He was sick, sick, sick.
I inherited him at the change of shift. He was completely with it, but his body was failing him fast.
The offgoing nurse offhandedly reported that the patient was a bomber pilot because his wife of nearly sixty years had mentioned it. (Sixty years! Can you imagine being married that long?)
This man was the only person I had at the beginning of my shift. I signed off on the report and, after reviewing the chart, went into the room to introduce myself as the oncoming nurse.
The patient was asleep, so I spoke with his wife. She informed me that the man was a B-24 “Liberator” pilot. I informed her that I was an amateur World War 2 aviation historian, and she brightened visibly.
“Are you familiar with the B-24 forces that flew out of North Africa in 1943?”
I answered excitedly, “Are you telling me that your husband served in that theater?”
“Yes, I am. He was there.”
Something in our conversation awakened the patient, who asked his wife who was there.
“It’s your nurse. Do you know that he knows what you did?”
The man raised himself up from the stretcher. “What makes you say that?”
I approached him and said one word: “Ploesti.”
My patient looked me straight in the eye for a moment, and then he began to cry.
“Oh, sir!” I said. “I am sorry that I have said somthing to hurt you!”
“It’s not you,” he said. “I lost so many friends that day…” he said, his voice trailing away.
“Sir, you are one of my heroes. I have read so much about your friends, and of you. I can’t tell you how honored I am to serve you.”
The patient looked at me as if I was joking.
“I mean it. I’ve read abut the Ploesti run.”
“What do you know?” He asked.
So I shared all that I had read about the B-24 raid on the German oil refineries at Ploesti, Romania, over the years. He filled in the gaps. He was my only patient for more than an hour. And what an hour! The stories he told- I must have seemed like a child at his feet, listening wide-eyed to his accounts of the hardships and terror he and his friends encountered during one of the most horrific parts of the war.
I was finally told by the charge nurse that I had another patient coming in- a young man who got drunk and hit his head, and who was belligerent and combative. I stood up from the bedside and excused myself. The patient took my hand and thanked me.
“How can you thank me after all you have done for me?”
He took my hand in his big paw, and answered simply,