LT (JG) ZETTLER
“I have to go to the train station for the first train air-evac. All eight patients are reported to be stable and none of them require ICU.” Zettler gave Norman’s left hand a squeeze. “I’ll call you and give you the list of diagnoses so you can update the MOOD. TA-TA.” She turned away from him and gave her behind a slight wiggle Norman knew was just for him.
God he was so much in love with her. Well, he had to focus on the emergency room now. It was one of the JMOOD’s charges. Two interns, one medical and one surgical, were working in the ER and they reported to him.
“Dr. Norman?” LT Ralston motioned the JMOOD over to a curtained-off area.
“What have you got here Dr. Ralston? I checked with the ER charge nurse and there are only three ‘worried-well’ patients on this cold Christmas morning.” Norman tried to be cheerful. He went behind the curtained examining area to come face-to-face with a young Hispanic woman with red eyes holding and swaying her 19-month-old daughter side-to-side.
“The baby’s in no distress but Teresa Sanio, the mother, says her father was putting together a Christmas toy and noticed a large metal nut was missing. They think the child swallowed it.”
“So what’s the big deal? The kid’ll just poop it out in 8-hours.” Norman smiled at the young mother. Her husband was in Vietnam and she was pretty much fending for herself except for the good intentions of her elderly father.
“She thinks the hardware will end up in the brain or the heart and her daughter will die.” Ralston looked at Norman and then back to Sanio.
“Dr. Ralston, 99% of pediatric medicine is treating the parents.” Norman liked teaching the Interns. He remembered his best teachers and vowed to emulate them and focus on imparting knowledge to the intern staff rather than berate them their lack of medical lore. “You have to deliver a sense of confidence and give the mother a sense of control and reassurance. X-ray the baby to make sure the nut is in the GI tract and if it is, show her the X-ray and tell her to strain the feces over the next 8-hours and call you when she retrieves the nut. When she does, give her a verbal pat on the back for a job well done. Straining shit is no fun and the family will be more vigilant with small objects around small children after this incident.”
As Dr. Ralston imparted the plan and lack of danger to the toddler, Norman looked over at the train station where Zettler was heading. There was a fringe of colored Christmas lights strung around the roofline. He wondered if the patients on the train would see them and whether it would be a morale booster. One thing he knew for sure. When those maimed Vietnam returnees got a look at his Minnie, their vital signs would surely improve. At least their pulse and blood pressure should go up, and for some, their manhood would be slightly elevated. He smiled and thanked God again for his good fortune with this woman.
“What are you looking at Huxley?” Zettler stopped walking to the hospital exit that would take her to the train depot. Huxley was staring out a window looking at the train station. “The teletype didn’t say respiratory therapy was needed for the incoming train patients.”
Huxley was startled by the intrusion into his thoughts. He was waiting to be called after the blast. “You never know LT Zettler. You never know.”
“What do you mean by that?” She gave him a stern look.
“I mean from past experience many of the reports we get from Fort Dix about the condition of the train air-evacs are wrong. Anyway, I’ll be available if you need me, ma’am.” He started to turn and leave.
“Huxley. I didn’t dismiss you.” Zettler was always assertive. It was what got her and Norman together. But she didn’t like or trust this corpsman.
“Yes, ma’am?” He turned a hateful gaze back to her.
“At the 12-hour report, I want you to have an adequate explanation for the failure of Moustaffa’s Byrd machine. LCDR Norton has called for a summary of all serious list and mortality events with the MOOD and JMOOD. They have to be presented to Captain Fascetta by 2300.”
“I’ll be there ma’am. Am I dismissed now ma’am?”
“I’m watching you, Huxley.” She looked over toward the train station. “I’m reviewing all previous incidents with your involvement and let me tell you right now there have been one too many. You’re dismissed.” Zettler turned around and headed out the door wrapped in her winter wool Navy uniform cape to join up with the security team, three corpsmen and the three other Duty nurses going to meet the train. Twice before when she was JNOOD, there were incidents indirectly involving Huxley. A patient almost died due to a respiratory therapy error and the other was about a staff-scheduling problem. Huxley had the duty each time.
The first one she had fortunately come upon occurred on Thanksgiving Day. Both she and Paul Norman had that holiday Duty too. A relative of a New York congressman came in on the air-evac with a supposedly malfunctioning chest tube. It turned out that the chest tube was draining and providing for proper expansion of the soldier’s lungs until Huxley arrived. Huxley had reported the malfunction.
“What are you doing here Huxley?” Neither Zettler nor the JMOOD had called him for this patient.
“I’m supposed to check any chest case that comes in with the air-evacs, ma’am.” Huxley became red-faced.
“You’re to come here only when the JMOOD calls for respiratory therapy. To my knowledge Dr. Norman didn’t call you.” She locked her eyes on his.
Zettler turned away as Huxley left the ER air-evac station writing something on his clipboard. As soon as she was far enough away from the chest-tube patient, Huxley wrapped a small half-inch piece of adhesive tape to kink the tubing. He placed it close enough to the adhesive tape wrapped around the chest tube attached to the chest wall that it could go unnoticed and when discovered would look like an accident.
The patient began to yell for help almost immediately as his breathing rapidly became labored. Norman and Zettler ran to the patient. Norman saw the Adams-apple shift from the midline and recognized the signs. He immediately checked the tubing.
“Minnie give me your bandage scissors quickly.” He unkinked the tubing with immediate release of the developing tension pneumothorax. Norman looked at the small piece of adhesive. “You’re going to be okay, soldier.” Norman turned to Zettler. “It’s a miracle this happened in the ER and not during the ride from Fort Dix.” Norman went back to the other patients.
Zettler noticed that the small piece of adhesive tape looked new and was sparkling white compared to the beige-looking older tape attached to the chest wall. She looked up to see Huxley rapidly walking away. She wrote an incident report and mentioned that Huxley had walked way from a patient in respiratory distress without doing anything about it. The incident would go on his permanent record. Had the patient died because of a tension pneumothorax there would have been hell to pay with a congressional investigation and a media splash.
The second incident she was indirectly involved with. It happened one week before Christmas Day. It was the day the Christmas Duty roster was posted and Huxley was pissed because he was taken off the list. For reasons that she couldn’t fathom, Huxley wanted to work Christmas. The other respiratory corpsman assigned to Christmas also wanted to be there since he had no family and his girlfriend, a dental corpswave, was also on the Duty Crew schedule. A scene broke out between Huxley and his colleague with Huxley still off the Christmas list. The next day Ginger Kinkleman, the dental corpswave, was involved in an auto accident along with her boyfriend and Huxley ended up on the duty roster. Zettler remembered what Huxley had said to the respiratory tech during their argument.
“Don’t count on being on Christmas Duty just yet. Things can happen.” Huxley did not mask that his words were a threat.
“Fuck you,” the other Corpsman said.
Zettler overheard the dialogue. She felt very uncomfortable about this scene. She checked into it and found that Huxley could not be linked to a location anywhere near the auto accident. Fortunately both people were not seriously injured but they were taken off the Duty Crew list for Christmas.
The words “You never know”’ kept creeping back to Zettler’s mind but she filed it away for now. She was almost at the train station. It was freezing cold and her ears were already numb.
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