Second of Two Parts
Everyone who knows Pat Carroll agrees she has a zest for adventure and normally finds a bit of humor in everything she does. Adventure played a role when she and a group of other medical personnel were re-assigned to the 12th evacuation hospital in Chu Chi, near the Cambodian border. Because their orders did not include travel instructions, Pat hooked them up with a ride with a truck convoy. Upon arrival, the head nurse severely scolded them, explaining the convoy had traveled through dangerous territory and they should have come in by helicopter. The area was interlaced with tunnels from which enemy soldiers could unexpectantly pop up. One of the nurses in the group said Pat had arranged the trip, immediately drawing attention to Pat
Chu Chi was a large base camp, home of 25th infantry and included the 3rd Air Cavalry. Their new duty station was an evacuation hospital staffed with 305 military personnel, including 30 doctors, two dentists, 63 Nurses, and a Chaplain. Pat and the other nurses worked 12-hour shifts for six days. The next week, they worked six 12- hour shifts on the other half of the day. Those not on duty helped with managing, stabilizing large numbers of wounded that could not get into immediate surgery or immediate transfer out of area. They had very little free time and normally went to bed exhausted. In Vietnam, 98% of the wounded who made it to the hospitals survived because of dedicated medical people. Eight nurses were killed in Vietnam.
Pat said the units on the base always invited nurses over when they had a dinner or a party. “Those were fun events and those who were not scheduled for something else would go.” “There were nurses who had romance in their lives. They had to keep it quiet.” But she was committed to her beau back home. He and her mom already had planned out a wedding but she changed while doing military service in Vietnam and did not marry him. Pat had the capability to be an aeronautic engineer or meteorologist but teaching or nursing were the only options for her in those years. Since her mom was a nurse she opted for that. After finishing Vietnam duty, she and her friend, Teddie, were mustered out in Berkley where they encountered protestors. Pat and Teddie had graduated from Nursing School together, took basic training together, and served together in two hospitals. When back in civilian life, she and Teddie drove around the country together for three months just having fun. Pat now believes that care free trip helped reduce PTSD stress for later in her life. They then settled in Colorado because they did not want to come back to the northwest weather and the Colorado sign said “sunny 325 days of the year”. They found jobs at a nearby hospital within a month. Pat used her GI Bill to continue her education, to eventually earn a Masters in Developmental Psychology. She worked in that field in the Portland Metro area and eventually started a corporation doing consulting, therapy, wholesale, and whatever else was a current interest. She was a contract nurse with the state Medicaid program for seniors and people with disabilities in home and foster care for her last 14 years of working.
Pat thought she would remember the names of all the soldiers she took care of; their sicknesses and surgeries, and especially what she had written for them in letters to their families. She had been very protective of those young men. One time she swiped a cake from the Mess Hall for her guys that she later found out had been made for a visiting General. The chief cook demanded she make a replacement cake. She did, using tuna fish oil. She said it looked great but tasted disgusting. She explained “you have to find the humor in things.” But she couldn’t when visiting the Vietnam Memorial Wall, 25 years later. The only name she could remember was of a soldier with rabies. She remembered how terribly sick he was and that he never got mail. She tried to convince his Commanding Officer to send him home early. But he returned to his unit and was killed a couple of months later. Finding his name on the wall was very emotional and she cried as she remembered how she had held his hand to calm him down, like she had for so many other soldiers; and like all the nurses for how many names were on the wall.