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.
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
“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 AJNonline.com 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.)
“Our work is considered ‘dirty’—it’s an unsterile and dusty environment—and our patients receive definitive care only after they’ve been evacuated to larger medical facilities, where they’ll have their wounds redressed and debrided again and undergo computed tomographic (CT) scans to ensure that no serious injuries have been missed….One recent evening, a Humvee drove onto the compound unannounced. Lying across the hood was an American soldier who’d suffered severe injuries to his face. His fellow soldiers knew we were nearby, so they’d put him on the hood, with a medic beside him, and drove toward our compound, arriving within minutes. . . . A few of us began the primary survey, as we’d practiced so many times, rapidly assessing the patient’s life-threatening injuries. Within minutes our entire team was present and we moved the patient into the operating room, working frantically to secure his airway and stop the bleeding.”
—Christopher A. Vanfosson, MSN, MHA, RN, “Letters from Afghanistan: Daily Life and ‘Dirty’ Work,” February 2011
“Military nurses—along with advances in the immediate treatment of these injuries—have been central to a mortality rate of about 10% among injured soldiers—a rate dramatically lower than the rates in World War II and the Vietnam War: 30% and 24%, respectively.” —Diana Mason, “Anniversaries,” editorial, May 2008