“Ma’am, you really made history, today.” The bashful young corpsman spoke softly as he passed the foot of my army cot. He wasn’t the only one trying to stifle his amusement.
“Nobody’s ever done what you did, before!”
“Just wait till the general comes and pins a Purple Heart on you!” This came from a patient propped up in his bed across the aisle from my feet.
“You’re kidding,” I protested. “I don’t get a Purple Heart for this, do I?”
“Well, are you sure there wasn’t some artillery going off when you fell? Then you would have been injured under fire!”
How could this have happened? The question I kept asking myself didn’t seem to have an answer. I would have to write a letter home, telling my family that I was a casualty, even before my feet touched the ground in Vietnam. Oh, yes. To top it off, it was April first, April Fools’ Day. And, that’s no joke.
The long flight over the Pacific to Vietnam could have been a novel in itself. But, that’s material for another story! When we finally landed at Bien Hoa, our ankles were swollen
and legs a bit shakey. Loading my arms with my carry-ons, my typewriter included, I followed the rest of the Army hospital personnel down the long aisle to exit at the front of the plane. This was it. I was here in the combat zone. Beyond the door a bright overcast day and the heat greeted me. Back home we exited planes directly into a terminal walkway. Here, an outside stairway yawned in my face.
On the second step from the top, it happened. With both hands full, I didn’t have a way to grab the railing. My ankle turned, suddenly throwing me headlong down the stairs.
“Where is everybody?” flashed through my head, as I saw no hope of anyone breaking my fall. I slid to a stop near the bottom, right behind a couple doctors in their khaki uniforms. Both did an immediate on the spot assessment. “Does this hurt?” one asked as he tried to straighten my right ankle. “Ooh, yes!” I squealed, as the pain shot up my leg.
It was the same ankle I had once sprained in an auto accident. That time, the ankle swelled like a balloon, but the x-rays were negative. Since the ankle looked nowhere near as bad, this time, I figured I hadn’t hurt it too much. But, being with all those medical personnel, I ended up in a wheelchair, while the rest of the 95th Evac Hospital got into formation on the tarmac.
An Air Force doctor wearing a jumpsuit entered the room at the nearby clinic, trying to keep from smiling. “I’m afraid it’s broken,” he said, x-ray in hand.
“You’re kidding! What do I do now?” I said aloud. Inside my head, I carried on another conversation: God, didn’t You want me here, after all? Did you let me get this far, only to send me home, again?
The doctor from the plane accompanied me in the back of a rickety box ambulance, like ones I’d seen on old TV war movies. The two of us sat in back, across from a moaning patient on a litter. Outside, we raised a cloud of dust as we bounced over crowded streets
that reminded me of Tijuana. We bypassed the 90th Replacement and went straight to the nearest Army medical facility.
The dusty, green-painted waiting room at the 93rd Evac already had enough real soldier patients, with bloody bandages and dirty faces furrowed by streaks of sweat. How could I have made more work for the hospital, when I only came to help!
A cheerful, redheaded Army nurse greeted me and wheeled me off to see the orthopod, Captain Michael. A beefy man with curly black hair, he entered the exam room with an amused chuckle,
“Well, how would you like to go to Japan?”
“But, I just got here!” I wailed in despair, “can’t I stay?”
“Oh, we’ll cast your leg, and put you in the hospital, for now. You will have a profile, of course, ‘no prolonged standing, running, or jumping.’”
And, he exited laughing.
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