The Duty Crew briefing room was in the “on-call” Building 33 with seating for 40. However, instead of a conference table, a regulation 8-foot pool table had been installed. An additional 9-foot-by-8-foot room was attached as an alcove directly opposite the main entrance accessed by French-style doors. Sodas, milk, fruit and other forms of standard nourishment were stowed in an old-fashioned white refrigerator. “Property of the U.S. Navy” was stenciled on the lower door in battleship gray capital letters. Norman felt that if you stood still in one place long enough your backside would get the same stencil lettering.
“You all know the MOOD–Commander Ransom Friendly.” Norman waved his right hand in Friendly’s direction. The MOOD gave a curtsy-like bow with his head. Some hand clapping, whistles and catcalls ensued.
“Belay the noise.” LCDR Winnipeg “Curly” Norton shouted above the din. Norton was a bald 35-year-old Medical Service Corps or MSC officer and head of security. He would be accessing the teletype machines, organizing the air-evac arrivals, making rounds with the Marine MP Security force, enforcing the visiting hours, investigating all alcohol and drug-use cases, acting as “front” liaison with protesters and the media, and running interference on all incoming calls from congressman and their office staff. He had been in the Navy since age 18 and had worked his way up to officer rank from an Enlisted Seaman. He was a Lieutenant Commander, which was equivalent to a Major in any other branch of the military. Norton was in charge of Queens Naval Hospital Security during the regular hours and had assigned himself to the Christmas Watch.
“As long as you have the floor Mr. Norton, please give us your excerpts from the “Plan-of-the-Day.” Norman waved his hand toward him thereby transferring the speaker role.
“Very well. Gentlemen, may I have your attention?” Norton shouted. He was wearing the working white uniform, as was everyone else. The assembled Medical Officers all looked crispy white, clean-shaven and alert to face the long day and night ahead. In 24-hours they would all look like homeless, street people in wrinkled soiled clothes. “A Christmas Dinner in the main Officers mess hall is open to all Duty Crew and their families from 1200 to 1400 hours. Turkey, steamship round of beef and broiled scrod are the main entrees.” No response of joy was elicited. “Santa Claus will be dining with us today.” A roar of acceptance and applause followed. “Security will be undermanned but will be on full alert at the main gate, the train station, the heliport and throughout the hospital at selected possible trouble spots such as the minimum care ramps.” A murmur of individual conversations began. Norton was being ignored after the Santa Claus declaration.
“Gentlemen. Please. Let’s get this over with.” Paul Norman held out both palms on upraised arms.
“The first air-evac of about eight patients is due in by train at 0930 hours from Fort Dix,” Norton continued. “Forty to sixty stabilized medical, surgical and psychiatric patients will arrive in Army buses later at 1100 hours. All patients are reported as ambulatory, but you know what that means.” Past experience on all Air-evacs with such a label meant for everyone to beware. Some of the patients may indeed be critical. This was especially true when there was a political delivery of Vietnam returnees in the format of Richard Nixon’s Christmas decree. A drone of grumbling had to be interrupted for the call to order again. “I have three last announcements. First–all medical personnel are to report suspected prostitutes to the Junior Security Officer, who today is Lieutenant Angelo Pinino. Second–gambling, fighting or public displays of affection are to be discouraged. Third–the evening movie is the colorized version of “Miracle on 34th Street.” Boos, hisses and catcalls filled the room.
“Thank you, Mr. Norton.” Norman was the speaker again. “I’ll need a Surgical Watch Officer, an Internal Medicine Staff member and one of the two Psychiatrists to meet the air-evac with me. Since there are never any volunteers, Dr. Philos, Dr. Framunda and Dr. Leech are so assigned plus the three Interns stationed in the ER. The rest of you are to make rounds on your respective wards. Be quick and thorough. Remember all hands are needed for each air-evac. Dr. Brisbane, don’t get lost in the TB unit all day.” Buzby Brisbane brightened at the mention of his name and waved to Norman that he wanted to take the floor. “Go ahead Brisbane.”
“Any patient with a cavitary lung lesion is to go to the TB unit,” Brisbane stated, “You don’t have to call me from the ER. Just send down for one of my corpsmen. And I have one other thing. There are 23 more raffle tickets for Phantom sightings for today. See me and Corpsman Biggs after the meeting.”
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