Playing Doctor

Initial Visit?

Monday, June 27

The Patriot Act: Scene One

When I was younger, I wouldn’t have considered myself a patriot.

Patriots were joiners. They flew flags and pasted decals. They maybe didn’t know too much about American history, but by god, they watched football and ate apple pie. They didn’t question authority and had nothing but respect for the president.

Aside from the apple pie, that didn’t much describe me, so I didn’t really consider myself much of a patriot. But something changed for me a few years back.

Part of it, to be sure, is living in a town with a large Naval base. In the hospital we train Special Forces guys. We teach them how to quickly throw in IV lines, triage injuries, control bleeds. More than anything, we let them see what trauma looks like so they aren’t as likely to freak out in the field when they are actually needed. When they leave here, they are dropped into hell zones. We’ve been doing this training for a little less than two years, maybe one or two hundred guys have gone through the program. Five have already died.

My friend, a cardiac nurse, has a son who shipped out just after Christmas in 2003. He was supposed to go for less than six months. He’s still in Baghdad. His picture is on the front of her locker. When I walk past it to get my coffee I see him—young and brave—smiling at his mother behind the camera.

When I talk to her about him, her eyes always water.

On her locker next to his picture is a decal of the American flag.

It’s easy enough to point out that such experiences should have a distancing effect on me: that kids dying at war should make me angry at my country or its leaders.

But my response—my actual, visceral response—is closer to jealousy. These kids loving my country so much that they are dying for her makes me realize how she’s wonderful. How she’s desirable. How she’s, frankly, magnificent.

I realize it’s not logical. I realize it’s maybe not even reasonable. But it was part of the foundation for my newly realized patriotism.


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