By Yates Walker
"Hold this," said a handsome and serious man I'd never seen before.
Must be a doctor, I thought. I hated them all, or at least tried to. Every army
doctor I met was the kind of guy you'd want your sister to marry: pleasant, thoughtful,
smart, gregarious, industrious, wealthy, and almost uniformly handsome. With pricks like
that around, the rest of us didn't stand a chance. Anyway, this one handed me something,
then immediately became too busy for my questions. He, like everyone in the operating
room, was wearing surgical attire and engaged in some unfamiliar doings with alien and
Witnessing the O.R. being prepped for surgery is bizarre under any circumstances,
but it's unnerving if you've never seen it before. The room is filled with busy and
shrouded figures. Their eyes are visible behind clear visors. Everything else from head to
toe is wrapped, caped, draped, or otherwise concealed by institutional vestments cut from
some enriched fabric that repels blood and secretions and infection and possibly evil
spirits. Then, these cloaked figures move in small circles, ritualistically touching certain
machines and utensils, occasionally muttering in an arcane dialect of medical-speak. If it
were four hundred years earlier, I would have accused them all of witchcraft and been
done with it. As it was, I just stood still and hoped to remain invisible.
I was invisible because I had no specific function. Those with functions were busy
preparing to perform an amputation. Officially I was standing in for a surgical technician
named Sergeant Zins, but the phrase "standing in" was a shade optimistic. I had zero
relevant experience. I may as well have been standing in for a ninja. Surgical techs are
the guys who hand instruments to the doctor during surgery. In the movies the job looks
easy because the only thing movie doctors ever ask for is a scalpel. In reality, surgical
techs go to school for a year to master surgery's many tools and fundamentals, and at a
glance can distinguish between forty-seven pair of virtually identical . . . things that look
like tweezers. Needless to say, I wasn't qualified for the duty.
I hadn't planned to be there. Near midnight on the previous night, a gleefully
inebriated Sergeant Zins woke me up. He had decided that I needed to take his slot in the
morning surgery so that I could get some experience and so that he could get shit-faced.
Sergeant Veysey was pulling double duty in his absence. And Sergeant Veysey didn't like
"Keep your stupid, goddamn hands folded and on your chest at all times. Anything
you touch you're gonna fuck up. You might think you know something about surgery or
the sterile field, but you don't know shit, and if I have to start over because of your dumb
ass, you're never going to stop paying for it. Roger?"
"Roger," I gratefully replied to Sergeant Veysey's sage counsel.
He was bug-eyed and angry, short and freckled, loud and dumb. I never saw the
man drool, but he often looked like he might. His eyes were set too close together,
affecting a strange countenance that was simultaneously confused and furious. His
parents were almost certainly siblings. But at the moment, I completely agreed with his
assessment of my abilities and was happy to be removed from responsibility.
I wasn't lazy. I was utterly incompetent. Growing up in the east suburbs of
Cleveland, Ohio hadn’t prepared me for this. Neither had the army.
Of my sixteen weeks of Army medical education, I'd spent just two days with
actual patients. It was back at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, toward the end of the
last phase of training, that my startlingly ignorant class was sent to Brooke Army Medical
Center. In theory, we were there to shadow nurses and doctors as they made their rounds,
getting as much hands-on experience with real patients as possible. In the hospital lobby,
we were broken up into groups of five and told to shut our mouths while the sergeant-in-
charge read an ominous list of the variously specialized wards to which we were
consigned. A smiling black woman in hospital attire slapped a "Group Three" sticker on
"Group one: cancer. Group two: trauma. Group three: burn unit."
And before I could say, "Fuck you, I quit," I was ushered into an elevator, then
into a gown and mask, then into a super-heated, negatively pressurized burn unit
chamber. I was four feet away from a seventy-two year-old man with second and third
degree burns from his head to his knees.
Flesh that wasn't charred was scabbed. What wasn't scabbed was blistered. What
wasn't charred, scabbed, or blistered was oozing. Worst of all, the man was conscious.
His limbs were rigid and still, but his pleading, terrified eyes darted around desperately.
Any movement made his skin rip and bleed. He clearly did not wish to participate in our
The nurse we were shadowing followed us into the room and nonchalantly lifted
the old man's arm. He immediately recoiled from her touch, but the nurse didn't seem to
notice. She flexed and extended his arm, working the elbow and shoulder joints.
Everything started to crackle and bleed. The old man’s face was screaming, but no sound
came out because his airway had been singed as well. Behind my protective mask I
blinked back tears.
The nurse began flexing and extending his fingers, dispassionately explaining that
such movement was necessary because it increases blood flow and that without regular
exercise he would lose the limbs. She dropped his freshly bleeding hand and moved to
his other arm.
I have no doubt that the nurse was absolutely correct, but her tone and lack of
sympathy incensed me. The old man was in unimaginable agony. The nurse was bored
and fat and talking about the patient’s vital signs like he was a fucking HAM radio. I
hated her and tried to kill her telepathically, but the old man's eyes convinced me that my
efforts were in vain. He hated her more than I ever could. His anguish and helplessness
had morphed into a cartoonish, seething rage under her hands. He wanted his nurse to
burst into flames, and she knew it. Her detachment was a necessary coping mechanism.
And though I made sense of their relationship, it still horrified me. I didn't think I
could ever do what my role as a medic required me to do. Even if I could, I didn't want
to. I assiduously and successfully avoided patients for the rest of the first day. On the
second, I was assigned to pediatrics where I spent the hours losing board games to a sick
kid. And that was the breadth and depth of my practical experience with patients: utter
The only other medical contact I'd had with humans was sticking needles into
fellow trainees. When I was handed a certificate on graduation day, I thought I was in the
wrong line. I didn't know much, but I damn sure knew that I didn't know enough. While
my fellow newly-anointed medics smiled and hugged proud parents, I looked around for
ways to turn myself in as a quack. And for the six months between graduation and this
moment in the operating room, I'd been mowing lawns at Fort Bragg.
The cloaked figures moved purposefully in their hypnotic circles, their routines
both baffling and comforting. These men knew how to do things. I watched in wonder as
a dozen facile hands performed intricate and mysterious functions with delicate,
expensive equipment that together, I was certain, would instantaneously cure or heal
whatever patient was lucky enough to deserve their attention.
These men in the OR comprised half of the Forward Surgical Team (the F.S.T.)
from the 82nd Airborne Division. Among the remarkable things about the group was
their effortless cool. Aerosmith's "Dude looks like a lady" played from some hidden
speakers, and reflected the atmosphere of the room. They were about to perform surgery
in a trauma hospital, yet they were telling stories and playing pranks.
Their effortless cool had developed over months of practicing emergency
medicine in Iraq. They had performed surgery in tents across desert locales, with
temperatures well over 100 degrees. When an American or an Iraqi was seriously
wounded in their sector, the casualty was delivered to them by helicopter or Humvee.
Regardless of the hour or fatigue or hunger or any need that normal people expect to
supersede their jobs, they went to work saving lives and limbs.
Day after day, they were presented with unimaginable gore which they
transformed into treatable injuries. Eating, sleeping, and working together, they had
proven their mettle and skill to each other and themselves under such arduous,
claustrophobic conditions that a jocular operating room became a necessity. They
trusted each other implicitly and had earned the right to joke around.
And I was the “fuckin’ new guy”— the FNG from day one. Straight out of initial
combat medical training, I'd been placed on the 82nd Airborne's Forward Surgical Team a
month after they'd returned from their second deployment to Iraq. I was an outsider and a
daisy-fresh medic. Nearly the whole of my practical training was with computerized
manikins. Yet there I was, a medical professional in an operating room with a half dozen
combat veterans about to perform surgery.
A door swung open from the hallway, and Doc Bloch entered. The good doctor
was a lieutenant colonel and had been the commander of the FST for the past six years,
but, outside of formal meetings and ceremony, he was "Doc." Doc was 45 years-old, an
orthopedic surgeon, and an imposing figure. Olive skinned, densely muscled, 240 pounds
of man stacked to six foot four with black hair and black eyes – one could assume that
Doc wasn't particular about military courtesy simply because he looked like a
"Shit. Where's Zins?" he growled when he saw me.
"Zins is dishonoring a toilet somewhere. He's hung over," answered Veysey.
"Walker's not going to touch anything."
"That's not the best way for him to learn," Doc casually observed, then turned to
inspect the room.
I never even saw it coming.
That's not the best way for him to learn. His words echoed in my ears and mocked
the silence that followed. My hopes to remain invisible were shattered. Doc just put a
neon target on my back. And my veins flooded with ice water.
Bizarre moments like this only exist in the military. It's profound and surreal—
impossible to fully relate to someone who has never served—how an offhand comment
from a ranking officer can so swiftly alter a soldier's life. It's voodoo. In the ten seconds
after Doc's comment, I could have grown a beard or learned to play the fiddle. Even the
taste of the room's air had changed. It was almost like there’d been a clap of thunder, and
the mighty hand of God had descended, seized and shaken my world like one of those
glass-encased snow globes, then returned to the heavens to watch His mischief unfold.
I was now helplessly in the midst of an insane military game of politics. That's not
the best way for him to learn. The comment had morphed into a command of sorts, but,
because the command had been given to the whole room, the credit for following it was
up for grabs. I was up for grabs, and the grabbing was now inevitable. The only questions
were, who would grab me and when. The trick was in the timing. If someone jumped the
gun, he'd look like he was kissing Doc's ass. The idea was to appear independent while
following an order.
Whatever the rules, the game was on, and I was screwed. The door opened again.
For a second, I thought I was saved.
"Walker, get your ass over there, and make yourself useful," ordered Sergeant
I turned and saw two orderlies maneuvering a wheeled bed through the doorway.
On top of the bed was an unconscious Latin man in his late forties or early fifties. An
enormous bandage was wrapped about eight inches above where a second foot should
have been. As I approached, the orderly at the head of the bed wordlessly handed me a
rubber bag that was connected to a tube stuffed deep in the patient's throat. Involuntarily I
squeezed the bag, watching the patient's chest rise as his lungs filled with air. Five
seconds later, I did it again. I couldn't believe it. I was breathing for this patient,
sustaining his life, doing something that I had been trained to do. One one thousand. Two
one thousand. Three one thousand. Four one thousand. Squeeze.
Transfixed, I squeezed the bag three or four more times while the orderlies jostled
the bed until it was locked and in position, adjacent to the operating table.
Standing next to the imposing machines at the head of the table, Captain
McCaffrey, a nurse anesthetist, reached over and disconnected the bag I was squeezing
from the patient's breathing tube. My brain hiccupped then abruptly ceased function. I
stared blankly at Captain McCaffrey. Somehow I couldn't believe that he had done what I
had just seen him do. In the middle of the operating room, he was going to snuff the
patient. No one else seemed to notice or care. I looked at the unconscious, fifty year-old
Latin man with one foot for support, but he offered none. I held the rubber bag and
listlessly stared at the murderous Captain McCaffrey. Without an upward glance, he
instructed me to grab the bed sheet underneath the patient. At the count of three, the
orderlies and I moved the suffocating, fifty year-old, unconscious Latin man with one
foot from his bed to the operating table.
The orderlies unlocked the wheels on the bed and nonchalantly pushed it out of
the room. My heartbeat quickened and thumped in my ears. I was vaguely aware that
Sergeant Veysey was now reminding me that he outranked me and that I was a dumbass
and that after touching the patient's sheet I was no longer sterile and needed new gloves
and a new gown. Just as I was about to scream that the patient hadn't breathed in twenty
seconds, Captain McCaffrey fastened the patient's tube to an oxygen line, and one of the
colossal machines began to breathe for him.
"You all right, Walker?" asked a familiar voice. It was Sergeant First Class
Olssen, the ranking enlisted man on the Forward Surgical Team. He was one of a handful
of people, all more qualified than me, who was there to observe the surgery. I mumbled
some unconvincing version of "I'm okay" and walked past him and out of the room.
"Don't puke in the scrub sink" and some ensuing chuckles were the last things I heard
before the door closed behind me.
I didn't need to throw up. What I needed was an escape route or a time machine or
six or seven cocktails. Instead, I peeled off my surgical mask, gown, and gloves and
found my t-shirt drenched in sweat. I stood still and breathed for a moment in front of a
large sink in a corridor adjacent to the O.R. I began feverishly washing my hands and
Closing in behind me, I heard Sergeant Olssen forecasting sun-shiny goodness
and spouting hap-happy cheer-me-ups sprinkled with encouragement about the wonderful
learning experience I was about to have, but I wasn't really listening. I couldn't. I was on
autopilot in a parallel dimension. He was enthusiastic and full of pep. No, he was
enthusiastic and full of shit. Olssen's forecast may have been true in the Realm of
Rainbows and Frolicking Ponies or whatever fucking world he was talking about. In
mine, I knew that the nightmare was about to begin.
A few weeks earlier when the entire team was watching a PowerPoint
presentation, I had thoughtlessly let it slip that I was a little apprehensive about seeing
blood and guts. The presentation featured pictures of various injuries that army medical
personnel had encountered in the combat zone. The pictures weren't pretty. Because of
advances in body armor, soldiers are now surviving attacks that would have killed them a
few years ago. As a result, the modern army medic has to confront and treat injuries that
he used to zip into body bags. Slide after slide showed Iraqi and American boys with
remnants of faces and limbs leftover from blast injuries.
Next to me during the presentation sat Specialist Margo, a former ranger and
soulless redneck from Oklahoma. Margo is the kind of guy who notices the discomfort of
others like a lion notices a gazelle's limp. After a few dozen slides of charred flesh and
exposed bone, I started to shift in my seat. Theatrically leaning toward me, Margo asked
if I was in the mood for Taco Bell.
"You're ready for this," Sergeant Olssen beamed as I tied a double knot on a new
sterile gown. For the second time that hour, I stood by the scrub sink and stared at the
door to the O.R. Cloaked, masked, gloved, and petrified, I mustered a thank you to the
kind and sympathetic Sergeant Olssen, and as he opened the door I considered faking a
seizure. I folded my sterile gloved hands on my sterile gowned chest, and I knew that
just a few feet and moments away I was going to watch the unconscious, fifty year-old
Latin man's footless leg get even shorter in my first trauma surgery.
I breathed a deep breath, and I took four steps into the O.R., and sweet, buttered
Christ, that leg had seen better days. In my absence, the leg had been unwrapped and
stained orange with iodine. Doc Bloch and the handsome prick were chatting and holding
the leg up, making observations from various angles. Captain McCaffrey stood at the
head of the surgical table, presumably keeping the patient breathing while monitoring the
anesthesia and vital signs.
Sergeant Veysey pored over a meticulously organized and frightening medical
arsenal, preparing to hand over whatever cutlery might be requested. No one
acknowledged my entrance. I stood a few feet behind the doctors, inwardly rejoicing that
I had become a spectator again. Except for the subject leg, the fifty-year old Latin man
had disappeared completely under thin layers of surgical blue that blanketed the table and
cascaded to the floor. Listening to the doctors, I learned that our patient had crashed his
motorcycle and had had his foot amputated the week before. The remainder of his leg had
gotten infected, so the docs were going to have to trim off a little more. They were
discussing exactly how much more when they suddenly agreed and dropped the orange
stump onto a nest of sterile towels.
"Is Walker back yet?" Doc barked, turning his head to the side. My tongue
spasmed in my mouth, and I let out an involuntary gurgle. "Walker, what the hell are you
doing? Get your ass up here." There wasn't a hint of playfulness in Doc Bloch's voice, but
I knew he was reveling in this. He was training me while pandering to his audience and
amusing the shit out of himself, and it was my responsibility as the FNG to deal with it
passively. The two doctors made room for me at the surgical table. As I approached, I felt
like I was walking the plank.
The stump was bloody and scabby and within arm's reach. A lot of the tissue was
dying and dead, yellow and black. In the center of the hideous mess was a protruding
tibia. The bone jutted an inch or two beyond the stump. It had been cut off at about mid-
calf. I was mesmerized and struck dumb.
"Scalpel!" Doc ordered.
Upon hearing that word, I was confident that I had seen what I was supposed to
see. Surely "Scalpel!" was my cue to leave. I was about to slip away when Doc put the
scalpel in my hand. He lifted the stump at a forty-five degree angle and directed me to cut
four millimeters deep around the perimeter of the leg where the skin had died, then he
held up the leg and looked at me expectantly. I realized that any protest was futile. This
was happening. In a few moments, I would be able to add surgery to my list of life
I examined the stump, looking for a definitive line between living and dead tissue.
There wasn't one. Settling on a yellowing patch, I made my first incision. The blade went
through the skin with little resistance. I cut slowly and carefully, holding the scalpel like
a pencil. It was like drawing. For a second I mused about signing my name, leaving a
permanent autograph in the Latin man's leg.
"That's all dead," said Doc after I had cut less than two inches. "You have to err
on the side of living tissue. If it bleeds, it's alive. We can't leave dead tissue on the leg.
That's how it got infected in the first place. This guy isn't going to be pissed if he loses a
little skin. If it gets infected again and he loses more leg, he's going to have a tough time
getting a decent prosthetic." With that, Doc took the scalpel, made an inch-long incision
into obviously living tissue and said, "Start there."
Blood was already seeping out of Doc's incision when he handed back the scalpel.
Following his line, I completed the perimeter in about a minute. When I was finished, I
was oddly pleased. I had faced the gore with surprisingly little drama.
"You can peel off the dead flaps," Doc offered, interrupting my self-
"You can," I countered.
"No, it's easy." Doc placed his thumb near the incision and peeled off a strip of
dead tissue. Then he tossed it into a blue plastic tub marked SPECIMEN.
I mimicked Doc and began thumbing off strips of tissue around the incision. At
some point in the previous minute I'd unconsciously decided that the more I hesitated, the
more Doc would torment me. I still couldn't fucking believe what I was doing. I expected
some uniformed authority to barge in, seize me, and put me in a cage for decades. But
somehow, amidst my hands and fingers following Doc's orders, while ten medical gods
watched without protest or criticism, I'd been instilled with some relative of comfort. No
longer was my heartbeat thudding in my ears, and my sweaty, fumbling hands were
starting to move deliberately.
After I had finished thumbing the stump's perimeter, Doc rested the leg on the
table and barked for the next instrument he wanted. I can't remember the instrument's
name, but to me it sounded like he said "Bring me the Lightning Disemboweler!" His
booming voice, coupled with my ignorance of the instrument's function, quickly rid me
of any notion that I knew what I was doing.
Sergeant Veysey handed the Lightning Disemboweler to Doc who handed it to
me. It was heavy and shaped like a pistol. In place of a muzzle was a wide, horizontal
blade with very small teeth. I soon learned that it was a bone saw. Doc instructed me to
pull the trigger, so that I could see how it worked. I did, and the machine screamed to life.
Its electric whirr sent the wide blade with small teeth into a jostling, menacing frenzy. I
silently concluded that this trade of healing that I had joined was just well-disguised
Apparently a single trigger-pull is all the training required for the Lightning
Disemboweler because Doc's next instruction indicated the place in which to cut. Just
below the patient's knee, I was to saw through about two and a half inches of protruding
tibia. I placed the machine's blade on the patient's bone and after confirming that I was in
the right place, pulled the trigger. The blade tore into the bone, sending small fragments
of tissue to its sides as it jostled. To my amazement, the bone began bleeding. I had
always thought of bone as the hardened, lacquered type of biology classroom skeletons.
Living bone is wet and spongy, and, like all living things, doesn't appear to enjoy being
sawn. Before my whirring blade reached the back of the tibia, the infected, distal bone
fell and swung like a hinge at the place of my cut. I relaxed my trigger pull, and the blade
fell still and silent. The hanging bone reminded me of the balsawood soapbox derby
racecars that I'd cut and shaped with my dad as a boy scout, except this wasn't balsawood,
"Finish cutting, Walker," commanded Doc Bloch in a tone that suggested that I
needed to stop sniffing glue at work. I aimed the blade at the remaining hinge of bone and
pulled the trigger. Screaming again to life, the Lighting Disemboweler made quick work
of the rest. The truncated chunk of tibia fell to the table, and Doc dropped the patient's leg
next to it. The handsome prick plucked the bone from the table and tossed it into the
Doc Bloch took the Lightning Disemboweler from my hands and passed it to
Sergeant Veysey. My panic had diminished, but its place had been filled by a bewildered
daze. I felt my movements occur, but they didn't seem voluntary. The professional ease
and quiet confidence of the men around me seemed bizarrely inappropriate. Cutting off a
man's leg is a grossly impolite thing to do, yet I was surrounded by authorities who
witnessed the assault without objection. Doc called for the next instruments and indicated
that one of them be given to me. I turned robotically to Sergeant Veysey and, to my
surprise and delight, saw that he was fuming. It was a beautiful thing.
Until that moment, it hadn't occurred to me that anyone on the planet would be
envious of my position, but Sergeant Veysey clearly was. He couldn't imagine handing
one of his instruments from his table to me. He handed things to doctors, officers, up the
chain of command. I was a private and therefore a shitstain, a creature so unthinkably
useless, stupid, and vile that it needed constant correction. Whenever Sergeant Veysey
addressed me as "Private Walker," he spat the word private like it tasted bad. Over the
previous six months, he had ordered me to do thousands of push-ups, among assorted
other demeaning tasks. And now our commanding officer had issued an order that
disrupted order itself.
I thought Veysey's head might explode. There was heat in his stare as he was
deciding how to deal with the situation. It was a rare and bizarre role reversal, and though
it wasn't my fault, I knew I'd pay heavily for it later. So I decided to revel in the moment.
I winked at him.
Veysey didn't react to the wink. He probably thought he was hallucinating. He
solved his dilemma by handing my instrument to Doc, who turned and gave it to me. Its
steel handle was thick and ten inches long and angry. At the end of the handle was a
sharpened, steel hook that vaguely resembled a coat hanger. The thing looked medieval.
Apparently Doc could smell my ignorance because he quickly turned and took my hook
away, sinking it into the center of the tibia's bleeding bone marrow. Pulling the steel
handle backward and upward with two hands, Doc lifted the stump again to forty-five
degrees and nodded to me.
"Hold it like this, Walker."
I ducked under Doc's arm and grasped the steel handle with my right hand. Doc
released his grip, and I almost dropped the stumpy leg. With both hands on the hook's
steel handle, I lifted the leg to the height Doc had requested. The full weight of the stump
was only twenty-five to thirty pounds, but holding it aloft with outstretched arms while
the doctors examined it was no mean feat. The effort made me conscious of my hefty,
ventless clothing and the rivers of sweat underneath while salty beads trickled down my
forehead into my eyes, and from my gloved hands to my flexed arms, shoulders, and
The doctors became preoccupied with their hunt for dead tissue, and my struggle
and I faded into the background. From where I stood, I couldn't see what damage they
were inflicting on the stump. Doc would cut with the scalpel, then lay it on a towel and
resume the onslaught. The handsome prick had a ghastly probing device in his right hand
and seemed to be facilitating Doc's massacre. Intermittently, bloody chunks of red and
black tissue fell onto the white towel beneath the elevated stump. The handsome prick
dutifully fielded each and tossed them into the specimen tub.
"What do you do with the tissue in the specimen tub?" I asked, immediately
astonished at my own question.
"Shut up, Walker," answered Sergeant Veysey.
"Sautee it with paprika and lemon," answered the handsome prick.
"Bring it to a taxidermist," answered Captain Loughlin.
"Give it to the patient in a doggy bag," answered Doc Bloch.
Vowing silence for the rest of the surgery, I went back to my struggle against
gravity. Despite the frequently falling hunks of tissue, the leg seemed to be getting
heavier. I was no longer perspiring. I was raining. Every joint was cramping, but I was
determined not to draw any more attention.
"That's necrotic," observed the handsome prick after prodding something with his
"Yep," agreed Doc. "That's gotta go," and another bloody piece of flesh tumbled
and found its way to the specimen tub. Necrotic quickly became my least favorite word.
Every time one of the doctors said necrotic, it meant that they had found more dead
tissue, which meant there was more to cut and more to investigate, which meant
I had to keep holding the stump aloft. The weight was getting unbearable. I prayed for the
Latin man's tissue to live, to be whole. I needed the Latin man to be healed. Either that or
die. I couldn't hold this much longer.
"Wow. Look at this," Doc said in surprise. "I think most of his hamstring is
Without my consent, my throat made a short and very quiet humming sound. It
was my body's fervent protest. It was barely audible. I hadn't quit or relaxed. My arms
were still flexed and rigid. The stump hadn't fallen an iota, but the sound had been made
and I couldn't unmake it.
"Walker, could you hold the leg a little higher? My neck's getting tired at this
angle," Doc said without looking up.
I lifted the leg a few inches higher.
"A little higher, please," Doc pleasantly requested.
Someone snickered behind me— a fun, new game with the private. I sucked in a loud,
strained breath, raised the leg a little higher, and accepted my loss. My personal struggle
was again community entertainment.
Doc put the scooping rod down, glanced up at me then picked up the scalpel and
refocused on the stump. "I'm going to cut a few inches under the thigh to see how far the
necroses goes," he announced. Then, without looking up, Doc asked, "Is that getting
"No sir," I panted audibly.
"Do you need a potty break?"
"You just let me know when your little muscles are tired."
"Thank you, sir."
For the next several minutes, Doc and the handsome prick continued their attack
on the dead hamstring. Finally Doc said, "I think that's it." He nodded to me and I almost
dropped the leg onto the operating table. I placed the steel hook next to the stump and
began to regain feeling in my shoulders, arms, and hands.
Doc gave a new order for another pistol shaped instrument. This one had a hose
attached to its handle and a clear plastic cup-shaped muzzle. "You're going to use that to
wash off the leg, Walker. Put the cup against the tissue and try not to make a mess. Use
your other hand to shield the splash."
Behind me I heard Doc Bloch tearing off his surgical gown. That indicated that
his role in the surgery was over.
The handsome prick held the leg up. I placed the cup against the tissue and my
hand around the cup and pulled the trigger. Blood, water, and small bits of tissue began to
rain on the operating table. In less than a minute, it looked like I was done. I relaxed my
trigger finger and looked up for approval.
"All right, we're good to go." Doc Bloch threw his mask, gown, and gloves into
the hazardous waste bin.
Captain Loughlin began wrapping the stump in what looked like yellow Saran
Wrap. The attending audience began to shuffle out through the swinging door. Doc Bloch
waited while the handsome prick tore off his sterile gear, and then they both left the OR.
Sergeant Veysey was repacking his gear. I stood, without orders, mystified.
"You're done, Walker. Congratufuckinglations, you popped your cherry.
Start picking shit up," ordered Sergeant Veysey. "You ever wink at me again, I'll cut your
nuts off and feed 'em to you."
I tore off my gown and mask, marveling at what I had just done, and marveling
still at insouciance of the rest of the F.S.T. They were heroes and so good at what they
did, they couldn't share my awe at their skill. I wondered how this be could routine to
anyone. As I bent over and began picking up surgical refuse, the door swung open again.
It was Doc Bloch. He grinned at me, and said, "Good job, Walker." The door swung
closed, and he was gone.
A few seconds passed before I realized what the praise meant. "I'm a medic," I
stated as a smile crept across my face.
"No shit," answered Sergeant Veysey. "Now get back to work."