THE GOAT SCHOOL
The Goat School was located somewhere between the gently rolling prairie of the Hill Country north of San Antonio and the cedar wood pines of Wichita Falls. Somewhere deep in Comanche country. It could not have been anywhere outside the great border of the Texas Republic, because to cross the frontier it is a four-hour trek at least in any direction from greater San Antonio, and we had been no more than three hours on the bus by the time we arrived.
The location was kept secret, even from us, because if word got out among the PETA brigades and eco-freaks what cruel and unusual practices transpired at Goat School and where it was situated, a strong possibility prevailed that there would be a picket line of crunchy crusaders—occupying as close to the main gate as the armed sentries would allow—screaming bloody murder in protest over our treatment of the goats.
It had happened before at some post in Seattle or Wyoming—hordes of fired-up malcontents, scruffy and unwashed, in full revolt at the mouth of the base, signs waving, slogans being hurled, launched through the air and made more devastating through the projection of megaphones.
It was a near riot, we’d been told, so much so that the whole thing got shut down, moved in secret to a new, undisclosed vicinity; somewhere we could carry on with our training in peace.
Goat School would be the crucible for us thirty or so Army combat medics, or 91-Bravos as we were called back then. It was to be our final assessment; the culmination of several months of pre-deployment workup training, after which we would be deemed combat ready.
At Camp Shelby, in Mississippi, we’d undergone the bulk of our general advisor training—working with interpreters, routine exercises at mock villages way out in the woods, weapons qualifications (M9, M4, .50-cal, 240 Bravo, and Mark 19 automatic grenade launcher) breaching/ room clearing, land navigation, and convoy operations. However, at the tail end of our workup, we were bussed to Camp Bullis, north of San Antonio, for what was to be additional advanced medical training.
At Bullis, the fundamentals of combat medicine—procedures we’d had drilled into our heads as fresh soldiers newly arrived at the Army Combat Medic School some years earlier—were reinforced through use and overuse of class lectures, PowerPoint presentations, and hands-on labs. We went over the three most common forms of preventable death on the battlefield and their corresponding treatments so many times that each of us could nearly recite the literature from the PowerPoint slides verbatim.
But when we did labs—mock combat casualty evaluations supervised by our instructors, where half the class dressed as patients doused in fake blood made up to look shot or fragged, while the other half tried to assess and treat the individual injuries—there was always a sense of loss and an atmosphere of disinterest because the wounds were artificial.
It wasn’t that any one of us wanted necessarily to inflict harm on any other in our group, although certainly personal grudges and rivalries did surface from time to time.
Rather, we all yearned for that urgency of purpose that is native to all injuries in which death charges at us like a feral dog that must be beaten back by the steady hand of right action, calm under fire. We were not, at the time, seasoned veterans, but we knew this charade—in which we took turns writhing around on the grass outside the schoolhouse and alternated playing medic—wasn’t serving our cause.
On the twenty-third day at oh-dark-thirty, we, carrying only our rucksacks packed with the most essential goods, were herded, half- conscious, onto a coach bus and whisked away into the unknown.
The ride went smoothly enough. The night, overcast and humid, did not twinkle with starlight. It instead absorbed our bus; opened like the cargo door on a C-130 transport aircraft into which we drove deliberately and peacefully as the darkness closed in behind us.
Some of us slept while others packed dips or drank whiskey. A few played on their phones or talked about girls, while some of us leaned back into the soft reclining grey wool seats of the coach charter bus to which we had been relegated and found that deep, troublesome half sleep—drooping eyelids, jaw cracked open, fixed gaze on the seatbacks to our front. A near catatonic state.
The night had ferried us safely from north of San Antonio into some other less observed, less populated corridor of the Lone Star State. A good sign that the Goat School’s secure location had not been compromised came when we passed without incident through the checkpoint of the anonymous, unknown base. A guard in plain clothes waved us through. There were no demonstrators in place to derail our scheduled training evolution after all. We were going to have to go through with it.
I was half expecting to see tumbleweeds blowing by in the breeze as we debussed our transport, but instead was hit with a column of thick, moist autumn air on the way out. We had left Camp Bullis around two a.m., so I gathered that it was nearly dawn when we shuffled zombie-like down the steps of the charter bus, rucksacks in tow, and formed a long row shoulder to shoulder on the grass that bordered the road. We did this out of instinct mostly, but one of the higher-ranked soldiers, Sergeant Day, reinforced our movement with some good old-fashioned shouting.
“Move! Let’s go! We don’t have all fucking day! Line up, shoulder to shoulder! That means now!”
There is a time and place for rebuke in a military setting. Not quite mutiny, but a tempered rejection of the learned military courtesies. This was not such an occasion. We obliged the sergeant, moving slowly but with purpose. We were lined up parallel to the bus’s left side, on the grass that bordered the dirt road we’d driven in on. The land dropped off sharply just in front of us, sloping downward at a sharp angle. There were several B-huts at various elevations built into the hill, fashioned in the archetypal log cabinstyle design. They were berthing units, I’d gathered. I imagined we Bravos would be divvied up and quartered, maybe six to a B-hut, or even ten. I could stand it, I thought. It would not have been the first time I’d made do with little or no personal space.
We were instructed at Camp Bullis to pack only the bare essentials. Sleeping bag, iso mat, one fresh uniform, rain gear, two canteens, a flashlight, and that was it. All other items vital to our training evolution were to be provided by our host camp. Everything we brought with us, we stuffed into rucksacks that we now wore on our backs. My stomach growled indignantly, so I panned left to right, but saw no signs of a chow hall.
We were a good fifteen minutes in formation before a large figure emerged from one of the B-huts. I heard a screen door creak open, then crack as it slammed shut behind the large man now moving toward us.
“Y’all comin’ from Camp Bullis?” A deep, hard voice with a strong southern dialect cut through the darkness.
A volley of expressions in the affirmative form ranging from “Roger that” to “Yes, sir” to “Aye, Sergeant” went out in response to the question.
“Who the fuck is in charge out here?”
By this time, the charter bus had pulled out and was making a U-turn. The space was tight, so it was difficult. Dirt from the road was stirred up into the air. The hum of the engine and of the wheels grinding into the road began to fade slowly as the bus drove off.
“That’d be me, sir,” Sergeant Day replied.
The contour of his voice was southern in character as well, though not as deeply southern as the voice belonging to the large man who’d emerged from the B-hut.
“That a fact?” the large man replied, his affect, flat; his tone, wry.
It was near dawn now, and with the faint light came a degree of low visibility in which colors could not quite be seen, but shapes were clear enough. In this less than half-light, I made out the figure of the large man approaching our line, moving uphill against the grade of the sloping terrain at what felt like an aggressive speed. As he was about to make contact with two or three Bravos to the left of me, they jerked to either side, the one next to me nearly knocking me down, creating an opening in our phalanx. The large man’s pace never slowed. He walked through our line as though it didn’t exist. We all scrambled to turn around so as not to have our backs to him.
“Now hear this!” the large man shouted in a loud, dispassionately military persona as he simultaneously rotated his position 180 degrees to face us head-on. We Bravos snapped to attention and straightened out our line.
“You have been afforded the great honor and privilege of attending my school! In order to finish your pre-deployment workup, you must first complete my course!”
The large man seemed to be eyeballing us, scrolling from left to right in slow motion in what I deduced to be a vain attempt at sorting out the weak from the strong.
“If you fail my course,” he continued, “you will not be able to deploy, which is, I’m sure, what most of you would rather see happen anyway!”
“Fuck that shit!” An initial repudiation of the large man’s assessment was sounded by a Bravo a few bodies to my left, immediately followed by a chorus of angry voices. This was the appropriate time for rebuke.
“We fucking volunteered for this shit!”
“Ain’t nobody up in this motherfucker that don’t wanna be!” The yelling had reached a fever pitch.
“Oh yeah?” the large man questioned. “That true for all of you?”
His head ceased to swivel as he locked it on my position and fixed his cold blue eyes on me. It was now light enough to make out color.
I of course said nothing, but stared back unfazed. I’d played this game before. It was not my first rodeo.
“How ’bout it, huh?” The man inched closer to me, his shit-eating grin spread ear to ear. He was now within arm’s length. “Did you volunteer for this shit?”
“Actually, no. I was voluntold.”
My fellow Bravos responded with controlled laughter, and the large man’s face hardened. The laughter quickly died down, and the two of us stared back at one another but said nothing.
We remained in our stalemate for what felt like several minutes until a second figure appeared to face our formation. He was not as large or as tall as the first man, but he carried himself with a similar reserve. He had come out of the same B-hut, but had chosen to walk around our line rather than through it.
“I see you’ve met HM2 Dooley,” the man said. His voice was hearty and smacked of midwestern sensibilities. It was clear too, not only from his tone but also his appearance, that he was older than Dooley and presumably superior in rank.
“I’m HM1 Book. We’re your instructors. Welcome to Goat School.”
There was a barely audible reaction of joy that passed through our line. Smiles and soft chuckles moved like a wave from soldier to soldier.
“You’ve most likely heard a lot of shit about this course, some of it probably true.” Book’s voice carried throughout the clearing. The sun had not quite risen, but its light pushed back against the darkness enough that I could now see clearly. The two instructors stood on the road facing our line. Behind them lurked a dense forest cut short by the dirt road on which they stood. Behind us, the terrain dropped and the trees scattered. Interspersed throughout the sloping meadow were B-huts. A fog that had been there all along was now visible in the growing light of morning.
“You listen up,” said Book. “Do exactly what I or HM2 tell you to do and you’ll all be fine.”
“You motherfuckers’ll be on a bus back to Bullis in no time,” Dooley added.
The man to the left of me muttered something to the man on his left. I heard the sound, but was unable to make out the words. HM2 Dooley must have also heard the sidebar, because his face hardened and he shouted, “What the fuck is wrong with you goddamned idiots?! You haven’t been here five fucking minutes, already you’re fuckin’ up!”
The two men, apparently taken by surprise, made the necessary adjustments to bring their bodies back to the position of attention. The one closest to me addressed the grievance.
“I’m not a sir! I’m H-M-fucking-two Dooley.” Dooley was red with anger, which seemed a very natural look for him.
“It’s just that . . . we’ve never . . .” The man paused. He was flustered. “What is an HM2, sir? I mean . . . I’m sorry, I have no idea how to address you . . .”
The two instructors looked at one another and howled with laughter. They were feeding off our confusion and uncertainty like sharks circling chum. Dooley took the initiative, clearing up the matter once and for all.
“We are Navy hospital corpsmen.” He looked back at Book and continued. “HM1 Book is a first-class petty officer. So we address him as Hospital Corpsman First Class, or HM1 to shorten it up.” Book glared back and gave a barely visible slow nod of his head in approval. Dooley went on. “I am a second-class petty officer.” He paused at the line, rotating his head mechanically back and forth the full range of motion that his neck would allow.
Unsurprisingly, he again locked eyes with me. “So what does that make me?” he spat out.
“I guess that would make you HM2.”
“Very good! Smart boy, you’re gonna do just fine out here.”
I did not let my grin expire. HM2 Dooley turned his head to the left past his shoulder and addressed his superior.
“I want this cocksucker in my cadre, HM1.”
HM1 Book was pinching a loaf of snuff from a can as Dooley’s request registered in his ears. He did not look up as he responded.
“He’s all yours.”
It was at that moment that I realized HM2 Dooley was armed. In fact they both were. Each man had an M9 Beretta holstered on his right thigh. They were not the John Wayne–style, waist-level, belt clip-on holsters I had always thought that people who carried pistols were meant to wear. It was amazing, the degree to which my empirical knowledge had failed me.
“How many are you?” Dooley addressed the question to Sergeant Day. “Thirty-three, sir . . . uh, I mean . . . HM2.”
“Catching on, I see. Where’s the rest of you?”
A few of our medics had managed to drop off between Camp Shelby and Camp Bullis either by successfully failing too many training evolutions or by citing some family or personal emergency situation that, in their minds, superseded their commitment to our country. Two or three at most. I’d managed to go the majority of the three-plus months without learning everybody’s name partly because I thought it best not to develop an emotional connection with someone who could likely not make it back from the tour alive, but mostly because I valued my privacy. “Two failed training at Camp Shelby and Camp Bullis, and one had a family emergency. Thirty-three is all there is, HM2.”
HM2 Dooley pulled a sour face, disgusted with the attrition of our group.
“How do you wanna do this, HM1?” HM2 Dooley again craned his neck behind his left shoulder.
“Sixteen and seventeen.” “Who gets the extra man?”
HM1 zeroed in on me with his eyes. The enormous pinch of snuff protruded slightly from his bottom lip. I was amazed he was able to speak with it in.
“He’s all yours, remember!” HM1 chuckled.
“Everyone to the right of him,” HM2 Dooley pointed at me, “follow HM1 Book. Y’all are Cadre 1. The rest of you are Cadre 2. Spread out and stay quiet.”
The men to my right filed in behind HM1 Book, who moved down across our line and headed toward the B-hut from whence he and HM2 Dooley had come some thirty minutes earlier. It was nearly full daylight. The sun shone hard.
The first cadre followed HM1 Book into the B-hut. They moved like well-disciplined soldiers, rucksacks firm and tight on their backs, not bouncing all around. They entered the B-hut carrying one rucksack each; then, almost immediately, each man exited with a second smaller pack in addition to the rucksack. They carried two bags, the larger rucksack and the smaller pack, which looked like a medbag, one on each shoulder. It looked to be somewhat painful, though I could see only through my peripheral vision as my cadre, the second cadre, was still on line at attention.
“What is the most common form of preventable death on the battlefield,” HM2 addressed the cadre.
“Exsanguination of an extremity from a bullet hole wound or a laceration or amputation,” Davis shouted back. He was a tall, slim black guy from Miami, queer as the day is long. Everyone knew. Nobody cared. It wasn’t a thing, even back then.
The question he answered had been posed us countless times in Combat Medic School at Fort Sam Houston, and had been asked and asked again during our training at Camp Bullis.
“And what is the treatment for that injury?”
This question was also posed to the cadre as a whole.
“Apply a tourniquet four inches above the wound, tighten it until the bleeding stops. If the scene is unstable, move the patient to a more secure location, stuff the wound with a QuikClot bandage, then convert to a pressure dressing, loosen the tourniquet. As soon as the bleeding stops, start an IV of Hextend.” Specialist Villalobos, a Filipino kid from San Diego, volunteered the answer, a sequence of responses that we had, each of us, committed to memory. These procedures had become mantras to us all.
“And if he starts bleeding again?”
“Tighten the tourniquet.” The Cadre replied in unison to this last probe. If nothing else, our training had been thorough.
“What is the second most common form of preventable death on the battlefield?” This one, HM2 Dooley directed at me.
“Tension pneumothorax, collapsed lung secondary to a puncture wound to the thoracic cavity.”
“Very sharp there, high speed. And what is the treatment?”
“Needle chest decompression. Using an IV catheter, poke a hole mid- clavicle in the third intercostal space between the second and third ribs on the injured side of the chest. Allow whatever air that’s been trapped in the thoracic cavity to escape through the catheter, relieving the pressure within and allowing the lung to be restored upright. What else you got?” “Ohhh!!!” The cadre erupted with cheer. Our instructor did not share
“Shut the fuck up, the rest of you! You think this is a goddamned game?” It was clear from his tone that he was no longer distant and dispassionate. It was now somehow personal.
“I was with Three-Five in Falluja . . . the second time! In November, right after the president got fucking reelected!” He sensed our confusion about the unit he’d referenced. “That’s 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment for all you goddamned Army motherfuckers!” He had brought his tone down some, but was still yelling. “We were going house to house. That was how we did things back then. All it took was one IED and my whole fucking squad was down, every man, myself included.” He looked down at his right foot.
“Some of them died right there, some died on the bird or later on in the hospital ship, and some survived. The ones that made it are alive today because I treated them! Because I had the will to act!” He brought his tone down even further and almost leaned in a bit to bridge the gap between himself and our cadre. “Knowing what to do in a situation like that doesn’t come from God and it doesn’t come out of nowhere either. It comes from training. You will get this, even if you have doubts. Do everything I tell you, and when the time comes, your instincts will take over. That’s how training works. That’s why our program is so effective. The procedures that we rehearse out here will give you the tools and the guidance you need to save lives, so pay fucking attention!”
The mood had been altered slightlyin accordance with ourinstructor’s show of good faith in opening up to us. There was an air of brotherly love that washed across our line as we tried to process the impact of HM2 Dooley’s tragedy and the gravity of his wisdom. Our instructor took advantage of this dynamic. His head panned left, then right, until he finally brought his stare back to me. His eyes scanned my left breast pocket.
“What is the third most common form of preventable death on the battlefield?”
“Airway obstruction from trauma to the head or face.” “What is the treatment?”
“Cricothyroidotomy.” The whole cadre responded to the last one. “Good,” HM2 said as he began striding toward our line. “Now follow me.”
He again managed to slip through a gap in our cadre line created by the same two guys who’d gotten out of his way the first time. We fell in behind him and moved downhill through the meadow to the B-hut where the first cadre had picked up their medbags. We moved into the B-hut, single file, to find that there were no racks, no place for berthing. There was only a Dell desktop workstation set up on the left wall, and a collection of medbags stacked against the wall opposite. Next to the pile of bags were a few torn-open green boxes of MREs. A few of the green oblong-shaped MRE bags littered the floor just in front of the boxes. Other than the computer and desk and the medbags and MRE boxes, the room was empty.
“Grab one medbag, three MREs, and one CAT tourniquet and form it back up on the road. Put the tourniquet in your cargo pocket.” The first of our cadre had already picked up his medbag and begun digging through the MREs when HM2 Dooley shouted, “Just grab three MREs, the first three you see, and get back out on the road! Stop trying to get that fuckin’ chili mac!” Everyone wanted the chili mac.
Without too much commotion, we were able to all acquire our supplies and equipment and form back up on the road seventeen abreast, each man now with a bag on each shoulder. The weight was a little painful to bear, but I knew I could stay frozen in this position for hours if I had to.
“End of the line. Move.” “Moving.”
My time in the military up to this point had conditioned me to respond with action, not thought, to commands of this nature. I swung around to the end of the line and the Bravos who’d been next to me closed in the gap.
“On me,” HM2 Dooley called out, and with that we were off. There’d been many times in my career, too many to recall, when I’d set off, unclear as to my objective or purpose, scrambling to make sense of where I was or what I was supposed to be doing. And more often than not, it turned out that the simplest action was usually the right action. In this situation I was moving forward, one foot in front of the other, bringing up the rear as I had been ordered to.
The sun had risen and the heat was causing me to sweat. I pulled my canteen from the side pouch of my rucksack, which required a minor balancing act of the two bags on my back. We held column on the right margin of the road in case there was any vehicle traffic, though I didn’t think there would be. It felt very much like we were alone in the wooded canopy.
After a quarter mile or so, a trail opened up from the woods on the right side of the road, and we entered. I soon realized that the Bravos up front had been breaking off from the trail and heading deeper into the woods on our left. I began to see what looked like some farm animals tethered to trees in the woods. Each makeshift enclosure was a good five hundred feet from the last, and roughly a hundred feet off the trail.
I saw Davis go off, then Villalobos. Then the rest of them, whose names I knew but did not care to recall. All of them eventually broke off the trail and moved through the dense forest to tend to their animals and await further directions from our instructor.
The last man in front of me turned left into the brush as HM2 Dooley pointed in the direction of his assigned area and ward. He then looked at me, grimaced, and made a nodding gesture with his head indicating that I follow him into the woods.
We did not speak as we moved through the forest, though we disturbed foliage and snapped twigs with our heavy boots. The woods became denser, and I realized that I could no longer see any of the other Bravos or their animals.
It felt like we’d been on the march for hours when I asked, “How much farther, HM2?”
“You’ll know when we get there,” he snarled.
I glanced at the pistol holstered on his right thigh. He always kept a good two steps ahead of me at any given time, and the terrain was uneven and difficult to negotiate. But we kept moving. Moving and moving. One foot in front of the next. No questions. No discussion. Just movement, one foot in front of the other.
And then the forest opened up into a circular clearing with a large weeping willow in the center.
A metallic chain dangled without tension from one of the branches of the tree. The other end of the chain was secured to a collar that wrapped around the neck of a shimmering white billy goat. The goat stared at us both. It had a brilliantly bright, almost blinding white coat and menacing blue eyes that were alert, though did not appear to take us as a threat.
“Put down your ruck.” “Alright.”
I walked past the goat over to the tree. The goat did not change its footing, but it followed me with its head and eyes. I allowed my rucksack to slide gently off my left shoulder so that it made contact with the tree and remained upright. I rotated to the other side and began the same process with the medbag hanging from my right shoulder when HM2 Dooley snapped at me. “No! Keep your medbag on!”
Though I was never in my short military career accused of being a stellar soldier, I was no dirtbag either, at least not as I saw things. And while I took care to obey the orders of those appointed over me in accordance with the oath I swore, the soldier’s creed, I also understood that I was no longer in boot camp. There was a finite amount of abuse I was willing to tolerate, and HM2 Dooley with his snide remarks and combat-cool swagger was dangerously close to exceeding the allotted quota.
He stood just beside the goat, petting and scratching its head. The goat blinked and leaned into his left thigh.
“Get over here.”
“I’m fucking moving, can’t you see that.”
“You need to take it down a notch, Rogers. It’s just you, me, and this goat way out in the woods, you know what I’m saying?”
I approached from the other side. I was now staring at Dooley, he was staring back at me, and the goat was between us. The chain jingled with the soft movements of the goat’s head rubbing against Dooley’s left leg.
“Are you confident in the interventions we went over earlier?” “Yes.”
“Do you think you have what it takes to treat casualties under fire?” “I know I do.”
He looked down at the goat and smiled. “Beautiful, isn’t she?”
“Yes, she is.”
“Keep her alive for thirty-six hours, and you pass. If she dies . . .” He looked up at me and smiled again with that irritated, condescending look I was beginning to think was his default expression. “Then you fail. No deployment, no glory . . . which shouldn’t be too much of a letdown for you, considering you were . . . ‘voluntold,’ right?”
I knew that HM2 Dooley was the type of person who survived on the anger and doubt he inspired in others. I imagined that was the only thing he really had going for him anymore. But I would not oblige him in that way.
“I’ll keep her alive.”
His smile faded to a look of sincere, though guarded optimism as he nodded slightly.
“One more thing . . . ”
“Don’t name her.”
“I said don’t give her a name.”
“Just trust me, it’s better that way.”
“I said alright. Anything else?”
His condescending smile returned as he reached for his weapon. “Yeah, good luck.”
Dooley was still petting goat’s head with his left hand as he simultaneously unholstered his M9 with his right and fired a shot into the animal’s left hind leg.
“What the fuck?! Are you fucking crazy, man?!”
The goat made a sound like a dying baby’s cry muffled by her shortness of breath as she capsized on the side of the wounded appendage. The chain jingled as she went down.
“Better get moving or this lab’s gonna be over in thirty seconds!” “Goddamn it!”
I pushed past Dooley to get position on the patient, then kneeled down beside her and grounded my medbag. Digging my two hands underneath her flank, I flipped her onto her right side so that I could get to work on the wound. As I did this, she continued to make horrible wailing sounds that I found difficult to ignore.
The wound Dooley inflicted had struck the femoral artery, which was undoubtedly his intention, causing the patient to hemorrhage large volumes of blood from her left hind leg. Our training indicated that a patient suffering this type of wound could bleed out in as little as ninety seconds.
The goat’s leg was spurting blood like a volcano. Her shiny white coat was now dyed an indelible deep red in patches and splatter marks that went all the way up to her face. Her flank looked like a Jackson Pollock.
There was no time to go for the medbag. I reached into my right cargo pocket and pulled out the CAT tourniquet. We all knew that CAT tourniquet was a redundant expression, because CAT was an acronym for Combat Application Tourniquet, but we kept calling them CAT tourniquets the way people in civilian life continue to say ATM machine. Basic logic and reason overcome by the juggernaut of popular usage.
This trivial observation, however, did little to stop the patient from bleeding to death. It’s a wonder what accounts for thought in a moment of truth such as this.
I slid the CAT tourniquet up the patient’s leg, above the wound, which bloodied my hands and made it difficult to control the device. Once it was in place, I pulled the strap hard; then, using the winch, I tightened it till the geyser was reduced to a slow drip, like a faucet valve on full blast cranked suddenly shut. I then tightened it one more half turn and the oozing stopped altogether.
I grounded and unzipped my medbag and pulled the top part forward so it opened like a traveling salesman’s display suitcase. In the top section I found a QuikClot bandage, which I tore open immediately and applied directly to the wound. The bandage was caked in a chalky substance that, upon contact with the patient’s blood, immediately set off a chemical reaction that extracted the blood’s moisture, causing it to clot instantly. I shoved the bandage as far into the wound as I could before the moisture from the blood began to set off the chemical change, causing my fingers to burn slightly.
I reached back into my medbag and pulled a second QuikClot bandage, which I then tore open and applied to the exit wound on the inside of the goat’s leg. I set the bandage into the wound, same as before, only this time I did it without eyes, because I feared that turning her over again might have been too much for her. I instead reached around to the inside of her leg and stuffed the bandage into the opposing end of the canal left by the path and tremendous force of the M9 round.
There were risks associated with these clotting agents. The cauterizations often caused harmful burns, and I’d overheard trauma surgeons say that they make it difficult, sometimes impossible, to repair arteries on the operating table. However we were not surgeons, and our job was not to repair arteries or set fractures, or even suture. Our job was to sustain the life of the casualty until transfer to the next echelon of care, usually a medevac, at which point all responsibility of the patient’s well- being shifted extemporaneously from us to them.
The cries had died down. The patient’s head was wobbly as she lay on her side. Her remaining limbs began to twitch every ten seconds or so. Clearly, she had gone into shock and was circling the drain. She was panting, and her coat was wet with sweat and blood.
The QuikClot bandages had worked, it appeared, but the wound still needed to be dressed and wrapped.
I pulled from my medbag an Israeli bandage, which is really just a battle dressing attached to an Ace wrap. I pushed the dressing part of it down hard against the wound, then coiled the Ace wrap bit around the dressing and her limb to hold it in place. I made sure the tension was tight enough to hold the bleeding back, but not so tight that it would cut off the circulation to her leg. When I was finished I looked at the dressing, observed for any blood flow, and tested the tension of the wrap by sticking my index finger between the goat’s leg and the inside of the dressing. I could not quite get a full finger inside, so it was good to go.
I then loosened the tourniquet and observed for blood flow a second time. There was none. I left the tourniquet in place, but with slack, in case the bleeding resumed and I had to tighten it back up.
Monitoring a wound like this is something that is done constantly until the patient is transferred to the next echelon of care, in this case, back to the clearing with the B-huts, provided she made it the next two days.
I heard a second shot way off in the distance, and when I looked up I realized HM2 Dooley was no longer around. I dug through my medbag until I found a 500cc bag of Hextend, the blood-plasma volumizing solution. The patient had lost at least a pint of blood, which made it very difficult for me to find a pulse, let alone insert an IV. I’d done IV sticks before, during the last phase of clinicals at Combat Medic School at Fort Sam Houston, then later on at the Brooke Army Medical Center ER. Way too many to count.
Also, we would give ourselves IVs the mornings after particularly brutal nights of binge drinking. All of us who worked in the ER would fix each other with IVs and infuse one another with solution—usually normal saline—to replenish the fluids we’d lost to alcohol-induced dehydration.
I had responded in the ER to bleeding laceration injuries in patients that had come in on gurneys, fresh from the scene of a motor vehicle accident, though this was the first time that I had been alone in treating a patient with a major hemorrhage wound like this one. Also, I had never treated a goat.
The fur made it difficult to find a vein, but despite the severity of the wound and my ignorance of the patient’s foreign anatomy, I was able to set a saline lock into the left front leg. I knew the needle had struck her vein because of the flash of red that exploded into the valve when the blood came through the needle’s catheter.
I then secured the IV tubing to the lock and hung the clear bag of Hextend from a small branch of the willow. The Hextend was clear like water, only a bit thicker in composition. I pushed the small wheel of the flow regulator all the way up with my thumb so the solution dripped out at a fast rate, like syrup from a Maine maple tree in spring, and after about a minute or so the patient began to show small signs of recovery. She was still whining and thrashing a bit, but she was alive.
I had stopped the bleeding, and put in an IV. The patient was no longer circling the drain, but she was in enormous pain.
I located a 10mg/5cc syringe of morphine sulfate in my medbag, uncapped the needle and drove it into the opaque yellow rubber stopper that jutted out at an acute angle halfway up the IV tubing. I already had IV access; there was no need to stick her twice. As I depressed the plunger with my thumb, I watched the patient react in real time to the administration of the narcotic. It was magical and surreal how quickly one small movement, one little push of the thumb, could remove such intense prolonged agony and replace it with bliss. There were two more syringes in the bag, I noted. This first one had done its job.
The twitching became less and less frequent until it ceased entirely. The patient’s breathing pattern transitioned from short, shallow panting breaths to long, deep respirations. Her head lay off to the side, her blue eyes blinking but aware. Her perspiration had been reduced to a thin, moist layer, which was a normal reaction to the day’s heat. The sun was now high in the air, and though the willow provided some cover, the warmth was still very intense, and I found myself sweating and imbibing large volumes of water. My first canteen was nearly empty, so I poured the last bit into the side of my patient’s mouth. She licked her lips. The Hextend would help increase the volume of blood in her veins and arteries, though she would need drinkable water if she were to survive.
I heard a third shot off in the distance. It was farther off then the second had been.
I’m not sure exactly why I was so shocked when HM2 Dooley shot my goat. After all, the purpose of this course was to show us what a wound really looked like up close, and to make sure we knew how to respond. The goats were sacrifices. Their injuries served the larger purpose of our mission. We needed the practice. It made sense. I could rationalize it. Though the cruelty of it all weighed on me, and the sorrow and sadness I experienced made me feel weak.
I despised myself for allowing such feelings to take shape in my thoughts. To avoid obsessing on it any further I threw myself into my duties.
I lifted the patient’s two eyelids, one at a time, and swiped a penlight across them both, ensuring her pupils were round and reactive to light. They both were.
I checked and rechecked her pulse, which eventually fell to between 90 and 120 beats per minute, the normal range for humans. Her coat was now dry and caked in the crimson of blood, which was thick and concentrated near the site of the wound and splattered in small spots along the rest of her left flank. There were even spots as far up as her face. Much of her blood had also stained my hands and blouse and had even struck my face and neck. But she was calm now.
The 500cc bag of Hextend suspended by a small branch of the willow above her head was nearly empty, so I changed it out with a second sack I grabbed out of my medbag. Her vein had swallowed the solution at an abnormally high rate due to the blood loss she’d sustained. I adjusted the drip rate on the second bag so that it would not empty as quickly.
I heard several more shots, each one farther off than the last, as I tended to my charge. It was not a good day for goats, I thought. But my patient, my goat, was going to live. I was sure of it.
I petted her coat, now stiff in parts from the coagulated blood spatter, though still soft in the swaths that were untouched by the hemorrhage. I petted her head and spoke to her.
“You’re gonna be okay, goat. You’re gonna make it; you’re gonna live.” She nuzzled gently against my hand with her head. I found it troubling and impersonal that I should refer to my patient by the name of her species rather than something more intimate. If she was going to live, she needed a name.
“You’re gonna be okay, Sally. We’re gonna get through this.”
Sally was the name of a former girlfriend; the one I’d let slip away. Our time together had been brief but passionate. She had long, straight, shiny black hair with short bangs. Her complexion was fair and her body type was athletic. Her face was smart and pretty and her eyes were a deep blue or green depending on the light that surrounded her.
She was way out of my league, but I had managed to wrangle her through a series of verbal and physical exchanges. They were less about content, more about posture. I pulled it off, somehow. She fell for me.
It did not take long, however, for her to see through me. Our union was short-lived. But I loved her still, and I missed her and I knew that this would never change.
It was now close to dusk, and the heat had let up some. There was dense moisture in the air, which caused Sally and I to sweat. I had half a canteen of water left. The day’s excitement had worn me down and I realized that I was very hungry. I dug through my rucksack and pulled out an MRE. Chicken tetrazzini.
The MRE heater required water to spark a chemical reaction which created the heat that cooked the meal. I chose to hold my water in reserve and eat the meal cold, which really wasn’t much different from eating it hot.
The main meal was supplemented with crackers, a packet of peanut butter and jelly, two small slices of flat white bread, chocolate M&Ms, an instant coffee packet, and two small lemon-scented towelette wipes. I used the wipes to clean the dried blood off my hands. I had been tempted earlier in the day to use water for this purpose, but decided that it would have been a poor use of limited resources.
I crushed up the bread and the crackers into a grain meal and fed it to Sally. The right side of her face rested against the soft earth of the forest. She lifted it slightly and managed to scoop up the crushed bread and crackers with her lips, which tickled my hand a little. It reminded me of outings to the Bronx Zoo I’d taken as a boy with my family when we lived together in Old New York in the eighties.
When she was finished, I poured some water into her mouth from the side and she licked her lips and moved her jaw.
The sky had gone dark with rain clouds. The sun had not quite set, but I could see that a storm coming.
I procured my sleeping bag from my ruck and gently pulled it up underneath and around Sally. I then fashioned a small tarp from my poncho, affixed it to some branches of the willow to shelter her from the rain, and adjusted the drip rate on the second bag of Hextend to a very slow setting so that the bag would not empty overnight. There was a small amount of solution pooled at the bottom that would suffice.
If the bag empties and there’s still negative pressure in the catheter, it is possible for the patient to take on an air embolism, perhaps causing a stroke. Losing her to such a gaffe at this point would have been unacceptable after all I’d done to keep her alive.
I climbed into the sleeping bag with the wounded goat so that neither one of us would develop hypothermia.
“It’s okay, Sally. We’re gonna get through this,” I whispered into her ear. I knew she could not understand my language, but I knew also that my words had a calming effect.
“We’re gonna get through this, I promise. I’m gonna bring you back home to Greenwich with me. You’ll be back on your feet in a few weeks. This will all feel like a bad dream, you’ll see. Everything’s gonna work out, I promise.”
Rain began to patter on the tarp above us, and though the odd drop was able to slip through and splash me or Sally, we stayed, for the most part, warm and dry. She twitched and kicked and moaned occasionally through the night, and when the morning came, I decided it was time for another dose of morphine.
As I rose to my feet and went for my medbag, which had also managed to stay mostly dry under the tarp, I heard the snap of twigs and the rustle of disturbed shrubbery.
“Goddamn, boy, what kinda shit did you get into?” HM2 was standing just over me.
“It’s not what it looks like.”
“Oh yeah? You got a loose understanding of the concept of battlefield medicine, son.”
“Look, it was fucking raining out, and I didn’t want her or me to hype out . . . ”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. I’m just fuckin’ with you. So how ’bout it, huh? She alive under there?”
“Yeah, she’s alive. She’s gonna make it.”
“Show me what you’ve done.”
I tore down the tarp, threw it aside and pulled the sleeping bag out from underneath Sally.
“You didn’t name her, did you?” “Course not.”
“Good. I brought you some water.” HM2 Dooley threw a one-liter bottle of Poland Spring water down beside my rain poncho.
“Let’s see what we got here.” He squatted before Sally and began testing the tension of my pressure dressing, poking at the small space between her leg and the inside of the Ace wrap.
“Good stuff, looks like.” “Thanks.”
“You put a QuikClot in there?” “Yeah.”
Dooley looked up and slightly left, furnished a quizzical expression, then glanced back at me.
“Those things work, but they cause more harm than good sometimes.” “I’ve heard that.”
HM2 Dooley continued to check the patient’s vital signs, observing her overall condition and the efficacy of my interventions. He applied light pressure to her carotid artery under her chin to check her pulse, which caused her to moan softly and avert her head in protest. HM2 Dooley gave a small nod of the head in my general direction that came with an expression of tempered approval. This was not a mocking gesture.
“How many bags did you give her?”
“That’s the second one.”
“Change it out for a normal saline. She’s dehydrated.” “Okay.”
Unlike Hextend, normal saline did not pull water from the interstitial space between the skin and the blood vessels. It was just water with a little sodium. The infusion would not increase her blood volume as much as it would replenish fluid from the interstitial space that had been drawn into the bloodstream by the two bags of Hextend.
I grabbed the 500cc pouch of normal saline from my medbag as HM2 Dooley stared curiously at Sally. He was now right on top of her looking down at her left side. She lay on her right flank, unable to adjust her position since I’d flipped her over to treat the gunshot wound the previous day. I was standing a few inches from her head, changing out her IV. We were all three underneath the willow.
“We threw y’all in at the deep end ’cause downrange, that’s how it is. You don’t get time to prepare. When you get hit, it just happens. That’s why we didn’t even give y’all a chance to familiarize yourselves with the medbags we gave you. Have you figured out where everything is?”
HM2 Dooley was talking to me straight finally. There was no animosity or distance between us.
“One thing we don’t cover in this lab is burns.” He looked off to his right as he spoke, focused perhaps on an unseen memory sprouted up from the flora.
“You ever see what burns look like up close?” he asked, his eyes fixed on the shrubbery dead ahead.
“I did my clinicals in the burn ward at BAM-C.”
“Good old Brooke Army Medical Center!” he chuckled. “Yeah, a few of my guys wound up there.”
“Oh. Well, what were their names? Maybe I knew them.” “It don’t matter, they’re all fuckin’ dead now.”
He examined Sally, pulling her eyelids open and observing her pupils. “She’s pretty calm. Did you hit her with morphine?”
“Yeah, but not before I got everything under control.” Dooley nodded his head in approval.
“You know you have to be careful with that shit?” “Yeah, I know.”
“No, seriously. That shit’ll get over on you. You should only use it if the patient is on his way down. It’s too tricky to tell sometimes, and you’ll wind up doing more harm than good. That shit’ll get over on you, be careful.”
“I will, and I am.”
“How many did you hit her with?” “One.”
“Really, I only counted one left in your medbag, and we gave you three, so you should have two. Where’s the other one?”
“That’s fucking bullshit! I only used one, and there were two left, I swear to God!”
“Don’t sweat it, we’ll worry about it when you turn everything in. But when you get downrange, you better keep a good eye on your supply. If everyone of those narcs isn’t accounted for, that’s a guaranteed court- martial. You can thank the Vietnam docs for that one. Apparently they had their fun, ruined it for the rest of us.”
HM2 Dooley forced a smile over his face, and I was unable to decipher exactly which type of smile it was: one of camaraderie or contempt.
The Texas sun had risen high in the sky, causing the moisture from the previous night’s rainfall to evaporate slowly. It was hot and humid.
“Make sure you’re drinking enough water too.” “I’m alright.”
“You know, Rogers,” he turned to face me as he spoke, “this lab isn’t just about keeping this fucking goat alive.” He stroked Sally’s head with his left hand the same way he had the previous day moments before he shot her in the hind leg. I found this disturbing, but said nothing. “The Army’s spent a lot of money training, feeding, and paying your ass. You’re no good to us dead.”
“I thought you said you were in the Navy.”
“I am, numb nuts.” He smiled genuinely. “It’s one team, one fight.
You’ll see when you get out there.”
HM2 Dooley continued to nod slowly as he stroked the goat’s head. “Yeah, I think she’s gonna make it. Rogers, you know where everything
in your bag is, right? You know where your occlusive dressings are?” “Yeah, they’re in the bottom half, underneath the burn dressings.” “Very good.” He did his best to look Sally in her eye as he spoke. She
no longer protested his fondling of her. “Yeah, I think she’s gonna make it.”
While still in the crouching position, HM2 Dooley unholstered his pistol with his right hand and fired a shot into the goat’s flank.
“No!” I shouted, and leaped over her and tackled him. “Stop shooting my fucking goat!”
My pounce caught him off balance, and I was able to briefly gain a mounted position on him and wrap my hands around his neck before he struck me in the head with his pistol.
The force of the blow knocked me over onto my back, and before I could make sense of what had happened, HM2 Dooley was standing over me shouting, the pistol trained dead on my skull.
“What the fuck is wrong with you, you stupid cocksucker!?”
He put his right foot on my chest and leaned in close with the pistol. His eyes were alive with hatred. I had tripped his switch and he was now upon me, bearing down with a loaded gun.
“Why do you keep shooting her?” I sobbed uncontrollably. “She can’t defend herself, she’s helpless, and I’ve fucking stabilized her!” I had come apart. Perhaps it was from the exhaustion of being at full capacity treating Sally for so many hours in the moist heat, then through the cold, wet night. Or maybe I was dehydrated and underfed. But whatever the cause, I had devolved into a blubbering mess, going to pieces on the soft earth of the interior wood.
“She was gonna survive. Why did you fucking do that?”
Dooley’s face softened a hair, and he grabbed me by the blouse collar and pulled me up.
“She’s not dead yet, go treat her!”
He threw me down onto my medbag, which I tore through to locate my occlusive dressings; flat, clear squares four by four inches in size and the consistency of Saran Wrap. Their purpose is to create a seal over a wound to the airway or respiratory system.
I peeled one open, and applied it to the hole in Sally’s flank. I pressed hard around the squared edges, ensuring an airtight seal. The clear dressing was red with blood from the wound, but the blood did not bleed through to the other side. The seal was intact.
I then pulled a second occlusive dressing and peeled it open. With my left hand, I reached around to Sally’s right flank and located the exit wound. Without flipping her over, I secured the clear plastic square to the wound, first with one hand, then ensuring the seal was intact by wrapping my other arm around her neck and applying pressure. I had both arms wrapped around her as though giving her a hug. In fact, I was hugging her.
“It’s gonna be okay, Sally, trust me.”
“What the fuck did you just say, Rogers?”
“Nothing, I didn’t say anything.” My voice was still full of hurt and trembling.
“Get the catheter out and finish this intervention.”
HM2 Dooley’s tone was distant and dispassionate. He was all business at this point.
Sally was still breathing, but her breaths had become laborious. She was showing a flail chest; the rise and fall of her chest did not sync up with the inhalation and exhalation of her breath. She displayed paradoxical motion, the hallmark of a collapsed lung. She had a tension pneumothorax, the second most common cause of preventable death on the battlefield. In order to fix it, I would have to poke a hole in her chest to relieve the pressure so her lungs could right themselves. Also, I noticed she was coughing up a little blood.
“Rogers, that means now! Move!”
I grabbed a 14-gauge IV catheter from my medbag, uncapped it, and punctured the bloodstained fur of her flank through to the skin. The needle went in with a pop, and I felt a rush of warm air push out through the catheter.
“Now make sure the air doesn’t get back in.”
I pulled out a latex glove and a pair of trauma shears from my medbag and cut one of the fingers off, then placed the glove’s amputated finger on top of the catheter so that air could escape, but could not get back in through the hole. For all our many innovative triumphs, our advancements in tactical medical equipment and procedures over the years, this was the best, most effective way to keep air out of the plural space.
“Rogers, you’re lucky I didn’t have you thrown in the fucking brig. You’re even luckier I didn’t blow your goddamned brains out. You’ve got six hours left on this lab. Keep that patient alive, and you pass. If she dies, you fail, and you stay home. You’ll sit out the fucking war.”
Air continued to squeak out through the catheter. Sally’s chest began to slowly rise and fall evenly and in step with her breathing pattern.
“This is your chance to really do something with your life. Something extraordinary. Don’t you want to be a part of something greater than yourself?”
“And end up like you?”
Dooley nearly had to take a step back as I answered his question with one of my own. His jaw about dropped and his eyes widened with great surprise. It was as though my words had pierced his lungs the way his bullet had torn a hole through Sally’s.
“I’ll see you in six hours.”
He disappeared into the forest, this time without making a sound. I turned my attention back to Sally. She was in bad shape. I knew it was beyond my purview to put in a chest tube, but if I didn’t get the blood out of her lungs, she would likely drown.
I found one in my medbag, and fastened a 10-gauge needle to the front end. Ten gauge is an extremely large bore size. A procedure like this is meant to be performed on the operating table under aseptic conditions by someone who is not only a medical doctor but also a trauma surgeon. My schooling amounted to twelve weeks at Combat Medic School at Fort Sam Houston and the twenty-two-day crash course in combat medicine at Camp Bullis.
I drove the tube through Sally’s chest wall just underneath her armpit, the prescribed site for an insertion in humans. She jerked in horrible pain. I felt awful, but there was no turning back now.
The tube filled up with blood that poured out the opposite end onto the forest floor. When it looked like it was nearly finished emptying, I cut a finger off the same latex glove and placed it over the open end of the chest tube to keep air from getting back into the lung.
Airway, breathing, and circulation. ABCs. To manage those three things was to preserve life to the very best of our abilities, until transfer to the next echelon of care. The chest tube was an intervention well above my level of training and expertise. We had learned about the procedure, but had never trained or rehearsed one. I had no business putting it in, but I didn’t know what else to do.
Sally was too close to the edge to administer morphine. If I didn’t have to keep her alive for this stupid lab, I would have tied her off one last time and let her fade away in peace. It would have been the humane thing to do. Instead, I held vigil. I checked and rechecked my interventions, took vital signs, and even filled out a Field Medical Care Card, documenting her injuries and recording her condition.
When I realized I had reached the limits of what I could possibly do to keep her from expiring, I knelt beside her and bowed my head. I had never been taught before how to pray. I recalled while switching through radio channels in my car in San Antonio years earlier, and stumbling upon an evangelist station, that according to the Christian faith, all prayers were meant to be directed to God the father. But I had no idea who that was.
So I prayed to the God of mercy. I prayed to the God of eternal peace and forgiveness and wisdom and charity and second chances. I even spoke aloud:
“Please, God, don’t let Sally die. Let me take her back home with me, back to Greenwich. I know things went wrong between us, but I still love her, God. Help me, I can’t keep her out of my thoughts. She haunts me, oh God. Please see us through this trying time. Please let her live, help us try again, oh God.”
I must have gone on and on like that for several hours, because when I sat up, I saw HM2 Dooley standing over Sally, petting her head gently and smiling.
Her head had perked up and she too appeared to be smiling. There was an even rise and fall of her chest. Her pulse was strong and within the normal range, and she was alert and responsive.
“I don’t know how you pulled it off, Rogers, but looks like you’re gonna pass.”
“Really?” I could not contain my own smile.
“I can’t figure it. Looked like for sure she was finished. You got some magic hands, huh? Those are gonna come in handy downrange.”
“I don’t have a litter. Will you help me carry her back?” “Huh?”
“Back to camp?” I pointed in the direction of the trail that had led us out to the clearing the previous day. “I could manage it on my own, but she’s still critical, and I don’t want to risk it.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” A hard smirk appeared on his face.
“She’s in critical condition. I’ve stabilized her, but we’ve got to get her on a medevac soon or she’s not gonna make it.”
HM2 Dooley laughed out loud. He put his hands on his hips and leaned back with his head and shoulders. Having been the source of many scraps and tussles as a youngster, I’d had it explained to me on more than one occasion, by more than one parent or teacher or camp counselor, the difference between someone laughing with you and laughing at you. HM2 Dooley was laughing at me.
“Rogers, we’re not taking her back with us. This is the end of the line for poor old, what’s her name? What did you call her?”
“I didn’t call her anything.”
“Bullshit, I heard you. Earlier today when I came out here, and just now, while you were praying, or whatever the fuck you were doing. And that’s another thing. What the fuck do you know about God, huh?”
I paused for a moment in contemplation. What did I know about God?
“As much as the next guy.”
“You think that’s fuckin’ funny, you Yankee cocksucker?”
“Whoa, chill the fuck out! What happened to ‘one team, one fight’?” I could tell this flustered Dooley, so I tried to reason with him.
“Look, I know its unorthodox or whatever, but I can take care of her. I’ll take her to the vet, pay for it myself. I’ll keep her around at my mom’s house in Greenwich. She can stay there while I deploy, then I’ll take her with me wherever I get stationed next. She doesn’t have to die, please?”
HM2 Dooley reached for his pistol with his right hand. “No, stop! Don’t shoot her again, please!”
“I won’t.” Dooley unholstered his weapon, turned it around so that his hand gripped the barrel and the handle faced forward. He pushed the gun into my chest. “You will.”
I had deluded myself into believing that there was another way. “I can’t.” My head dropped forward, and I began to tear up.
“You have to.” “I can’t.”
“Take the fucking weapon, Rogers!”
But deep down, I knew all along what had to be done. Without looking up, I grabbed the pistol with my right hand and wiped the tears from my eyes with my left forearm.
“What the fuck is your problem, Rogers? The Army didn’t fucking draft your ass. You signed on for this shit. What’s your deal, son?”
I took a deep breath in and held it for a moment before exhaling. “I didn’t know it was gonna be this hard.”
I looked up at Dooley, my eyes bloodshot and shimmering. I bit down on my upper lip to keep it from trembling.
“It’s hard for everyone, Rogers. I told you not to name her, didn’t I? You’re soft now, but you’ll grow hard. You will, I know you will. Now finish this, so we can get the fuck outta here.”
I closed my eyes and nodded. “Gimme a sec, alright?” “Alright.”
I walked over to Sally. She blinked and looked up at me, unaware of the inevitable conclusion to her epic trial. She had suffered as Jesus had suffered. And she would die as Jesus had died.
“You know, Sally, you were never there for me when I really needed you.”
The goat sensed a shift in my tone, and rested her head back on the soft earth of the forest. It was a miracle she had survived to this point.
“You weren’t there for me and you abandoned me when I needed you most.”
Her eyes widened. I could sense her fear.
“And your family never liked me and I never liked them and you fucking abandoned me, you bitch! You fucking left me, you whore! You left me for that fucking captain you met at Cowboy’s Dance Hall.”
She was breathing rapidly now. She did her best to scramble with her good legs.
“And it’s just as well, the two of you deserve each other! And I don’t care if he was an officer, he was still white trash from Mobile or Pensacola or wherever, and you’re still white trash from Bastrop County, and you don’t belong in Greenwich, Connecticut anyway! I’m glad I never took you home with me, all my friends would’ve laughed at me. There’s no place for Bastrop County white trash in Greenwich, Connecticut!”
For the first time, I heard the birds and the bugs and all the rest of the wildlife in layers of atmospheric sound. It was deafening.
“You did good, Rogers. Police up those IVs and bandages, grab your shit, and head back to camp. You’ll be on a bus back to Bullis later on tonight. Don’t worry about ‘Sally’ either. The coyotes’ll get to her first, then the rest. Circle of life, brother.”
HM2 Dooley had been going through my medbag. I assumed he was reorganizing it for the next group of Bravos to come through.
“Hey, where’s your Field Medical Card?”
“I have it here.”
I pulled the card from my right cargo pocket and handed it to Dooley. He looked it over, all the while nodding and looking back up at me every so often.
“Looks good, except for one thing. You only recorded one treatment of morphine. You forgot about the other two you pushed.”
“But I only pushed one, I told you—”
“Be careful, Rogers,” Dooley interrupted me. “That shit’ll get over on you. Be careful.”
Before I could respond, he was gone again, vanished into the thick brush of the forest like a Comanche ghost.
As I finished pulling off the bandages and separating the IV tubing, I noticed there was still one 10mg/5cc syringe of morphine sulfate in my medbag. I picked it up and stared at it curiously. Puzzled, I scanned the forest for signs that I was being watched. It would not have been altogether out of the ordinary for this last challenge to be the true test of Goat School.
In the end, I placed the syringe in my cargo pocket, finished policing up the area, packed up my medbag and rucksack with all perishable and nonperishable items and trash, and headed back in the direction of the camp, leaving the goat to rot in the high Texas sun, or be picked clean by the coyotes.
Brandon Caro is the author of the debut novel, Old Silk Road (Post Hill Press, October 13, 2015). He was a Navy corpsman (combat medic) and advisor to the Afghan National Army in Afghanistan from 2006-2007. He holds a B.A. in Liberal Arts from Texas State University, and is currently pursuing an MFA in Fiction Writing from The New School. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Daily Beast, Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art, and elsewhere. He lives in Austin, Texas.