for An Honorable Discharge
Propped up by cushions from one of the chairs that inhabited the ward, SGT James sat in his favorite place here at the VA hospital’s upper retirement home. His top-floor window ledge gave him a sweeping view of the hospital campus, but better still it gave him a panoramic view of the mountains beyond. Mountains he loved. For him, it was the perfect place to wait as the hospital faded away leaving only his beloved mountains. It gave him the backdrop to bring up cherished memories. The family farm, which he always said wasn’t anything to write home about, was as fresh in his mind as ever. The stream running off the mountain that formed the lower boundary of the farm’s property often occupied his mind’s center stage. Skipping stones across its widest part and chasing water snakes and frogs could have happened yesterday, and he could still taste the pears and apples straight off the fruit trees, a special reward for an eight-year-old. Of course, he couldn’t eat them all. There had to be enough left over for canning jams and jellies, but there always was. One of his jobs was gathering the fruit and taking it to the kitchen to be cleaned and prepared for cooking.
Thoughts such as these spent a lot of time occupying his mind these days, but not tonight. It was zero two hundred hours, and his mind was concentrating on the ambulance parked at the main hospital’s ER entrance down the hill from his perch. Using binoculars, he could see a man around his own age being taken out of the ambulance and it seemed like the emergency personnel were reassuring him as they rolled him through the large double doors into the waiting nurses and doctors. The commotion soon subsided. The ambulance’s flashing light that had strobed across the ward’s ceiling alerting the group had already been turned off. Of course, out of respect for all the patients, the siren had never been turned on. The EMS personnel soon returned outside putting away their gurney and other equipment before loitering around the ER entrance socializing with some of the ER personnel, probably talking about baseball or some other such thing.
“Status?” Lt. Ollie asked reminding James that he wasn’t alone in the ward and had a duty to keep the other inmates, as they affectionately called themselves, informed.
“One patient has been unloaded from the ambulance, Sir.” He said this as if talking only to the Lieutenant, but of course he was talking to everyone for they were all awake except for Capt. Robison. At night, because of his COPD, Robison was kept medicated to the point of deep sleep. That kept him from fiddling with the oxygen tubes stuck in his nose. The medicine also helped in controlling the cough. Without it he once coughed hard enough to crack a rib. Most of the time during the day he only musters enough strength to eat, go to the latrine when required, and occasionally leave his oxygen behind long enough to slip outside for a smoke. Of course, he contributes as much to the unit as possible. Being a retired full-bird colonel, he knows the importance of morale, and as ward captain he is the unit’s senior officer. Consequently, maintaining morale is his responsibility. Being next in line to rotate out, he knew it was only a temporary assignment, but that didn’t change the responsibility.
“He’s just been taken into the ER,” Sgt James continued.
“Well Sir, no one was in a hurry. It’s not likely anything like an auto accident. Probably some chronic condition that’s flared up. My guess is he’s being brought up from the Lower Retirement Wing. Strictly routine.”
“Well, it is 02:00. Hardly routine.”
“Yes Sir. I meant to say that probably some known condition that boiled over into an emergency in the middle of the night, but not life threatening at this time.”
“Good work Sargent. Maybe we’ll get him next.”
“I’d think that’s a possibility. The Lower Retirement Home is for the more mobile. I remember when I was down there, I used to roam the hospital grounds from morning till night. Now it’s mostly this window ledge.”
“I remember too,” the Lieutenant said. “We often wondered how you kept in footwear. You wore off enough shoe leather to outfit a small army.”
Corporal Goff didn’t say anything but nodded in agreement. He was in the best shape of the lot, but he kept to himself most of the time. Reading was his escape. Reads a book a day. Mostly mysteries, but really anything his daughter brings him.
“Yes Sir,” James continued. “Those were good days.”
Things began to settle back down. SGT James continued gazing out the window, remembering, reflecting. CPL Goff silently rehashed yesterday’s mystery, analyzing every clue he could remember. LT Ollie resumed staring at the ceiling, thinking about the group giving him a battlefield promotion once the Captain musters out. He would then elevate Sarge to his place and CPL Goff to Sargent, as was tradition. Naturally, if the ER guy was brought here, he’d have to fit in somewhere, likely near the bottom, but who knows?
Of course, a few days later the ER guy did make it to the ward. After evaluation by the group, he was made a buck private with the corporal rank soon to follow when the Captain finally mustered out. It didn’t matter if a man had served in the Pacific or Europe or had had a good war or otherwise, each now had a responsibility of comradeship and each filled it to the best of his ability. They waited their turn like men of honor.