Body Bag


Clawing at the air and the belief that I am suffocating, that’s how this particular night-terror ends. And that’s how it ended last night, too.

Neck wounds are a tricky thing, and it was obvious that he had a neck wound. He was sitting against a shattered tree stump when I heard the shout, “Doc, up!”

Since he was still able to talk to me, I helped him lay down where I could make a better assessment of his injuries and apply hemostats. Six or seven in place and the bleeding was under control.

The Skipper had already called for a medivac, so I settled in for the few minute wait that we would have. I checked and double-checked for any random bleeders, but found none.

“How bad is it, Doc?”

“Bad, but I think you’ll live.”

“Feels like half my neck is gone.”

“No, jus’ a flap, a big opening from one side to the other.”

“Gonna look ugly, isn’t it.”

“Hell no, man — the women are gonna be falling all over themselves to see you your sexy war wound.”

Laughter.

The thump of the helicopter rotor blades made their dull echoing appearance somewhere in the sky to the east of us. It would be on the ground in minute or less.

The Marine had his eyes closed and I felt for a pulse. None.

Immediately, I began CPR, asking for assistance from the Corporal kneeling by us. I push the injured man’s head back as far as I dared and gave him a solid breathe.

His eyes popped opened and he looked at me with surprise. Astonished myself, I automatically felt for his pulse again and still there wasn’t one.

“Damn, dude, I thought you had died.”

“Well, shit, Doc – I thought you’d gone queer for me.”

Laughter.

Two US Army medics arrived with a litter and cut the comedy scene with seriousness. They package him for a quick load and go as I gave them all the particulars, including the skinny on the guy’s faint heartbeat.

A couple of days later, I see one of the medics at the FOB.

“How’s that Marine with the neck wound?”

“Dead.”

There was nothing else he could say. There was nothing else I needed to hear.

The remainder of the day I wandered around doing my job in a sort of stunned autopilot, thinking and rethinking of what all could have gone wrong since leaving the L-Z. So deeply lost in thought, I honestly cannot recall eating or even going to the chow hall.

It wasn’t until that night, after lights out, that I had a frightening thought: they missed his faint heartbeat while triaging him. And then I asked myself, “What if he was still alive when they put him in a body bag?”

I awoke later, clawing at the air, in the bag, and thinking I was suffocating.

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