Faces, Flashbacks, And The Nod

by Captain Marie Gacke, United States Air Force (Retired)
I didn’t think I even had PTSD of any kind, being a 2 year flight nurse and 6 years as a military cardiac nurse before that, I figured I had seen it all and adjusted just fine.

Then I was in the post office one day when this woman began loudly describing the horrors of war to the lady next to her. She went on about “those poor kids” who were needlessly broken and blown up and went into graphic detail based on what the news showed.

As she continued to recount the news, I had flashbacks of the flightline at two am as they brought endless rows of stretchers to us, men and women missing parts and pieces, and their faces…so very many faces.

I saw them and remembered loading each one onto my aircraft and promising the best care we could give, we would get them back to Germany as quickly as we could, and yes, morphine was on the way…
 Marie g interior transport
I never got to find out if my patients lived or died after we dropped them off, there were too many to track, but when I do finally fall asleep at night now, it’s knowing that my patients never died on my team’s watch – not one.

I don’t sleep well sometimes when I see the broken bodies and the faces, or relive the shock from the families and VIPs that boarded when we landed in Germany. We all shared tears at some point or another, sometimes we were the first faces these folks remembered as they look down and realized what happened. So many thought they were ready to handle it, they never were.

Now what that lady can’t know, because she didn’t see it, is the folks that lost most everything and still had a lop-sided smile and a smart-aleck comment to share with the wounded around them. Or the guys who squished together with inches from their face to the next guys stretcher in order to make room for their working dog – who saved their team that day from extra damage by taking the hit himself. Or the sheer determination of our amputees to get to the latrines without any extra help.

That woman kept yammering, I finally had enough and in a shaking voice told her whether she supported the war or not, this was not the time or place to bring up what so many of us had been reliving as she spoke. I realized that day I still have some work to do, but I did straighten up when several of us gave each other “the nod” as she got quiet. I wasn’t alone.

My aircrew looks like a different team now, some ride bikes, some grow gardens, some live entirely different lives. Just do me a favor, if you see me or another flight member out there, be sure and give us the nod?
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Capt. Marie Gacke Served August  2006  to December 2012 as a Military Cardiac Nurse as well as 2 years as a Flight Nurse. She was last  assigned  to  the  43d Aeromedical  Evacuation squadron  at Pope  Army Air  Field (Formerly  Pope Air  Force Base). She now lives with her husband in southern Arizona.
Marie G on Wing