I sent a 24 year old home on the ventilator last night. He has a ball bearing in his cervical spine, and no ability to breath on his own. He will likely die within the year, with injury worse, and resources less, than Christopher Reeves.
A young woman's neck was ripped open by rocket frag, and she died in the emergency room a couple of months ago. Another was shot in the base of the skull and died in the OR in heroic attempts to put his brain back together. A young man who was rescussitated with 10 hours of abdominal surgery and 20 units of transfused blood was found brain dead from the closed-head-injury not noticed until the aforementioned surgery was complete, and the head was scanned.
Post-call, I had the day off to go exercise, sit in the sun, read a book, watch a movie; a juxtaposition, on the day to remember these, and the countless others who died, and continue to die, here, and in Afghanistan.
Memorial day had always been a day of historical references: broken black and white film of bombers over Germany, the famous flag-raising photo from Iwo Jima, a video clip of a man running through the bush, and rapid fire of Viet Cong to an evacuation Huey in a jungle clearing. During the OIF/OEF there have been clips of rehabing amputees or kevlar-laden soldiers and laughing arab children, fading to a longitudinal, diagonal view of headstones at Arlington or Normandy all to the backdrop of America the Beautiful.
I lost a handful of acquaintances and friends over the past few years to the wars, and I do think of them on days of remembrance, but their passings were sterile and distant, despite surely shocking and painful. Memorial Day will be a time I will remember the smell of burnt flesh and blood, the high-pitched steady ping of the heart monitor reading asystole, the silent ceremony for placement of the folded flag upon the chest of the HR (human remains) before zipping up the black rubber bag. The dominant images in my mind, and the most poingant memories will be of those who were carried into the hospital with life already all but gone, those I pronounced dead, those I struggled to heal, but failed. For those, I salute.