Tracy treated casualties in the Vietnam War, the Gulf War and Afghanistan, and rose to colonel while sandwiching her Army career around a 15-year break to raise a Wisconsin family. Now, she’s back on active duty at San Diego’s Balboa Naval Medical Center.
I first came into the Army in 1967 and went to Okinawa, where we served the wounded from Vietnam. A lot of fellows got hurt. During the Tet Offensive in 1969, our hospital doubled in occupancy. We were working six days a week, 12 hours a day, getting 60 air evacuees every other day. We had them hanging from the ceiling.
Back then, you didn’t see amputated soldiers staying in the service, but we’re seeing more and more of that. They’re just strapping on that leg or that arm and they’re out the door again. The military had a thing where they could get back into active duty if they had a below-the-knee amputation, but so many are coming back with above-the-knee amputations, if not worse. We’re making incredible strides with prosthetics.
You have multi-trauma patients, and psychological problems from post-traumatic stress syndrome. Sometimes you need to be tough, sometimes compassionate. There’s a lot of grieving. They’ve had a huge loss. They’ve lost part of themselves.
In Afghanistan, we didn’t take care of as many Americans, because if they got hurt, they got flown out so fast. The Afghan kids or people who stepped on land mines often made it to our door and got emergency care. Out in the countryside, they have disabled people, and all these kids who’ve stepped on land mines, so there’s no shame about losing a limb. They’re very accepting of that in Afghanistan.
I retired in 2005. In 2008, after the problem with Walter Reed, it became evident there was a need to address the wounded coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan. The Army Nurse Corps sent out an e-mail to those who were retired, asking if we’d consider coming back to active duty. I just could not turn down that request.
There’s something about the American soldiers. And they have remained the same over the years I’ve taken care of them. I mean, I probably got a lot more pinches 40 years ago. But they’re still energetic, they’re hopeful, they’re fun. I know they can overcome whatever problems they have.
– as told to Kay Nolan