-ality

Deadweight

by

     Priorities, troop, priorities. All that washin’ and wipin’ you doin’ ain’t gonna be nothin’ but wasted effort. First, take that roll of gauze. Shove it in there. Shove it on up in there – ole Mr. Bradshaw don’t feel it. You don’t do it right, he’ll just mess himself again. Sometimes, when they go rigor mortis, it’s projectile. Get all over that starched white uniform of yours.
     Sorry, troop, I just have to laugh. This ain’t what your recruiter told you the United States Air Force was gonna be like, is it? Thought you’d be jumpin’ out of airplanes, sewin’ up wounded soldiers on the battlefield, huh? Bait and switch, troop. Bedpans and enemas.

     Now take that there string and tie it ’round his johnson. Tighter. You don’t want to have to clean up no leakage.

     Naw, troop, I seen guys like you come and go, plan on seeing the world, savin’ for college, plannin’ on getting picked for officer candidate school. That you, ain’t it? Yeah, you got Officer Candidate stamped on your forehead.
     There was this one guy come through here a few years ago, just like you. Spit-shine shoes, pressed uniform, regulation haircut, and that damn Air Force Trainin’ Manual you carry around. You seen anyone been here more than a week still carries their Air Force Trainin’ Manual? Airman Cole carried it around, too, like a Bible. Actually read the damn thing.
     Airman Cole was eat up. He was Mr. Air Force, long after that basic trainin’ brainwashin’ wears off most people. He was sharp, though. Knew his medicine.

     Now take that handkerchief-lookin’ cloth there. Run it under Mr. Bradshaw’s chin, here. Push his tongue in. Close his mouth. Now wrap your cloth ’round his head. Tie it up on top here. Gotta be tight, now, troop. Mr. Bradshaw’s family don’t want to see him all gape-mouth in his coffin.

     Yeah, Airman Cole was eat up, career Air Force, and let everyone know it. Won 455th Medical Group Airman of the Month like his second or third month here. Wanted to be an Air Force doctor.
Me and the other medics knew he was in trouble.
     See, the thing you got to know is, there’s two types of people in the Air Force: officers and enlisted. They might tell you different, but officers don’t like it when enlisted folks know too much. Makes ’em nervous. You know, doctors and nurses don’t go to the same training as regular Air Force officers. Their basic training, if you can call it that, is only two weeks long. Plus, if they was a decent doctor or nurse, they’d be out makin’ all that big money in the civilian world, not drawin’ lieutenant pay. So they feel like they got somethin’ to prove; they don’t like no competition from enlisted folks. Especially someone as smart and eat up as Airman Cole.
     Airman Cole sure enough made Lieutenant Paulk nervous. Not at first, not as far as it showed. You lucky you didn’t know Lieutenant Paulk. Real dick. He was the nurse in charge of all the medics – he used to be a medic, prior enlisted, but you’d never know it from the way he acted. He was a hard ass. I think it was to make up for how fruity he acted. Real tall guy, looked like he was always goin’ to the tannin’ bed, big ole hips like God was gonna make him a woman but changed his mind at the last second. He had this small head that looked smaller from these big ole wire-rimmed glasses he wore. And the way he talked – Oh, hell! – hearin’ him talk was like listenin’ to some little girl whine for her mommy.
     Well, Airman Cole and Lieutenant Paulk got along just fine for a few months. Airman Cole was all into his medicine, and was always askin’ Lieutenant Paulk ’bout medical procedures, like intubations and dosage conversion, stuff he didn’t need to know for being a medic. But Lieutenant Paulk liked it, made him feel important; nobody else wanted to talk to that snake. Plus, too, I think a young, 18-year-old boy showin’ Lieutenant Paulk some attention made him real happy, know what I’m sayin’? Us other medics used to joke on Airman Cole, like askin’ him how he was walkin’, that kind of shit, just messin’. Smart as Airman Cole was, he never acted like he caught on.

     OK, so now you gotta take this here roll of gauze and tie Mr. Bradshaw’s hands together in front. This don’t have to be too tight, troop, just tight enough to keep him from floppin’ ’bout the gurney.

     So, yeah, Airman Cole and Lieutenant Paulk got along fine for a while. One night, though, one of the old trolls up on the ward went into arrest when it was just me, Lieutenant Paulk and Airman Cole on midnight shift. I gotta tell you, that shit was a mess. This troll had throat cancer, and when me and Airman Cole got in the room, that throat cancer had eat clean through one side of that troll’s neck. You never saw so much blood, just gushin’ out, all over the sheets, his clothes, everywhere. His bed was all red and slick, little black specks of cancer all over. The guy’s tryin’ to talk, but he’s just gurglin’ all that blood before he passes out. I just stand there for a second, but Airman Cole, he walks right up, picks up a towel and presses it right up against that troll’s neck. Direct pressure stops the bleedin’, don’t you know.
     I meet Lieutenant Paulk halfway down the hallway; he’s runnin’ as fast as those woman hips will carry him, and when he gets in the room, the troll is flat-lined. Doc Tucker gets up there right after we do, tells Lieutenant Paulk to start an IV. Even though that troll lost all that blood, he has big, fat veins that anyone could have stuck a needle in, but Lieutenant Paulk, he’s all shakin’, and can’t get a clean stick. After he misses, somethin’ like three or four times, Doc Tucker pushes Lieutenant Paulk aside and tells Airman Cole to start that IV. Now, Airman Cole had been practicin’ his IVs while the rest of us was playin’ cards and what not; he got it in on one shot. Meanwhile, Lieutenant Paulk is demoted to chest compressions, feelin’ that old troll’s ribcage crack under his hands. That’s an enlisted man’s job – doin’ CPR, cleanin’ up puke, emptyin’ bedpans, shovin’ gauze up a dead man’s ass. Lieutenant Paulk’s neck and face was purple-red, and not from pumpin’ that old troll’s chest.
     Doc Tucker don’t help things too much. When Airman Cole gets that IV started, he says somethin’ like, “Maybe Airman Cole should be runnin’ things up here.” Oh, that frosted Lieutenant Paulk somethin’ good.
     Me and the other medics tried to warn Airman Cole to watch hisself, but he didn’t see no problems.
     Well, it didn’t take too long to start. Lieutenant Paulk was all of a sudden too busy to answer Airman Cole’s questions about drug dosages and medical procedures and what officer trainin’ was like. He stopped lettin’ Airman Cole start IVs or do any sutures. Just vital signs and dinner trays, just like the rest of us.
     One night, the ward was empty except for a couple of trolls, and me and the other medics was in the dayroom playin’ cards. Airman Cole, like usual, had his head in a medicine book, studyin’ for his Level Five. In comes Lieutenant Paulk, with a hand on his big ole woman hips and shakin’ a skinny long finger at us.
     “The Air Force does not pay you to sit around!”
     Shit. Just a few minutes before, ole Lieutenant Paulk was in an empty patient’s room, watchin’ some gay-ass musical on TV. Well, he had me and Airman Loftin puttin’ together linen kits, which we didn’t mind, ’cause you can watch TV while you sort sheets and pillowcases. Airman Cole, though, he had him takin’ these little alcohol squares and rubbin’ down IV poles, monitors, everythin’ Lieutenant Paulk could think of; said it was for infection control. Shit. We never did that kind of infection control before.
     Airman Cole just did whatever Lieutenant Paulk told him to do; didn’t say a word. If it was me, I’d done be at Leavenworth for slappin’ the shit out of an officer. But Airman Cole just did his job, did whatever Lieutenant Paulk told him to do. Lieutenant Paulk tell him to scrub ambulances, he scrubbed ambulances. He needed someone to work two straight weeks, well, guess who got that schedule. You know crazy Mr. Lutz, the guy who’s always ringin’ the nurse’s station for a new glass of ginger ale and ice every five minutes? Airman Cole was on Lutz duty whenever he was admitted.
     Through it all, Airman Cole did his job, did it better than anyone. He passed his Level Five, got promoted; nothin’ Lieutenant Paulk could do to stop it.
     But one day, while Airman Cole was at NCO prep school, Lieutenant Paulk decided that he would have a barracks inspection. Now, this ain’t basic training or tech school; nobody does barracks inspections in the real Air Force.
     Well, here’s Airman Cole, been away from his room for almost two weeks at NCO prep school – about to graduate top in the class, too – and Lieutenant Paulk and First Sergeant pull a surprise inspection. They got me followin’ behind, carryin’ the clipboard. Airman Cole’s standin’ there at attention in his dress blues, pulled straight out from the last day of NCO prep school, while Lieutenant Paulk strolls around the room like he owns the place, wrappin’ his skinny, tannin’-bed fingers ’round Airman Cole’s Airman of the Quarter trophies, pickin’ them up, lookin’ for dust. Lieutenant Paulk makes a big production of levelin’ a couple of framed Airman of the Month certificates on the wall, checkin’ under the bed for dust bunnies, runnin’ his finger in the grout in the shower, all the time makin’ all these noises like “Hmmmm!” and “Uh-ohhh!” in that nasal little girl voice of his. Airman Cole was squared away; his room was a lot cleaner than the other rooms we was just in. Cleaner than mine. But Lieutenant Paulk just goes apeshit when he rubs the back of the mini-fridge and finds some dust on the coils.
     “Oh, my!” Lieutenant Paulk squeals, like he done won a stuffed animal at a fair or somethin’. He points his finger in Airman Cole’s face, puttin’ it so close Airman Cole’d have to be cross-eyed to see the little speck of dust on his fingertip.
     “What have we here, Airman Cole?” Lieutenant Paulk says.
     Airman Cole just stands there at attention, lookin’ straight ahead, like a good airman.
     Lieutenant Paulk’s little slit of a mouth is curled in a smug-ass little smile. He’s got a tiny little spit bubble in the corner.
     “I think 30 days in correctional custody will teach you the importance of cleanliness.”
     “Yes, sir.”
     That’s all Airman Cole says. “Yes, sir.” Don’t bat an eye. Airman Cole keeps lookin’ straight ahead at attention.
     So, they let him graduate from NCO prep school the next day – won the John Levitow, for graduatin’ top in the class. That afternoon, though, he reported to the correctional custody barracks. You seen it, over next to the credit union: It’s like a little basic trainin’ prison camp over there, man.
     Not a week later, Lieutenant Paulk was gone. The bastard knew he was gettin’ transferred to Germany, and he didn’t tell a soul. But he sure enough got in his shot at Airman Cole. I saw Airman Cole a few times out on base when he was doin’ his 30 days. He was cuttin’ grass, pickin’ up trash, what not. He looked like he lost 10 pounds overnight, all pale and wearin’ those green baggy jumpsuits with “CC” on the back, like he’s some criminal or POW.
     When he got back to work, Airman Cole was completely changed. Kept to hisself, never talked about medical school or being an officer. Airman Cole’s enlistment ended a couple of months later. Nobody ever heard from him since; could be dead, could be halfway through medical school for all I know. That 30 days was a career killer as far as he was concerned – he just knew they’d never make him an officer with that kind of record. John Levitow, Airman of the Month, Level Five – that don’t counter one vindictive son of a bitch, troop.

     Come on, troop, let’s zip this bag up. You’re about to find out why they call it dead weight.