Take A Life Or Lose A Life

by Richard Schick

At age 12 I joined the Cape St Claire Volunteer Fire Department. At that age we were allowed to ride the equipment, fight fires from the outside but were not permitted to enter a building with an active fire. We were of course allowed to wash the vehicles and hoses, clean the firehouse, and make coffee for the other members. These domestic chores were allocated by age and experience making us youngsters perform the vast majority of these chores.

We were also allowed to be the aidman (no EMT's at this time, 1962 - 1967) once we had completed a Red Cross First Aid course. Cape St Claire, MD is located just off Rte 301 a couple miles from the old Chesapeake Bay Bridge so automobile crashes made up a lot of our calls. Before my 13th birthday I had responded to several fatal crashes. The ones where the victims were deceased prior to my arrival never bothered me too much, but the first time a person died in route to the hospital while I was caring for them was quite devastating. If it had happened on my first call I doubt if I would have continued working on the ambulance. Luckily by the time I lost my first patient I had saved a few and even got to be thanked by a couple after their release from the hospital. I had learned both the value and rewards that can come from providing medical care.

At age 17 (1967) I enlisted in the US Army and by 18 was in Vietnam serving with the 173rd Airborne Division as an Infantryman. Before my 19th birthday I had killed my first man. Emotionally it was a strange thing, the fear of battle, the positive emotional rush of "getting one" and then some reflection once the dust has settled of what I had just done. I found it much easier to deal with than losing the patient.

When I lost a patient that death was accompanied by feelings of guilt, failure and sorrow. My job was to save this person. I had failed. This person meant me no harm and had placed his trust in me. He (she) was just like me, just a regular person trying to get along in life. When I killed an enemy I was doing my job. This person would have killed me if given the chance. He was not a person just like me, he was the the enemy and through intensive military training he had been in a sense dehumanized. (see poem I wrote as I came to better understand this)

The Soldier
I Chose This Life
My Duty's Clear
To Fight The Battles
Both Far And Near

I Am A Soldier
And I Hate War
But My Country
I Love More

Now The Enemy
Has Drawn Near
And Through My Sights
I See A Mirror

He Is A Soldier
And He Hates War
But His Country
He Loves More

My personal experience has left me to wonder why there is so much emphasis nowadays on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in our military veterans and so little in our medical professionals. Soldiers are only in war zones for relatively short periods of time and in actual combat a very small percentage of those periods. Medical personnel spend entire careers in the combat zones and those in critical care areas are in actual combat every day. It is a testament to their mental and emotional strength that they can successfully cope.

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