Things are not Always What They Seem

Robert, my husband, and I were chatting waiting for our dinner at a restaurant. Somehow we got on our military experiences. chaplainI did my chaplaincy training at Maxwell Airforce Base. For one long weekend we bussed down to Eglin AFB in Florida. They put us all in one tent. I was the only girl in the group. We worked out a deal. I dressed under the covers of my cot and when the guys needed to dress they said, “Susan, face the wall.” I would roll over and read while they dressed. (Back then I could actually dress under a blanket.)

I was telling Robert about the night we did triage with the doctors and nurses at Eglin. The moulage team came to our tent and made us the victims of a bombing. After the bombs went off the doctors and nurses were to treat our “injuries”. There were two things the doctors and nurses weren’t prepared for. They were told we were a tent of chaplains. Which of course meant we were all men. The second thing was I was hanging out in the tent in my civies.

The moulage team made one of our team a burn victim. Several had broken limbs and concussions. I had a non-compound fracture in my arm and I was to act as crazy as I could possibly act. Then we waited for the bombs to go off.

Then the bombs started going off. I kicked into high acting gear. I came out of the tent shrieking and running. The medics were running everywhere. (I’m not sure they knew where the strike was to be either.) Eventually I was tackled by a medic. I was not going to make it easy on him. I got up and continued to run and shriek. He finally got both arms around me and kept shouting at me, “It’s just a drill, honey, just a drill.” That’s when I realized he didn’t know I was one of the chaplains. He dragged me into a tent.

When medics are doing triage there are three categories that they divide their wounded into. One category is Yes, you are wounded, but you can wait it’s not life-threatening. The second is You are in serious danger but if we can get to you right now we can fix you. And the last category is You are going to die anyway, so we will keep you comfortable but we are not going to waste time or resources to keep you alive. Perhaps this sounds heartless but it actually saves more lives. I think I was put in tent number 1 with the you can wait group. And just because I was in a tent did not mean my acting stopped.

In the tent they had me on a cot and I was holding my arm and crying and every new ordinances went off I would shriek and go nutsy. A supervisor came to the tent to check on their choices of triage division. He leaned over to me and whispered, “Try to get out of here.” He left the tent, I waited a few beats, then made a run for the door screaming. I was tackled by three big medics. (The bruises all over my body the next day were amazing.) They got me back on the cot and the nurse looked me in the eye and said,”I have just tied you to this cot.” So I dutifully struggled against the invisible ties.

When they called a halt to the activities, all three people in my tent turned their heads slowly in my direction to see what I would do. I gave it a few beats just for the drama of it. Then sat up and said,”Can I go now?” There was a collective sigh of relief in the tent.

We did another drill beginning at the commissary that evening. This time I had a compound fracture and another chaplain joined me in the nutcase department. By this exercise they had figured out I was one of the chaplains.

After we were done I went and took a shower. (It was summer in Florida after all.) As I was drying off I heard two nurses talking on the other side of the shower curtain. The basic drift of the conversation was that the nurses and medics did not know there was a girl in the chaplain’s tent. They thought I had wandered onto the compound somehow and did not realize it was a drill. I scared them pretty bad. They had no idea what to do with me. Civilians are really not supposed to be at these events. And if I had turned the crazy corner, what do we do now? That’s when I came out of the shower. Their faces showed they knew who I was. I thanked them for their strange compliments on my acting abilities.

Robert told me his favorite moulage/triage story. He had been similarly moulaged with a head injury…blood everywhere. He stopped at a McDonalds on the way home and the clerk almost fainted when she saw him.

Thank goodness this was nearly 30 years ago. Seriously, can you see me moulaged today? On a walker screaming and creak, creak, help me, creak, creak, what’s happening, creak, creak.

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