Life (and work) at Camp Lejeune settled into a predictable routine. There were three shifts and we rotated through them on a monthly basis. “Graveyard” became my favorite shift; 11 PM to 7 AM, and I would often volunteer for it.
The volume of work remained almost constant and we could expect to see about 25 patients on the ward at any given time. The only exception to that was when the “war games” were being played. That was a time when we could expect the more serious injuries and a lot of them. Of course, most injuries were orthopedic in nature, with lots of broken bones. And some of the more horrific of injuries were the ones that came from automobile crashes. I remember one; a Marine, Donald Cadieux, who had been drinking, had crashed, and in the process, been ejected from the vehicle. The vehicle landed upside down on top of him but didn’t kill him. But the hot oil from the engine poured out onto his legs and one arm. He had fractures galore, a concussion and burns…and he ended up being on our ward for almost 6 months. He finally walked out, with crutches…and returned to limited duty. I still remember that one as a great success and I was happy to be part of it.
So you might say that I was glad to be in this line of work…and you would only be partially correct. Most of the time it was incredibly boring and I longed for something new and exciting. Dr. Noer had given me a taste of that excitement as he would come onto the ward when he had free time and would ask if I wanted to learn something new? Of course! I remember one time when he asked me to lance a boil on the back of a young Marine; a Private. Since the Private couldn’t complain; I outranked him…he gritted his teeth and lay down on the exam table. Dr. Noer explained the procedure to me. Using sterile procedure put a blade in the knife handle (scalpel). Now swab the area with Betadine. One hand on the patients back to hold the skin taut. Insert the knife blade into the area next to the boil and then bring the blade up, through the boil from the bottom. I must say it was a unique experience to cut through human flesh…scary! Did I say that we infused the area with Lydocain first? We did, and the Private didn’t even flinch. After cleaning out the wound, I got out the needle and thread and did a three stitch sewing job.