CombatPatientThe enemy attacked after daybreak, inflicting mass casualties. A patient lay unconscious on the table, sheet pulled up to his neck, breathing restricted and strident through his teeth. An obstructed airway. I assessed the patient’s condition and triaged him as likely to survive if he received immediate attention.

Masked, gloved and gowned over my Battle Dress Uniform (BDUs), I bent above the patient and held out my hand.

“Scalpel.”

An attendant placed it firmly in my glove from the crash cart.

The OR was equipped with all the latest medical technology, everything possible to assure survival of the wounded. Other U.S. Army Special Forces medics gathered around the patient, they likewise gowned and masked and prepared to assist.

The smell of disinfectant and tension filled the tiny room. A hush fell as I sliced through hair, skin and cartilage to open the windpipe. An emergency tracheotomy. Blood and mucus bubbled in the incision as the patient drew breath.

I made the opening patent. Successful procedure. I looked up into a scene from MAD Magazine: sterile OR; gowned, masked and gloved medical personnel; tension; and the patient on the table—a goat.

The “Goat Lab” at Fort Bragg was the final phase of the Special Forces medical course, reputed to be the most demanding course in the military. I began a year ago with 65 students; sixteen of us remained to graduate as certified team medics.

In this final rotation, each of us had been assigned a personal goat that would be shot, burned and suffer various combat wounds over the course of training. If the goat died as a result of medical error, the student was washed out. Only the best became Green Beret team medics.

There are, according to an old saying, no atheists in foxholes. Even atheists and freethinkers find compelling reasons to seek spiritual solace whenever bombs start falling and bullets flying. . . “The only atheist that I knew said he would not pray when he got up front. The first night he came crawling over to the man he had said that to, and they prayed together.”

From God In The Foxhole by Charles W. Sasser. Available in hardback and paperback from Amazon.com and selected bookstores. Audio version of the book has just been released, also available from Amazon.com and bookstores.