Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A War Story

A recent article from Christian Medical and Dental Association. Worth the read. I promise.

When Every Turn is Toward Death
by Jim Ritchie, MD, Captain, Medical Corps, United States Navy, Naval Medical Center, Portsmouth, VA

A friend of mine found himself in the middle of a war. He was a general medical officer in the Navy, fresh from his internship. He was in a tent combat-support medical unit, far forward in the fight. Along with the help of four corpsmen, he was desperately trying to save the lives of three badly injured U.S. Marines. Their injuries were prodigious.

Though the Marines might possibly be saved, there weren’t enough people to do all the work, and they were beginning to lose the battle against death. Just then, soldiers brought in an enemy combatant prisoner who was also very seriously wounded. His wounds appeared to be more serious, but he remained conscious. Knowing his obligation to the enemy as per the tenets of the Geneva Convention, my friend turned to treat the enemy soldier. The corpsmen and other conscious Marines were outraged, and called for him to return to treating the Marines. Just then, the enemy soldier caught sight of the injured Marines . . . and laughed at them. As he was in the same unit as the injured Marines and knew them personally, my friend was disgusted with the enemy soldier and returned to his Marines. But that wouldn’t do. The soldiers who had brought in the enemy belonged to a special forces group; they had been pursuing this man for a week and had lost two of their own men in the firefight that day. This combatant was a “high-value unit” and possessed valuable information. They told him, “Doc, you have to save this guy.”

Imagine yourself in his place. What would you do? The war is raging outside your tent. You must act. Decide now. You don’t have time to think. Each choice will result in death. But you’ll have to live with that choice for the rest of your life.

[I skipped a few of the other stories he tells...CLICK HERE to read the rest]

We hate the “no-win scenario.” We want to be like Captain Kirk from “Star Trek” who contends, “I don’t believe in the no-win scenario.” We want to have a last-minute revelation that will save the day and the patient. Such an idealistic mindset is the stuff of fun movies and great stories. I think it is hard-wired into us by our Creator, who has given us a vision of Heaven or of the world as He made it originally. But if misunderstood, this idealistic mindset can create horribly inappropriate expectations. I know of many military personnel, medical and otherwise, who have been crushed emotionally by overly idealistic expectations of themselves and their abilities.

This isn’t Heaven. It’s a fallen place. And here, the no-win scenario is very real. War and catastrophe provide an overabundance of no-win situations. By all means, we should try for the right outcome. But when confronted with a no-win situation, we should recognize it as such, pray for guidance and realize that the power to make it all better is not ours.

Let’s return to the story of my friend in the tent hospital. The special forces soldiers ordered him to take care of the injured enemy soldier instead of the Marines. He refused and treated the Marines. As a result, he saved two Marines and lost one. And the enemy soldier died. He was later charged with violations of the Geneva Convention and with disobeying an operational order. When I last spoke with my friend, he was the subject of a formal investigation. (I am embarrassed to say that I lost contact with him, and am unaware of the outcome of the investigation.) When he told me of his predicament, I tried to tell him that the accusations were unjust and that he was innocent. I tried to reassure him that surely he would be found not guilty.

[This next part is so so good...!]

But he corrected me. He realized that he could have called for additional resources and could probably have saved all of the Marines, as well as the enemy soldier. He told me, “After I got past my denial, I realized that I am responsible for the death of two people, and indirectly wasted the loss of the special forces guys who died bringing in the enemy soldier. What I don’t need is for some judge to declare me not guilty. I am guilty. What I need is to be forgiven. And I asked God to forgive me, and He has. After that, all this other stuff isn’t as important anymore.”

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