I was working at the Hospital late one night when I started talking to a patient in the recovery room. He was about 60. He lay on the bed and stared at me with a grey unblinking eye.
“What do you do?” he asked me.
“I work here part time. I push patients up to their rooms”.
“That must be a rewarding job,” he said. “I’m sure the patients appreciate your support”.
“Umm, I guess. What do you do?”
“Charity mostly, but I went to war when I was a young fella, fought in Vietnam.”
“Jeez really? Where abouts did you fight?”
“I was a medic in Operation Bribie,” he said. “I consider it the luckiest day of my life. I only lost this – He pointed to his open eye – and my legs got cut to pieces, but I survived. I lot of good men died that day.”
I looked at him and my heart swelled.
“They didn’t teach medics much back then. Just how to clear an airway and how to set a compound fracture. But not at the same time. The training didn’t prepare you to jump out of the helicopter and into the vicious fire fight in that rubber plantation. As soon as I got out, I went to help a bloke, fumbling around my pack for a bandage, but I realised a bandage wouldn’t be much use to him as he had just been cut in half by half a dozen rounds from an AK-47”.
This man talking with me marched with steady determination into the blood and horror of Vietnam and here he was, 49 years later, lying in a hospital bed while nurses looked at his x-rays and muttered about the white spots on his bones.
“If the cancer gets me,’ he said, “it won’t, but if it does, ill count myself lucky. All I lost that day was my eye and my legs got shot to pieces but I’m lucky”. “So do you do anything else?” he asked me.
“Umm I study l across the road, at Griffith. Law.” I mumbled.
“Now there’s a fine thing,” he said. “A noble profession”.
This was a funny reaction, I thought, since it was largely men with Law degrees that sent the young soldiers to die in the Vietnamese Jungle.
“But you gotta make sure you do it for the right reasons”.
In his day, it was Commonwealth government policy to send 20-year-old men into the meat grinder. Now, my government’s policy is to allow me to defer payment for my degree and even pay me an allowance to go to University. The fact that he could appreciate what I do and perhaps even respect it, filled me with immense pride. The only qualification for his respect? That I do the degree for the right reasons and to me, that is a small price to pay.
By James Aird.