by Salvatore Cacciola
At the 95th Medical Evacuation Hospital in Da Nang I was having problems with my stomach and had to be quieted with narcotics. The doctors couldn't find out why I was suffering with so much pain. After four days of this pain, the doctors finally decided to look under the stomach bandages where they found five wires running above and into the stomach. There was also something resembling a mushroom of gauze on the left side. They started to unravel the white gauze mushroom slowly, and as they got close to the end, there was a progressively louder hiss of gas that started to escape. It was like a pressure cooker slowly cooling off! Those who were conscious quickly evacuated the ward while the nurses got out the air deodorant and sprayed the area. I had the biggest smile of relief you ever saw! Somehow I knew they would find the problem eventually.
After a couple of hours, my appetite returned. A Major came by to see if everything was all right. I told him that I was starving. He quickly ordered the nurse to take the tubes out of my nose, throat, and arms and have me fed. They could not locate any food and because I had missed lunch period, ginger ale was the only thing available. I wonder if that was a cute karmic trick? Milk, jello, and ice cream were certainly not my idea of food!
Later, I was surprised to learn that the mushroom was my new rectum. It seems the doctors had rerouted my plumbing in order to help those areas that needed healing. It was very embarrassing to realize that my new rectum could not control itself, and that it passed gas and went when it wanted to - especially in the presence of some beautiful young nurse. After three change of bandage operations, I began having some thoughts that maybe I was seriously hurt.
Seven days after being wounded, I was flown to Japan. I was given an injection, and the doctors unravelled all the bandages while the aroma of decayed hamburger (me) caused their nostrils to close. Eight days later, they closed all soft tissue wounds, and then after another eight days, skin grafts were applied to the extensive wounds on the backs of both thighs. Wow! Did that hurt! It was worse than the initial wounds. I wonder if I tortured someone in a previous life? Smile - it happens to us in different circumstances. For fifteen long days I was confined to my stomach because the skin grafts had been taken from my back and the sides of my legs where there were no wounds. The places where the skin grafts had been taken burned like hell! I could not lay on either side at all and had to remain flat on my stomach. To urinate I had to carefully do a push-up while the nurse held the urinal under me. The same push-up technique was also used to change the bed sheets.
From time to time, chaplains from the various denominations would make their rounds. I was the only one on the ward they seemed to get a response from. They were friendly and cheerful and said they would pray for me. I said "Go ahead, I may need the help." I wasn't sure.
After the skin grafts healed, I was transferred to a regular ward. One day, I asked the doctor for a pair of crutches in order to get out of bed. I was taken to a physical therapist and when I tried to sit up, I almost fainted. I was taken back to my ward where I started practising how to sit up and overcome fainting. After a few days, I was able to stand up for less than thirty seconds. I continued practising until I was able to begin exploring the hospital within the confines of a wheelchair.
On October 20, 1968, I was given orders and airlifted to St. Albans Naval Hospital in New York. Wow! Was I surprised! I thought I would be going back to Viet Nam after I was healed. I realized that I must be hurt more seriously than I had thought, but it was great to be going back home near family and friends.
This story is just beginning.