Friday, January 28, 2011

Where are they now?

I had to go to the dermatologist today to have a particularly nasty skin cancer taken out from the webbing of the fingers of my left hand. Not a great deal but when the nurse was dressing it afterwards she was told to use gelnet, a type of cotton webbing material soaked in a glycerin and Vaseline gel. I remarked that it was a long time since I had seen gelnet used and the last time I used it was to dress wounds on injured soldiers at a Repatriation (Veterans) Hospital and we used large 30 x 30cm sheets out of very large aluminium cans which we kept refrigerated. The nurse asked where this had been and I told her, I said we had guys who had arms and legs amputated (one a triple amputee from a mine explosion) a 'flail wound' that had peppered a guy with tiny pieces of shrapnel from his buttocks to his shoulders and even a couple of burns victims. She said that must have been a terrible experience!

I thought for a few seconds and told her "No! - it was an exciting time and a fun time!" She looked at me oddly so I explained that those guys had an irrepressible sense of humour, they were mischievous and practical jokers - it kept them going in terrible circumstances. I still remember the WAGS (Wives and Girlfriends) bringing in 1.5 litre bottles of coke which they had loosened the screw caps, emptied out a cupful (250mls) and replaced it with Bourbon and then screwed the caps back on. It was always a 'fun night' in the TV lounge after the Charge Sister had gone home (I reckoned she knew but was not about to interfere) drinking Bourbon and coke and joking and laughing. Some of those guys could not hold a glass to their mouth so we (the nurses) used to straw feed them their drinks. There was a primitive movie theatrette at that hospital but, strangely, it had poor disabled access so the guy who was a triple amputee (both legs, one below knee the other above knee and an arm above elbow) could not comfortably sit through a movie in a wheelchair. One of the WAGS was convinced to bring in a London Pram carriage which they put him in, wheeled him down and tipped it upright on the stair well of the theatrette so he was sitting upright and could view the move in reasonable comfort.

The nurse  laughed and said agreed that it would have been a real experience.

CRGH Multi Building, viewed from the west across Brays Bay

CRGH Showing the 'new' Emergency Department added since my days.
View is from the "10" end ward and shows the "20" end wing as well.

Three wards to a level, 110, 120, 130 and going up to the 6th level 610, 620, 630 with the Operating Rooms on the roof level (see previous image)

I wondered where some of those guys were now. I knew the whereabouts of at least two of them - the triple amputee who went on to complete an Army career as a supply NCO and the flail injury who is now an Aboriginal Rights activist and a prominent official of the Vietnam Veterans Association - but I've lost track of the rest.

In 1966 Jean Debelle was 26 and working as a
newspaper journalist for the Adelaide Advertiser
when she volunteered to work for the Red Cross
in the Vietnam War as a welfare worker with the troops.
Jean spent a year caring for wounded ANZAC troops
(from June 1966 until June 1967) in Vung Tau, Vietnam.


Steve Bennett said...

Wow John, I never knew you were a Vietnam Vet... Perhaps you should place this story in the Vetaffairs Newspaper, maybe you will get a surprising answer or two?

Sharon said...

Sorry about your hands, are they really sore?

Funny stories about your nursing experiences, I imagine you have a book's worth

JohnD said...

Steve - I am NOT a vietnam vet - never made any pretense at being that - I was a civillian nurse who worked in Repatriation Hospitals and who assisted in the one Medivac. I also gave time with Australian Civil Aid teams re-establishing public health systems in countries effected by war and disasters and I was an DFAT listed Registered Nurse for escorting ill and injured Australians being medically repatriated to Australia from overseas. I knew Jean Debelle from some of her other volunteer jaunts. Later, when I belonged to a Local Government, we had a team of LG volunteers who would give up their time to go areas (like Pacific Island commmunities) effected by natural disasters and give practical aid in restoring things like water supplies, roads and shelter.