyes but it was the first time that she noticed certain alertness in those sapphire depths that had not been present before. She walked to the side of the bed and gently reached down to touch his shoulder.
“Hello, soldier…” she said quietly “Can you tell me your name?”
There was a moment’s hesitation and then he said in that unmistakable southern accent “Where am I?”
“You’re in a field hospital just outside of Saigon. My name’s Barb and I’m a nurse here.” She told him with a smile when she realized that he had finally come back from the blackness of his own mind. “Now….can you tell me your name, rank and serial number?”
“Sergeant Lucas Kristopher Duke. United States Marines Division D. 23-65-0947.” He responded automatically.
“A Marine….. I should have known.” She told him with a grin “Nice to meet you Sergeant Duke.”
“Why are my hands tied down?” Luke asked in an alarmed voice realizing for the first time that he was restrained.
“Because you kept trying to escape and we can’t have that. Your leg needs to stay elevated unless you want to lose it. You got bit by a snake, didn’t you? A little yellow and green one.”
“Yeah….how did you know?”
“I’ve seen the bites from that little critter before. They get pretty nasty when they aren’t taken care of right away. Just like yours did.”
“If I promise to stay in bed will you untie my hands?” Luke asked. He hated being strapped down. It still made him feel helpless and afraid, too much like he was still a prisoner.
“I know you don’t like being strapped down….especially after what you just went through….but I need to leave the restraints on for at least a little while longer….just until I’m positive that you’re gonna stay with us and not slip away from us again. Can you handle it for just a little while?”
“How long?” Luke asked in a tightly controlled voice, struggling to control his fear even though he knew that it was irrational.
“Will you come back and talk to me once in awhile?”
“Of course I will.”
“Okay. Four hours.” Luke agreed reluctantly
“If you really can’t handle it….I’ll take them before that. Deal?”
“I’ll be back.”
Luke nodded as he watched her walk away. He let his gaze sweep around the room, noting the activity and the noise. Anything to keep his mind off of the fact that his hands were tied down. True to her word, Barb came back to his side every fifteen minutes to talk to him for a few minutes and four hours later, the restraints were removed.