I Don't Remember His Name

I Don’t Remember His Name

by Sara McVicker

The medical patients usually came in late afternoon. They’d send a chopper around to the firebases if anyone needed to come in to the hospital. Most would be an FUO (fever of unknown origin, which usually would turn out to be malaria or typhus), sometimes dysentery, occasionally pneumonia, and once or twice a cardiac case.

Unless they were so woozy they couldn’t stand up, we would get the blood samples we needed for diagnosis, let them shower, feed them and then let them sleep as much as possible around monitoring their temperatures and getting additional malaria smears. Most of them weren’t too sick—sick enough to be sent to the hospital, but not critical.

After diagnosis and treatment, they sometimes went straight back to the field, or if they were lucky, they got a week or so at the 6th Convalescent Center in Cam Rahn Bay.  That’s probably why I don’t remember names. I didn’t want to pick up a Stars and Stripes and see that someone we had sent back to the field had gotten killed.

One afternoon, a call came from the ER:  FUO, unconscious, temperature off the end of the thermometer. They did not have much history on the patient. He was out in the boonies with his unit and hadn’t felt good for a couple of days, but nothing specific. Then suddenly he collapsed, burning up to the touch. They threw him in a mud puddle to try to get his temperature down and called in a “dust off” (the helicopter that would take him to the hospital).  

They brought him up from the ER on a stretcher, packed in bags of ice.  We got all the diagnostic tests, got another IV in him and a urinary catheter. Jim, our chief of medicine, was the doc. We started him on quinine in case he had malaria. We gave him something for typhus and something else for a bacterial infection. None of the tests showed anything in particular. We kept sponging him down and, between that and the aspirin suppositories, his temperature started coming down.

A little before 7 p.m., the night nurse and corpsman came in and saw what was going on.  I asked the nurse to handle the rest of the ward. I hadn’t done any 6:00 meds, but one of the corpsmen had done vital signs, kept an eye on the IVs, gotten everyone fed  and had told me everyone else was OK.  All the other patients knew what was going on.

Finally, we had done everything we could. His temperature had come down, and we had gotten him cleaned up.  I gave a report to the night nurse and then went back in the room to see if Jim needed me for anything else before I left.  No, he said, but he thought that he would stay for a while.

The next morning when I came back, Jim was still there.  He had stayed by this guy’s side all night, and he was there almost all that day, too, except for a few breaks. The patient was still unconscious but stable.

And then he began to slip away from us. It was nothing dramatic, just blood pressure gradually dropping, urine output decreasing. No heroics—there wasn’t anything else to be done.  And then, he was gone.

We never knew what killed him, whether it was whatever caused his fever or if it was because the fever was so high it “zapped” his brain.

I don’t remember his name or where he was from, but I know where he is now. His name is somewhere on the west Wall of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, panels 26-19.

He didn’t die alone.

And I remember him.