Watch out for the doc…
Some exciting things are happening in my burgeoning writing world. In the next week or so, I hope to have some exciting announcements concerning my writing. Nothing monumental is happening but in my little life, just some more steps towards respectability.
But until then, story time continues. This story isn’t really mine although I was there and witnessed the event live and in color. I tell it because it is the lead in to a couple of other stories from the rotation. Since I don’t have permission from the person at the center of this story, I will not refer to them by name.
Since the dawn of manned flight, there has been an adversarial relationship between aviators and doctors. I don’t know any details of when exactly the relationship went bad, but I would guess sometime after one of the Wright Brothers had a headache and went to a doctor for one of those new-fangled aspirins. I envision the doctor checked the world’s first pilot for an aneurism because pilots don’t get headaches. The relationship spiraled downward, if you doubt me go watch the Right Stuff movie and tell me I am wrong.
It isn’t that aviators don’t like doctors, but you should never trust someone who holds the keys to your career in their hand. If a doctor gets a wild hair and grounds an aviator, it is up to the aviator to prove that they are fit to fly. It is not necessarily the job of the doctor to get the aviator back into the air. In my career, I have lived this nightmare out twice. The first time was in flight school. I had a simple head cold and instead of just going to the doc and taking a couple of days to recover. I jumped into the altitude chamber and promptly blew out my ear drum. I have never had an ice pick in my ear, but I know what it would feel like.
Of course, I went to the doc afterwards. The brilliant doctor gave me a couple of days off and put me right back into the chamber. Same problem and same ending. He gave me two more days off and put me in the chamber again, with the same result. The third time he looked in my ear, he said something to the effect that maybe I had an inner ear defect that was preventing me from passing the chamber. Maybe this was an elimination type event. I didn’t react with understanding, compassion, or softness. I got a little upset and I told him that he was not going to wash me out. My comments brought an additional hurdle to pass besides being under the intense scrutiny from the doctor. I got to visit the base shrink, who looked and acted like Stewart Smalley except in an Air Force blue sweater. It was all I could do not to laugh, and if the stakes were not so high, I would have.
After the psychological testing, a counseling session, and an interview with the psychologist, I was released back to the original doctor’s care. He gave me a full scale allergy test to determine the source of my issue. Three intense allergy tests later, they determined that I was slightly allergic to a pine tree. But the other 199 most common allergies did not register. Finally, I got to see an Ear, Nose and Throat doctor who looked in my ear, listened to my symptoms and applied some common sense. Forty-Five days off to allow my ear to heal from the trauma of the three repeated blown ear drum. After it healed, I passed the chamber with no issues.
The second time I ran into a doc was in Instructor School. I woke up feeling nauseous; I thought that maybe my stomach would be soothed by some food. I drove to the local gas station and bought some doughnuts and chocolate milk. I figured that if I gave it back, at least it might taste okay coming back up. I was wrong on that count and since I had to miss a day of school, I went to sick call. I was still in the vomiting phase of the issue. I guess the hospital didn’t expect someone to actually be sick at sick call and I got the full attention of the doc. Before he gave me any medication, he took a blood sample. The next day, I felt better but before I could return to duty I had to see the doc again. I thought it would be a simple sign-off but it wasn’t. The blood test indicated that my sugar was off the charts high. I explained that I had eaten, but he wouldn’t believe it. He grounded me because he thought I had diabetes. I kept the sarcastic comments mostly in check so no visits to another shrink. Fortunately, it didn’t take as long to clear up, just a week of extensive testing.
I dare anyone to walk into the office of someone who potentially holds your career in their hands and tell them you have a headache. If you encounter the wrong person, you could spend the next six months getting multiple CAT Scans while Doc Quack gets to play House. Back to October 2003, the flight doc that we brought on this rotation was someone that we all felt that we knew and to a small degree trusted. I will call him simply Doc Y. He wasn’t a known quack and in the early days of the war, he gave out a little red pill called Ambien to us in a zip lock bag. Armed with a thirty day supply, no instructions, no warnings, and so explanations we were off and running on a path to addiction. But that is another story for another day.
On this rotation Doc Y was back with us and we still semi-trusted him. Early in the rotation, my crew was sitting outside the tent enjoying what was a very pleasant day. The extreme heat had broken and it was a nice afternoon. We all had folding bag chairs that we purchased prior to leaving home six months earlier. These chairs are made from the finest materials the Chinese have to offer the world. After six months of opening, supporting the weight of a grown man, and closing; not to mention sitting out in the world’s harshest environment these chair were in the same shape our fragile psyche was. We put on a strong outer appearance, but we were tired, bored and generally unhappy about being away from our families. Doc Y joined our little pity party and listened to us whine and moan, we never thought anything about his presence. Just so you know, if an aviator isn’t whining about something then you need to be concerned.
As we complained, the chair one of my guys was sitting on gave out. The leg completely broke in half dumping him on the ground. Of course we laughed, and if it had been me instead of him, he would have laughed. But what made this funny video worthy was his reaction. He didn’t laugh, he got upset at the chair. He cussed, kicked, and tossed the poor chair all over. We laughed more and he started to shove us over and we laughed harder and harder. We all got pushed or shoved, including Doc Y who took it all in.
The next day, we were completing our briefings before going to work. Sleepy came into the Tactics tent and asked me to step outside. He had the “I have trouble look” on his face and I was thinking that we had only been back for a week, how could I already be in trouble. He told me that Doc Y was concerned about the mental health of my crew member who fought his bag chair and lost. The Doc thought he was suffering from PTSD or something else. The Doc had added himself to the crew orders and he was going to observe my guy as he did his job. IF my guy failed the Doc’s evaluation, it was a one way trip to see the “professionals” with the strait jackets and rubber rooms.
Next week, I will finish the story I promise it will be a good one. Until then, keep on rockin.