After completing Navy Boot Camp and Hospital Corps School at Great Lakes in 1966, I found myself stationed at St. Albans Naval Hospital, Long Island, NY. I entered the Navy as an HN (E-3) due to my 2 years+ of College.
My first assignment was to the Thoracic Surgery Ward. Chest Tube bottles at the side of every bedside. I worked day and night shifts, learned how to tend and medicate young and old active military and their dependents. The first bedbath I had to give was to an Navy Airdale that was stationed on a wooden decked Aircraft Carrier duringWorld War II. The thing I remember most was that it was the first time I ever shaved another person with a straight edge razor blade (no holder, just a blade....later as an OR Technician, I would give full body preps, using that blade to shave "nipples to knees", etc.) Now in my early 60's myself, I look into the mirror and see that same .....What a flashback to know that I am just as old as that old sailor. I enjoyed my time on that Hospital Ward....those of us at night gave the patients Seconal for sleep....Question: Do you wake-up a sleeping patient to give them a prescribed sleeping pill? Did not get that question answered in Corps School. We completed our entries in the patients' Medical Charts at the end of our nightshift when only a Corpsman was on duty....a nurse could be called if a narcotic was needed from the locked cabinet. After awhile, we Ward Corpsmen figured out that we could note our final entries in our patients' Medical Charts, such as ( 0600 - Patient Slept Well with no Complaints) a little early, like say at 0400. We could then leave the Hospital as soon as the day staff and Corpsmen reported in at 0700 morning and we could go back to our barracks and sleep! Well, early one morning after 0430, I had 2 patients go into Chain-Stokes, gasping for their last breath, and subsequently dying at about the same time. The Doctor on call checked their vitals and let us complete the process. The junior Corpsman helped me to tie the patients legs together, tag their toe, cross and secure their arms across their chest, place a chin strap under the jaw and secured to the deceased's head....last step was to use a BIG syringe and needle to draw all the urine out of the bladder before taking them to the non-staffed morgue. Did the same for the other patient.....but, by the time I returned from the morgue to my Ward, YIKES, the day staff had arrived. The Head Nurse called me over with the patients' Medical Charts in her hand....obviously I did not have time to change the entries and times in those deceased patient's Medical Charts,and she said, " HN Steinberg, I see that you charted out at 0600 (actually written at 0400) that both "Patients Slept Well with no Complaints". OPPS....busted. They laughed and I was told to chart out at the right time and not try to beat the system. Enough said!
I was able to transfer as an On-The-Job Operating Room Technician 8483. I learned quickly and soon was scrubbing and circulating surgical case after case. The night crew would prepare, sterilize basic and specialty packs and instruments by steam or gas and put the right ones in each room for the day's schedule operations. The walls were Mary Mopped and the furniture and floors were drown in Betadine after each case....and short of an emergency case...the rooms were cleaned and awaited the sound of guernies being wheeled into the OR hallway for the 0800 operations. During the day, we moved the patients from the guerney to the operating table with a heave and a grunt...the patient was put under and the Circulating Corpsman would prep the patient with that straight-edged razor according to what the cards on the piano, where each caseor doctor's expected set-up and instruments were listed....some needed to be added from the Central Sterile Cabinet. One was assigned the Scrub Corpsman...so he did his thing at the scrub sink and the Circulating nurse, ultimately responsible for over-seeing that we did things by the book. The Scrub Corpsman came in with his sterile arms out stretched so he could slide his arms into his sterile gown, held by sterile forceps...once he stuck his hands into the sleeves, the circulating Corpsman pulled the gown on from the back and tied it off on the back...then the Scrub Corpsman would stretch his one hand into the first glove on the Mayo Stand....then he did contortions to get the other glove on without contaminating himself. He as now ready to gown the doctors and put their sterile gloves on...then the sterile sheets were placed on the patient and secured into the skin around the operating site with sharppointed towel clips.....OUCH...but then the patient was in dreamland. The instruments were set-up along a towel and the sutures (including those catgut ones in the glass vials that needed to be broken with a provided small metal file. The case proceeded when the doc asked for the scalpel...the OR tech needed to know which type of blade and ALL instruments needed for the case as it progressed ....there was NO asking by the surgeon for the right instrument.......however, I did keep a large, heavy Hemostat on my instrument stand to WACK the hand of any Resident Doctor that wanted to take an instrument off my tray.
Sponges had a blue opaque thread, the large LapSponges had a big metal ring.....all so that we did not leave a sponge in the bloody cavity of the operating site...While the Circulating Corpsman would layout the used sponges, the RN was responsible to account for all used during the case...she kept count and gave the word that the count was verified before the doctor closed. Sometimes the Circulating Corpsman, like me,would hide a sponge so that the RN would get flustered that she could not account for all the sponges, and even begin to call for the portableX-Ray machine.....Oh, here it is.....chuckle, chuckle, chuckle!
Don't ask when someone nicked the patient's bowl and the words CONTAMINATED echoed throughout the room... the room, with all the instruments, equipment and packs, including all the suture boxes on the Piano...could not leave theroom ....HELP...All gowns and packs were placed in laundry bag with contaminated taped all over it...now the room and everything in it were drown in Betadone and suture boxes and instruments placed in a laundry bag, which would be placed in a large laundry bag that was stuffed in the large steamor gas claves. Once, the staff placed the sutures and plastic items in the steam clave by mistake and we had a bag with a melted expensive mess was thrown out.......What a Life!!!
.....But in a few months, as an HM3 (E-4), after a few months of Fleet Marine Force training at Camp Pendleton (and spending my weekends washing my clothes in beautiful Oceanside), I would enter LIFE now as an 8404 "Green Navy DOC". Immediately, I flew across the pond via Continental Airlines, left my seabag at Camp Hansen, Oki , arrived in DaNang, where due to urgent need of Corpsmen, my orders were changed from 1st Mar Div to 3d Mar Div (and told to forget that rating as an Operating Room Technician...I was going to Camp Evans' BAS and on that famous day in January 1968, I would leave the 3/26 BAS and join my beloved MARINES on Hill 881S Khe Sanh with 3rd Platoon near the saddle with Mike Co. from Jan - April. Later, I was promoted to HM2 (E-5) and would continue to follow Lt. Boudria's 3rd Platoon (it was a good thing that our Lt. completed Vietnamese language school) on patrol along the Perfume River in Hue and then off Hill 55 into the deep triple canopy jungles and leech-infested rice patties of NAM.
FINALLY, I was ordered to 3rd Med in QuangTri, where once again I was scrubbing and circulating surgical cases as an Operating Room Technician, in an environment far different from the stateside OR Suites. We did surgery in a large Quonset Hut with a drain in the middleof the floor to wash the blood down and surgical packs and packed instrument sets sitting on open wooden racks......I will cover that adventure in a future article. My hats off to all the OR TECHS and the DOCTORS I had the honor of working with.....there were NO Navy NURSES or WAVES above DaNang...so I never had the pleasure of their skills.