Posts Tagged ‘Vietnam War’


As the VA Regroups and Recruits, The Words of Nurses Who Served

November 14, 2014

By Amanda Anderson, a critical care nurse and graduate student in New York City who is currently doing a graduate placement at AJN two days a week. The AJN articles linked to in this post will be free until the end of December.

Vietnam Women's Memorial, courtesy of Kay Schwebke

Vietnam Women’s Memorial, courtesy of Kay Schwebke

A scandal earlier this year about suppressed data related to long wait times for appointments tainted the credibility of the Department of Veterans Affairs. On this Veterans Day week, the new secretary of Veterans Affairs has been using incentives and promises of culture change to promote new hiring initiatives for physicians and nurses. The focus as always should be on the removal of the barriers many veterans face in obtaining timely, high quality care. Naturally, a number of these veterans are nurses themselves.

To commemorate those who have bravely cared for our country, and who deserve the best of care in return, we’ve compiled a few quotations from nurse veterans who’ve written for or been quoted in AJN about their experiences in successive conflicts through the decades. Thank you for all your service, and for what you carry daily—as nurses, veterans, and patients.

World War II
“I remember walking through cities leveled by bombs, looking at the hollow eyes and haunted faces of a devastated civilian population. Since September 11, I see those same hollow eyes and haunted faces on the nightly news.”
—Mary O’Neill Williams, RN, “A World War II Army Nurse Remembers,” as told to her daughter. Published September 2002

“The challenges and responsibilities of combat nursing far exceeded the normal scope of nursing practice. Army nurses independently triaged casualties, started blood transfusions, initiated penicillin therapy, and sutured wounds. They monitored supplies and improvised when necessary. . .They often cared for 200 or more critically wounded soldiers in a standard 60-bed MASH; off duty, they provided food and nursing care to the local populace. Some managed to be innovators on the cutting edge of nursing practice. The nurses of the 11th Evacuation Hospital helped to pioneer the use of renal dialysis nursing and were among the first to support patients who had hemorrhagic fever using a first-generation artificial kidney machine.”
—Mary T. Sarnecky, DNSc, RN, CS, FNP, “Army Nurses in ‘The Forgotten War,’” November 2001

Nurse Lynne Kohl during Vietnam War. For more information, see article link to right.

Nurse Lynne Kohl during Vietnam War. For more information, see article link below.

“The guys loved the helicopters because, whenever the helicopter was coming in, their lives were going to be saved. . . But helicopters to the nurses meant, ‘Oh my God, how many are coming in?’. . . That’s when we had to run to the ER, get them out of the chopper, get them triaged, get them to where they needed to be. So for us, helicopters meant that people’s lives were at stake. We needed to move fast.”
—Diane Carlson Evans, RN, as told to Kay E. Schwebke, MD, MPH, in “The Vietnam Women’s Memorial: Better Late Than Never,” May 2009. (See also a collection of free podcasts on that include short poems written and read aloud by nurses who served in Vietnam and an author interview about the creation of the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.) Read the rest of this entry ?


Redeemed by M*A*S*H

June 3, 2013

Greg Horton is a widely published freelance writer and an adjunct professor at Oklahoma City Community College. With a new generation of veterans struggling to deal with emotional and physical wounds from their experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to find meaningful work in a challenging economy, this story of a father’s 30-year nursing career after his return from the Vietnam War is particularly relevant today.

MASH-dioramaMy father started us on M*A*S*H soon after his return from Korea in 1973. The Vietnam War was nearing its end, although we did not know it at the time. A combat medic during his tour of duty in Vietnam early in the war, on this most recent tour my father had been stationed in Korea for a year at a hospital that received the grievously injured. “Spaghetti and meatball surgery,” he called it.

Our family had moved to Maud, Oklahoma, in 1972 to be near my mother’s family while my dad was in Korea. The endless countryside around our small town, combined with the local dump, gave us more than enough adventures to keep our minds off the war in a country of which we knew little.

M*A*S*H, the legendary television show featuring Alan Alda as the sarcastic antihero, started the year my father left for Korea. We were not a television-watching family, as such. My mother’s Pentecostal background instilled a deep-rooted distrust for the medium, unless Oral Roberts or Rex Humbard was preaching.

However, on my father’s return, that changed. I was nine years old when he got back, so I know I wasn’t aware of the political statement Larry Gelbart, the program’s creator, was making. My father would later explain to a 12-year-old me that it was only ostensibly about Korea; really, it was about Vietnam.

Every week, the family gathered around to watch. Many of the laughs required no intricate knowledge of the military or war or medicine, but my father, whose experience as a medic in Vietnam and doing triage in Korea lent him special insight, functioned like an expert annotator, dispensing information that opened up new vistas of meaning in the politics of war, gender, sex, death, and dying.

We were used to the motions of life required of a military family: relocation orders, moving without notice, upended friendships, new schools, new housing, new temporary friends. We had suffered all of it with aplomb, so my father’s newfound cynicism about war was disturbing to our routine.

I am almost certain he decided to be a nurse in the wake of Vietnam. Discontented with the calculus by which countries go to war and horrified to the point of nightmare by what he’d seen, he looked instead for a way to heal rather than harm.

My family did not survive the 1980s intact. The diagnosis later known as PTSD was unheard of at the time, but my father had it. An attempt to view Apocalypse Now led to a near breakdown; he shouted and cried out in the middle of the night for days afterward. Except for his U.S. Army work in the hospital, he couldn’t keep any of the two dozen side jobs he attempted. His attempt to help us understand M*A*S*H was his way of trying to help us understand what it had really been like, but like any war virgins, we were dealing with abstractions, not spaghetti and meatballs.

After my parents’ divorce, my father devoured nursing school. An early pregnancy and enlistment in the Army had delayed the application of his intelligence to academic work. Once exposed to it, he thrived. He used his retirement benefits to live on—he’d completed 20 years in service—while the old G.I. Bill helped pay for his education. He retired from the military at 37, and achieved his BSN before 40.

The next step was also difficult. His experience with medicine had been limited to two milieus: U.S. Army hospitals and war. What do you choose when the choices aren’t limited to what your commander tells you you must do?

It took nearly 10 years for my father to work through the options: coronary care, intensive care, post-critical care, ER, oncology, pediatrics, OB-GYN, and every other floor available at every hospital he worked. He even worked a stint at a state mental health facility, back when such things existed. Four broken ribs and a superstitious fear of full moon night pushed him out of mental health care, but that’s another story.

Serendipitously, he found his niche. He was scheduled to work a shift on a drug and alcohol rehabilitation unit in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1987. I was a freshman at the University of Oklahoma at the time, following my stint in the United States Air Force—he’d threatened an “ass-kicking” if I joined the Army. My father had secured me employment on the hospital switchboard at the same hospital to help pay for school.

He worked his shift, which, as I recall, was to help a friend who needed off. While on the floor, he discovered that many of the patients were military veterans. Their experience had driven them to abuse alcohol, cocaine, heroin, pills, as well as other types of escapism. Alway a nurturer, my father found in those men and women the opportunity to apply an ancient principle—redemption, to bring something good and whole out of something ugly and broken.

From then on, my father never worked another unit. He was a drug and alcohol rehab nurse until he retired 25 years later.

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AJN’s Growing Collection of Podcasts

February 19, 2013
Look for the AJN podcast icon

Look for the AJN podcast icon

A note from AJN’s editor-in-chief, Maureen Shawn Kennedy: Why not head over to our Web site and check out AJN’s podcasts and video collections? Just put your mouse over the MEDIA tab at the top and choose podcasts or one of the video series in the drop-down menu.

We’ve got a variety of podcasts to choose from:

  • monthly highlights, in which editors discuss the articles in each issue
  • “Behind the Article” podcasts are interviews with authors to discuss their work or provide additional context about the article
  • and in “Conversations,” listen to, well, conversations with nurses and other notable and interesting people (there’s even one with former president Jimmy Carter!)

We also have special collections, one of which contains music from Liyana, a group of disabled African singers who graced the cover of the August 2009 issue. (See “On the Cover” from that issue to read about them.)

The other collection contains poems written by nurses who served in the Vietnam War. They were collected by Kay Schwebke, author of “The Vietnam Nurses Memorial: Better Late Than Never” in the May 2009 issue. The short poems are heartbreaking and very much worth hearing.

One final option, if you prefer to save podcasts for listening to at a more convenient time: you can subscribe to AJN‘s podcasts in the iTunes store. Just search for AJN and the podcasts should show up on your screen. Or click this link.

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