With all of the world’s attention on the recent pandemic, I thought it would be fun to share an excerpt from my first novel, “Drafted: I’m Not Supposed to be Here.” This is a true story from my Army basic training when I caught “upper respiratory infection” and was sent to the hospital. Perhaps you will find the military’s solution to this highly infectious virus as crazy as I did.
Sarah started her day the same as she always did since becoming an Army nurse. Up at the crack of dawn, a quick shower, then after donning her crisp, white nurse’s uniform, she drove her permanently assigned jeep to the base hospital, arriving at oh-eight-hundred hours.
Just inside the entrance, she grimaced at the hand-colored picture of the stern-faced base commander, General Herbert Wolf, with his pencil-thin mustache, hanging next to a photograph of the commander-in-chief, President Lyndon Baines Johnson. Sarah hurried along the black and white square tiles, past the functional plain gray walls, until she reached the elevator, which she took to the sixth-floor nurse’s station.
She signed in, picked up her chart and began her morning rounds, starting with sickbay. Military procedure calls for all soldiers, even if dying, to rise up when revelry sounded at oh-six-hundred hours, make their hospital bed, and then sit in the hard wooden chair beside it until the doctor or nurse showed up at oh-nine-hundred hours. It didn’t make any sense, but it didn’t have to…this was the Army.
Sarah picked up a tray with a bottle of aspirin and several small paper cups filled with pink Cool-Aid and entered the “upper respiratory infection” ward. She got her usual amount of whistles and woo woos. “Okay, boys, you all behave now.” She turned away so they couldn’t see her smile, secretly pleased that her package could still deliver.
The soldiers each wore a blue hospital pajama bottom and a white T-shirt with his last name stenciled in black letters on the front. Sarah handed each one, in turn, an aspirin and a cup of pink panther piss–the affectionate name given by the patients to the administered Cool-aid drink.
“What’s the chance of getting some penicillin or anti-biotic, darling?” One soldier asked.
“Slim to none,” said Sarah. “You soldiers will be just fine.” She drew out the word “fine” at the end, which gave away her birth state of Georgia, although she hadn’t lived there for more than ten years now. It didn’t make much sense to Sarah to keep forty men locked up in one big room with no ventilation, coughing on each other like crazy, and spreading germs, but she accepted it as hospital policy, along with not distributing any penicillin.
The doctor arrived right after Sarah completed her rounds. He started his examinations with the first soldier on the right side of the room. The man held up his T-shirt, while the physician listened to his breathing with a stethoscope. If the Doc heard a raspy sound, “One more day of bed rest.” If the lungs sounded clear, “back to duty.”
The fifth soldier being examined leaned close and whispered, “Doc, please let me out of here or give me some penicillin. I am going to die in this crappy room unless I can escape from all these sick people and sleep.” He slipped a twenty-dollar bill into the doctor’s pocket.
The doctor smiled and announced, “Nurse, release this soldier with a three-day pass.” The other patients moaned in envy as the happy man ran out the door shouting, “I’m free! I’m free!”
Doc finished up and hurried out the door, nurturing the hope of another round of golf before night fell or the fall weather turned nasty. Sarah gathered up all the empty cups in a plastic bag and tossed them down a trash chute outside the ward entrance, and walked back to the nurse’s station to write up the morning report. Free car, free housing, surrounded by single men, and they still pay me every month. Nope, not a bad life at all.