Dedication for this essay goes to Jessica Rose Johnson, SOFREP Sister
Over six months have passed since my abdominal surgery to reduce bilateral duodenal ulcers and I still have pus draining from the superior edge of the foot-long incision in my belly; three to four times a day I drain it. I have known several people with major post-op incisions, and this was never a thing associated with any of them… rather an oddity known only to my case.
Oh, I can live with this thing draining several times a day. It’s only a minor inconvenience you see. But now that I have set a date to have a knee replaced, I am informed by the surgeon that my body (including my teeth) must be free of any and all infection. Now I have a basis for worry.
“How’s it going, Geo? Need anything? How’s your recovery going?” Is the mantra of my friend and the founder of the human traffic organization for which I work, Nick McKinley. Those three questions close all telephone conversations I have had with him since my “repatriation” from the hospital in November.
I confided in him my worry for the wound that refused to heal on my abdomen. With a quick pause he made mention:
“I know a guy, a friend of Greg Jackson and of the Special Forces Community, a former Green Beret Medic. He goes by the name Frosty.”
My ears perked to the mention of 18D, the official job designator for the Special Forces medic. My experience with them is colorful. Those guys have balls, nuts, cojones, stone — not a timid breed, those, who would take out your ruptured appendix at the drop of a hat. Hat fall off? They would suture it back on in a Manhattan Minute.
Oh, I have perched on a kitchen stool in a kitchen while my team medic laced my arm with percent Lidocaine topical anesthetic around a tattoo on my arm, then proceeded to scrape it spiritedly with 60 grit sandpaper until the image was gone, a depression-seeking pool of blood had formed on the floor, and my arm resembled a Quarter-Pounder with cheese, without the cheese and just before grilling.
That was Richard Price, my first ever medic on a Green Beret A-Team. We had gone through phase three of the Special Forces Qualification Course (Q-Course) together, then were both assigned to the same A-Team. All it took was a modest lamentation about wanting a tattoo removed, and he was “on it like a bonnet” as Pat McNamara would say. Rich sanded away on my arm while I rifled through the pages of my Chinese language primer.
“Oops …” Rich finally piped up.
“Oops, Rich? Oops!?”
“Yeeaaahhh … might have gone a bit too deep, but she’s definitely gone, your hula girl with the grass skirt that undulates her hips when you flex your bicep.”
“Rich, you were supposed to erase the pirate ship and anchor with ‘Mom’ on it!”
“Oh, those are gone too, Geo; they’re all gone!”
And it took a while to heal, yes it did, but all-in-all Rich did exactly what I asked him to do and is to this, this day of our Lord and Heavenly Father, my very favorite Green Beret Medic!
Oh, I have laid on a cot in a tent while my team medic dug in my sedated arm to extract a component of a 40mm fragmentation grenade that I had inadvertently exploded against a heavy branch in a tree several yards in front of me. I had, in rank amateur fashion, failed to account for overhead clearance before firing an M-79. The mud around me was pocked with frag spatters as one slapped me hard on my upper arm. I took a look at it and vomited in the mud beside me, then kept firing, paying new notice to the tree to my front, mind you.
“Hey Doc, Geo got hit by a frag in a … Well, let’s just say a blue-on-blue incident this afternoon.”
“Bring him in and lay him on this cot,” beckoned the Doc as he raked everything off the wooden folding travel desk, one each, OD Green in color, and laid out his medical kit. Doc dug away in my arm, all the while going on about his Grammy Merline who was a nurse with the Red Cross during the second world war:
“Ya know Geo, it was practically her dying wish that I become a nurse like her. You know, help people and all. Me? I just couldn’t stomach the thought of being a “nurse,” you know — woman’s work and all. Green Beret Medic, now that sounded better to me; I wanted to become a Green Beret Medic, you know?”
I recall a longer-than-pregnant pause then finally with a sleepy face and voice:
“I’m sorry doc, I guess I’m supposed to say something now like: ‘That’s fascinating …’”
Yes sir, some jabbing, slicing, and the “clink” of a frag dropping into an emesis basin later and I was good as new, free to go back out and blow my own head off if I were so inclined.
“I’ll text Frosty now and tell him who you are and give him your number,” Nick told me as he punched away on his iPhone.
Within seconds I got a text response from the Iceman, the name I chose to give him other than Frosty, a name that matches better to an imaginary kids’ snowman at Christmas than a Green Beret Medic.
“I can be at Jackson’s old gym in a half hour,” the Iceman told me
“Duh, duh, d’I can be there in just under a half hour if I leave right now,” I stammered, then bolted out the front door to my car.
The Iceman was an old-school Green Beret Medic from the Vietnam era. He had not been drafted into a tour in Vietnam though and spent the war with the Tenth Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Bad Toltz, Germany.
When I arrived at Jackson’s gym there was only a beefy KTM dirt bike parked in the lot. That was not unusual as some of Jackson’s UFC fighters continued to exercise at this gym. I figure to the bike to be one of theirs. Seeing as how I was a tad early I let myself in and had a seat to check my messages.
In there then stepped the Iceman: lean, dressed in functional rugged attire, and extending a hand in greeting. He was in his sixties but looked like he could still mop the floor with a disrespectful sort if necessary. We greeted and slung our mandatory vetting small talk until satisfied, then the Iceman cut to the chase:
“So, tell me, what troubles you; what is this problem I was told about?”
I explained and showed the Iceman the incision. He described what he thought to be the malady and why. He offered that he could cut down in and have a look. Without hesitation, I accepted the offer.
“My medical kit is in my truck, otherwise we could do it right here,” he sighed. “So, is that your KTM parked outside?” I quizzed. “Yeah, it’s mine; too nice a day not to ride. I tell you what: I’ll take care of a few things this afternoon and I’ll give you a call about 1700hrs with the time and place for the surgery.”
That was all the more it took from him. That is what I was used to: right here and right now, what’s the sense is putting something off if your heart is pure and you mean what you say? I headed back home to take the next few hours to work my human traffic hunt until the Iceman called (if he called) and he did call. He sent the address to his place, indicating it would be more conducive to operate there since patrons of Jackson’s gym were coming and going.
I arrived at his place in roughly 15 minutes.
“Pick a couch and take a seat (there were three),” the Iceman offered as he collected his medical kit. He splayed out a set of scalpels, forceps, tweezers, scissors, and I-don’t-know-what’s on the coffee table next to the sofa. He slipped a headlamp on to his forehead and switched it on. It seemed a little pallid.
“I’m going to swap out these batteries,” he indicated as he left the room. Returning, his LED headlamp burned clear and bright.
I lay back on the couch as he snapped on rubber gloves and swabbed the target area on my gut with betadine solution.
“You might feel a few sticks as I numb the area with a topical” he advised. I did feel at least one of the injections quite smartly and it brought me back to the days of my hospital stay in November of 2017. How I thought nothing in the way of prods, pokes, sticks, and injections could ever phase me again — and I was right. I shifted my attention to the TV that the Iceman had thoughtfully tuned into the world news.
The Iceman momentarily flashed a scalpel in a Dexter sort of way.
“Can you feel that?” He queried, and he must have been poking my gut in trial, though I felt nothing. “Nope, not a thing,” and the word news continued.
“Just as I thought.” announced the Iceman as he held up a snarl of suture clasped in the tip of his tweezers. “Left behind by the surgeon. It happens and honestly, I’m not at all surprised,” the Iceman confided.
All his babbling was making it hard for me to hear the news.
The Iceman finished up, cleaned up, and closed the wound with some snappy bandaging. I sat up and again felt nothing. He gave me a loading dose of an antibiotic and enough more to last me twice a day for the next three days.
“What should or shouldn’t I do, Iceman. Can I do sit-ups?”
“You are fine to do absolutely anything you want,” he affirmed.
I left the Iceman’s operating room within minutes to begin the post-op phase of my surgery. That consisted of several stops on the Albuquerque strip to engage in persistent stares at some known chokepoints for human trafficking. If I had just endured a surgery, even a minor one, I forgot about it completely as I became again routinely absorbed in the Human Traffic hunt.
I am put in memory of back on my A-Teams with my medical woes, what those teams were like with two men training in medical practices that include minor surgical procedures. Their skill and fortitude are only hampered by the nerve to allow them to try, yet they are professionally bound by their obligation to not risk your health at their expense.
“Can do, will do, if not now then when, if not me then who?”
That’s the attitude of the men of the Green Berets: keeping America free at monumental risk to themselves since 1952.
De Oppresso Liber
By God and with honor,
Photos courtesy of Wikipedia and Greg Jackson