Saturday, September 20, 2008

Follow That Dog

During the '80's, while working for McDonnell Douglas, I was on a long-term field assignment to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba: it was still a US Navy base in those days. GMTO was (and is) isolated from the rest of Cuba by fences and mine fields, and was very much a small town.

One morning I woke up feeling bad. Not real bad, but a little loose, maybe a flu or something — I pressed on. It continued for a couple of days, but I felt good enough to do most normal things. Then, one night I had the sweats and didn't feel like getting up in the morning. I finally got up and decided to go the the Naval hospital, because it was the only game in town. After some temperature checking and a little poking, probing, and blood siphoning, I was sent down to get x-rays. They felt the situation was serious and I was moved to the head of the line. I was next – right after they finished x-raying the police dog that had been run over.

About that time the fire alarm went off and everyone went outside. I wasn't feeling bad and walked out and chatted with a few other patients. After a while some corpsmen came out and were pretty unhappy with me. I needed to be on a gurney and under observation – right now. After the x-rays and the blood work came back, they upgraded me to critical.

So, onto the gurney and into a room where they could watch me (I was still feeling OK, but started feeling worse as they fussed about.) They didn't know what was wrong, but knew it was serious.

The next problem was that since I was non-government personnel they didn't want to work on me. Normally, they would call for a medivac and get me to Florida and into a civilian facility, but the doctor felt there was was no time. So, like it or not, I was being prepped for surgery and would be "next."

Part of the problem was they still didn't know what was wrong. The x-rays showed the inside of my abdomen was a mess and my white blood cell count was off the chart, but they couldn't isolate the exact problem. They thought I should be in extreme pain, but, I hadn't felt any pain over the few days, including when they were poking me.

Being a small, isolated town, there wasn't a large medical staff to figure things out. One surgeon and a couple of other doctors was about it.

I remember being on the gurney and the surgeon hovering over me, looking down. He said he would cut me here, and take a look. If he didn't see anything, he'd cut me over there and take a look. If they still didn't see anything, he'd roll me over and do some cutting back there.

The last thing I remembered was being in a very cold hallway outside the surgery, I had been drugged and was ready to go: in fact I was next — right after the surgeon finished on the dog.

A big cut for the appendix extraction and a little cut for the drain, and a few days in the hospital and I was almost as good as new. Much later one of the doctors told me they had added my case – the symptoms (or lack of), the blood work and the x-rays – to their training program.


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