On Veterans Day, Free To Practice Radiology

November 12, 2012

On Veterans Day, I had the pleasure of performing a procedure on a proud WWII vet who risked his life that I may have the freedom to pursue the career I chose.

On Veterans Day, November 11, 2012, I had the incredible pleasure of not only meeting one of the few surviving veterans of World War II, but also performing a procedure on an incredibly proud man who risked his life that I might have the freedom to pursue whatever career I chose. I was instantly reminded what so many others have sacrificed that I would not have to. What an incredible country in which we live!

I was on call, reading trauma CT scans and portable ICU chests on Sunday, of course missing all the football action. The ultrasound technologist enters the reading room and advises me that there is an ultrasound guided thoracentesis that needs to be done today, in the ICU no less.

I reviewed the prior chest films and CT that had been done two days earlier and decided that the drainage was probably indicated; at least I couldn’t in good conscience argue that it should be postponed until tomorrow. So I told the tech to go to the ICU, get the patient upright in his bed, scan his back to get the lay of the land and make sure “it was a go” and then call me. She did, and a few minutes later I was in the ICU. I walked into the room, introduced myself, re-explained the procedure to the patient and did my appropriate “time out.”

Then began my experience. As I’m infiltrating local anesthetic, he tells me he was a medic in the war. He asked me if I knew what day it was. Fortunately I could say it was Veterans Day. He said, “That’s right, young man. I’m 89 and I still remember.”

As I am palpating his intercostal space to plan needle entry we are talking about his WW II experience. He was on a PT boat and served in the Med. His boat’s task was to “race and strafe” as he called it through the Strait of Gibraltar and target German barges resupplying troops in the western Mediterranean theater.

Soon the needle enters the pleural space and he never bats an eye or flinches even one millimeter. The barges were low in the water and hard to hit with their surface guns. The PT boats could also shoot torpedoes, but the barges “didn’t draw much water,” forcing the PT crew to set the torpedo depth at only four to five feet or risk shooting under the barge without hitting it. Usually they missed the mark, but occasionally they scored direct hits. When they got shore leave it was usually to Casablanca or other Moroccan ports.

His eyes were clear, his mind was sharp, and he had a broad smile. He was immensely proud of how he had served our country and enjoyed reliving the experience, eager to share it with anyone who was willing to listen. As I worked, I was more than willing. After all, because of thousands like him, we are all able to make freedom choices, work and worship where we want and know that our children and future generations are free from tyranny.

My hat’s off to all veterans on Veterans Day 2012.