The following year, 1973, Don and I transferred to Travis Air Force Base in California,
a different location but for me, a continuation of the Texas scene. Work,
drink and avoid sleep. I took a job the Air Medical Staging Facility,
a large receiving station where most of the casualties from Vietnam were sent. As
many as three hundred a day came in on C-141 cargo planes. We admitted
them, provided care and as soon as they could safely travel, shipped them to
a military hospital as close as possible to their home of record.
- With few exceptions (no bombs or bullets), her stateside work environment
mirrored her tour in Vietnam. Traumatized individuals often seek out
opportunities to be in environments similar to the ones in which the traumatic
events were experienced.
The irony of that assignment was not lost on me. There I was, looking
at the same injuries, the same wounded boys I’d seen in Vietnam. Like
one of those crazy, closed-loop Escher paintings, frequently, I wondered about
the Carol Jean who now brought them out of the battle zone and put them on
the airplane to send to me.
I found this work exceedingly difficult. On
the battlefield, a wounded soldier thought only of his buddies and his duty. Once
they hit the States, however, horrible reality set in. Away from their
comrades, they were frightened and alone. Somewhere inside, I processed
how painful that was for them, and it was killing me. As difficult as
it was for me to face their pain and sorrow, if I tried to avoid it, I was
overcome with guilt and shame. Eventually, I asked for and received a
transfer to the hospital surgical intensive care unit.
going well at home, either. I drank more, and my
nightmares grew worse. At night, I was afraid to close my eyes. Afraid
terrifying sleep would grab me and not let go.
- Now, Carol Jean experiences a wide array of PTSD symptoms - detachment
from others, foreshortened future, difficulty falling or staying asleep,
inability to sustain loving feelings, difficulty concentrating and night
Our marriage survived because Don worked in the operating room with me, and
we saw each other often. Even though confused and unstable, I was a good
wife, and he never lost patience with me, never said an unkind word. Don
was a wonderful man and a loyal and supportive husband. The problems
in our marriage did not start with him. I’ve since wished
many times in my life I had someone to love me as much as he did.