I arrived by aircraft at Bien Hoa Air Base to the 90th Replacement Battalion at Long Binh. After processing, I received my duty assignment to the 71st Evacuation Hospital. My fiance' was with the 4th Division at Pleiku so I had requested to go to the 71st Evac Hospital which was located at Pleiku but on the "other side", geographically. The chief nurse told me that the 71st was unsafe as it had taken some direct hits during the TET offensive and they really didn't want to assign women to that hospital but had no choice but to do so. As I flew into the area, I was struck by the barren red clay picture.
Our compound was about 2 football fields from an Air Force base with a road directly connecting the 2. Unfortunately, that road was closed off because our compound was so insecure. The MD Director didn't want "regular soldiers" to provide guard duty so had our hospital corpsmen fulfilling that function. They were not trained to do so nor did they have the appropriate weapons and ammunition. During rocket attacks, the Air Force base, sounding like Big Brother, would broadcast "We are under attack. Go to your bunkers.". We didn't have bunkers but all buildings were sandbagged 1/3 of the way up. My living quarters was on the top row of the compound. A road and fencing was between my hooch and an ARVN compound. The hooch had a center hall with a front and back door and 5 single rooms on each side with the 1st one being the bathroom. Most of the rocket attacks occurred between midnight and 2 AM.. If I was in my hooch we would pull on our fatigues and all crawl to one of the rooms so we could be together. If I was on duty we would cover our patients with mattresses to protect them. My 1st rocket attack was during my 1st week in country and that was a pretty scary initiation. But after that, it became pretty "old hat". (Because the ARVN camp shot off their big guns fairly frequently, I just never took the time to learn the difference between incoming and outgoing so conveniently believed they were all "outgoing"). Towards the end of my tour they started blasting away more towards morning., A good share of my duty was on the night shift and the last 6 months I was in the ICU/recovery unit. We would help the day shift by starting the baths at about 5 or 6. Having a rocket attack after those baths were done sure messed up our good intentions! Probably scarier than the rocket attacks though were the blackout and small arms fire.
In many ways, I was lucky to not fall into the mindset that I saw some of the other staff do. They seemed to forget that we were only in that strange land for a relatively short period of time and then would go back to our "known" world. Consequently, I think some of the nurses and doctors behaved in ways and formed relationships that would not have been their "norm" in a different environment.
During the last 1/2 of my tour, I worked in ICU/Recovery. It was part of a surgical T along with the ER and OR. The ICU/Recovery was a large open ward with a low center wall in he middle. The hospital beds were cots along both the middle and outer walls. We worked 12 hour shifts, from 0700 to 1900 or 1900 to 0700, 6 days/week. Staffing was usually 2-3 RNs and a couple of corpsmen. Staff would be split between the 2 functions. Besides penicillin and streptomycin, our only IV antibiotic was IV Keflen. Our choice of IV solutions was also very limited. Other equipment was very basic or we made our own. Burns were treated with silvadene which was experimental at the time. I remember one GI that had burns over most of his body. We had him in a separate but open bay. He had a tracheostomy tube in but was breathing on his own. We would take him into the clean/dirty utility room across the hall to wash his burns, then re-cover with the streptokinase. Another GI had a significant abdominal wound that was leaking bile. We collected what he leaked and gave it back to him through his HG tube. Most of those we cared for in ICU were comatose but lived long enough to be transferred to Japan. All those perfect young bodies so wounded and never knowing their final outcome is still a bothersome memory.
Besides being raised in Minnesota in a family with very strong ethical values, it helped that my focus was more on my fiance' than on myself. He was a company commander of a mechanized infantry unit and whenever we had wounded coming in from the field, I had to make sure it wasn't him or his unit. It was also nice to be able to see him occasionally. We took our R&R leave in Hawaii and got married at Ft. DeRussy. Our attendants were 2 Army wives waiting for their husbands to arrive on leave. My bouquet was a combination of their leis. Of course, the
Army being the Army, the fact that I had changed the name of my uniform when I got back in country before it was officially done through their bureaucracy was frowned upon and they almost made me change it back!