Just after a month of being downrange in Balad, Iraq, in 2006, where I was a Combat Flight Medic, I received a wounded Marine via Medivac. I immediately noticed his praying hands, which were wrapped with a rosary and resting on his left pectoral. Upon further inspection, I saw that his body was riddled with shrapnel, that he had a gunshot wound, and that he had burns on 30 percent of his face and body. Although I will never forget his battered and beaten body, it was his need for his mother that to this day holds a deep place in my heart.
I have always treated the whole person, not just the wounds of my patients, but this particular Marine needed more than my medic abilities. He was intubated, because his wounds wouldn’t allow him to breathe on his own, and he was in severe pain, all the while being fully awake. Because he was frightened, I stayed by his bedside. Regardless of whether I was working on him, I kept vigil, holding his hand, smoothing back his hair, and telling him stories to keep his mind off the pain. When we reached the point where there was nothing further we could do to save him, I sang him a lullaby, as his mother would have done to ease the demons of the night when he was little. Just before he passed, I saw a single tear fall from his young eyes. I could not save him, but I vowed to live my life for us both. My accomplishments would not be mine; they would be ours. My love, sadness, and joy would also be ours.
I decided that everything I did I would do for all those I carried with me as well as for myself. To this day, I may be weighed down by thoughts of those I lost, and I still feel the pain of loss, but I also feel honored to have their memories with me. They give me strength to carry on when things get tough. They remind me that life is worth fighting for. That we are worth fighting for.
Melissa Weidner spent seven and a half years in the U.S. Air Force as a Flight Medic. She worked as an Advance Trauma Life Support both in the air and on the ground. She is a fifth year UCSB senior graduating this spring with a BA in Psychology and a minor in Applied Psychology.
This Voice was originally submitted in 2019, and the link was re-posted in 2021.