Gary Jacobson

ODE TO THE MEDIC

Ode to the medic, who never stood so tall
As when bending to help brothers who by enmities anger fall
For these combat physicians feel the spirit of duty’s call
To administer aid in succor to those in suffering pain
To comfort in solace those whose souls nagging battle stain
Regardless of man’s wind and fire and pouring rain.

A medic ministers tender relief mid battle’s distresses
Holds a brother’s hand in soothing caresses
Praying withering fire for one moment be suppressed
Applying a healer’s hands to mend the sore oppressed
Feeding a brother’s soul in times by the angel’s blest
Helping God guide a dying brother to his final rest.

Medic, O medic
Racing to hover o’er a buddy with such unmitigated dread,
Lay your therapeutic hands upon a brother’s head
Bring this soldier back from dark lands of the dead
Breathe life into this dusty mass burned motley black
Stifle life’s blood seeping from every fissured crack.

Medic, O medic, restore angry red flesh crumbling
Restore a body like charcoal ash flaking
“Doc, I’m too pretty to die. That a tear in your eye?”
Said a soldier through thin lips distorted in pain
Felled by a cruel war abiding insane.
And even God Almighty won’t stop the monsoon rain.

“You just might make it,” Doc lied grimly
“You get aid quick enough,” he whispered sincerely.
“I’ll breathe sweet life back into you, you’ll see.”
But saw his brother’s legs were blown away
Only bloody nubs remaining, pink and gray
Smells of charred flesh permeating desolate day.

A wounded warrior moans in dying rhapsody
Hurt, afraid, by war cankered bloody
One severed leg lay beside him…
Mid smoke and cordite smell motley grim…
Boot and pant leg intact
Blood-stained remnant of the grim attack.

Somebody had found his limb in battle’s light dim
Lying his leg beside him.
Perhaps thinking “Doc” could simply plug it back in
Like sis’s Barbie Doll when losing an arm, leg, or head
Plug up the holes leaking crimson red
Using some miraculously healing med.

Doc worked, with one eye on his buddy
The other watching the bushes for recalcitrant Charlie
Working despite threatened harm
He put a sling on his friends shattered arm
Doing his job where men did their worst in vile anger
Where violent danger was no stranger.

Doc put pressure on a wound where a bullet hadn’t missed
Exiting a hole twice the size of your fist
That bullet designed to tear and twist
To turn and rip on impact
To leave an excruciated body by torment racked
Shattering mortal bone.
“I gonna be okay, Doc?” he asked with frightening tone.
“O God, I’m scared, cold and alone.”

“You’ll be alright,” Doc lied
I get this anguished bleeding stopped curdling inside.”
Doc pulls the tape tighter around the splints
Looking away so the eyes don’t give away hints.
“Brother, you’ve lost a leg, but your life’s impearled
You just won a one-way ticket back to the world?”

“Oh God, it hurts. It hurts so bad.
Doc, why do you look so sad?
Where am I? I feel like such a bonehead!”
Fitfully he screams in blinding shock
“Can’t you give me something frightful pain to block?
God, I’ve never felt more pain in my life
Why are you cutting me with that cold knife?

“Doc, where am I? What happened?”
Said Doc’s friend through lips battle blackened
“Cutt… is Cutt all right?” he quietly whispered
Through body heaving, so badly fractured.
“I saw him fall… Cutt make it through the fight?
Oh what tales we’ll tell when I see him tonight.”

“Yes, he’s fine,” Doc lied. “He’s just resting.”
“Doc, I saw the VC supply depot exploding
Doc, did we get some?
Damn ‘em!
“Yeah, we got some,” Doc said
His hands holding his brothers covered sticky red.

“I could see it in crescendo burning…
All night raining molten fire exploding
I could feel its heat my skin scorching.
Doc, how many were there? I saw VC falling everywhere.”
Doc, my mouth feels dry like chalk.
How soon can I get back to the battle walk?”

Doc calms a brother’s flashbacks hallucinating,
Reliving old remembered stories past dreaming
Doc just goes along. Better for him he keeps talking
Keep him from thinking
From on the truth dwelling.
“Doc, must have been two companies come charging?

God, they’re coming at us from two directions killing…
God, kill ‘em, kill ‘em, Oh God, kill ‘em!
“Doc, ‘A’ Company, hundred and ten men… good men!
Fifty percent annihilated… mowed down, mutilated.
Doc, we don’t have enough ammo.
They just keep coming. Oh Doc, I don’t wanna fight no mo’.”

Doc, it hurts. It hurts so bad to the bone!”
“I’m here,” said Doc. “I won’t leave you alone.”
Hold a dying brother, trying hard not to cry,
Choking through a mouth bricky dry,
“Oh Doc, we’ve got to get reinforcements…
We need more men, more ammo, more armaments.”

“Doc, I want to rise… so hard to stay still
So much I need to finish, in that brush to kill
Damned Charlie… How dare he kill me!
Death can’t now my victory rob.” He began to sob.
Gotta fight till the fighting’s done, it’s a grunt’s job.”
“Oh God, It’s not fair… it’s just not fair.

“Doc, we got into more trouble than we could handle
Got ourselves into one hell of a muddle!
Now I’m here ‘tween heaven and hell astraddle
On the battlefield lying
With the last breath in me crying
Before the gods of war dying.

“Doc, what happened? Who else is there?
Who else did a bullet with their name on it dare?”
Doc bit down hard on barbed-wire lips
As life’s fluids slowly from a brother’s torn body drips.
“Just you,” Doc lied, as with rivers of tears he cried.
For Doc saw in his brother’s eyes the final pride.

“I’m going home to the world with a Purple Heart.
Mother will be so proud… O the bragging she’ll start.
Purple heart… George Washington… he’s the best
Be proud to wear George on my chest
George Washington… he was a bad mothah.”
“Yeah,” Doc said, “George was a bad mothah.”

“Purple heart’s for soldiers wounded in action hostile
That a warrior’s rusty blood does rile…
Oh God, I’m dead.”
“You’re not dead. You’re not dead,” Doc said
“Believe me now in my warrior’s word…
Still in your heart the ireful sword.”

“Doc, I don’t wanna go back to ‘the world,’
They don’t wanna see this warrior’s spirit unfurled.
They won’t like what I’ve become when I get back
Living with the demons my soul constantly attack.
Doc, tell them I’m no damned hero!
I’m just another grunt sent this verdant land to furrow
Planting seeds of peace to grow.”

“My mother won’t like me. I’m scared as shit.”
“She’ll be glad to see you. She’ll understand a bit.”
“Doc, she won’t understand.”
“You’re her son. She loves you! She’ll understand!”
“She don’t know I’m a killer… haunted by men I’ve killed.
By the Nam forever drilled.”

“Christ, ev’ryone’s done that,” Doc did impart
“But I’m a killer, in my heart.
Killing’s the only thing I know how to do good
Rousting the neighborhood with the brotherhood.
Am I too hard, Doc? She won’t like me bein’ so hard.
But I just did my duty, ‘cause I’m no coward.”

“She tol’ me her friends don’t like hearing about the war.
Says my brother’s friends protest the war.
They say his brother is a ‘baby killer.’
She told me if I talk about the killing she won’t be writing.
She writes stuff like that… letters wet from tears she’s crying.
Doc, it’s like she can’t handle thoughts of me dying.”

“Oh God, I’m sore afraid… it hurts!”
“Don’t talk like that, for fear the will-to-live subverts
You’re gonna make it. You’re one of the lucky ones.
You’re gonna be all right… I feel it in my bones.
Just rest now, everything’s okay. You won the lottery
Won a Purple Heart and ticket home today.

“Doc, I can’t feel anything… is my leg still there?
I don’t wanna die, Doc, please don’t let me die here.
Mother’s convinced herself I’m just off to college, see
Pretending I’m on a foreign vacation spree
… just not here.
Maybe it would be better for us all if I die here.”

“You’re gonna be just fine,” Doc, humoring him lied
Making a brother’s last minute easy as possible while he died
Though calming assurance his tortuous inner grief belied
All keeping Doc from screaming was his pride.
Though he was glad it wasn’t him there dying
Fighting rising guilt within building.

“Am I dead? Am I dead? Please, tell me if I’m dead.
Will I die from sore foul wounds I’ve bled?”
I don’t wanna die in no damned jungle.
Leave my blood with this alien land to mingle.
Don’t let me die in no damned jungle, God.”
Don’t want my blood nourishing Vietnam sod.”

Doc watched the lights go out,
Looking heavenward, felt inside the primal shout.
Sometime later, drawn, melancholy and blue
Slumped sick and weary of war, and its dying too
Doc watched through an opening in the jungle canopy
Tired and chock out of all charitable philanthropy.

Doc watched for the dust-off medevac to come
To take another brother home!
He knew he couldn’t save them all
For him the order was too tall
He could but do what he could do
To save lives mid jungle damps and dew
To bring a dollop of comfort where he could
To ease the suffering of the brotherhood.

Author’s Note: I personally owe my life to my Platoon Medic Bryant, whose quick action and healing hands helped stabilize me when sorely wounded in combat near Phan Rang, Vietnam. His actions were carried on by the quick acting and skilled staff of the Medevac helicopters carrying me to the aid station at the 8th General Field Hospital at Nha Trang, and by the doctors there who worked miracles. I was unconscious the whole time… about three weeks… so I never got to thank them, or meet them, before I was sent to Yokohama, Japan. My medical reports said I had a great deal of brain damage, and later doctors who examined me at the end of my 14 months hospitalization could not understand, for they said you should either be dead, or a human vegetable, there is no other alternative. But I’m not! All thanks to their efforts… to them this poem is dedicated.