When I find out my patient is a veteran I always take their hand and squeeze it gently. I just simply say, “Thank you for your sacrifice; America is so grateful to you.” Even if they are demented, very ill, or have the terrible disease Alzheimer’s, they always smile and nod their head. At their age they appear so frail, and I look at them and wonder what they were like many years ago. These men gave their all for our great Republic. They grew old at a young age and before their time. They experienced deprivation, freezing weather, disease, hunger and battle fatigue. They endured extreme heat, malaria, and torrential rains and only a worn out poncho to keep dry. They felt the depth of loneliness and felt abandoned at times.
They went for months without a hot meal or clean water to drink. They saw things that can never be shared with anyone. Many veterans came back with invisible wounds that were deep inside. These men had a difficult time readjusting to civilian life. When I was young these veterans were called, “shell shocked.” The same condition is now diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The nurses of tomorrow will have the veterans of Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. They will have the same needs as all other veterans.
Our Lord said, “There will be wars and rumors of war until I come.” Whether cold wars or hot wars they will always pose a threat to free nations.
All these men and now women have gone to far away places and did the dirty work so the rest of us can continue to live free. We owe them so much, but they ask for so little. I will never forget a homebound Alzheimer’s patient I cared for many years ago. This lady had progressed in the disease until she no longer spoke; she just stared. On my first visit I noticed a picture of a young man in uniform on the mantle of the fireplace. Her husband told me, “That’s our son, Chris, who is missing in action somewhere in Vietnam. My wife’s never got over it. He was our only child. I built this new house for her thinking it would help but it hasn’t.”
He spoke in hushed tones and looked so sad it made my heart hurt for both of them. I asked the lady, “Is that your son’s picture up there? He’s so nice looking in his uniform.” The blank face suddenly became animated and the dull eyes began to glisten with pride. She smiled and nodded her head in understanding. My patient passed away about one year later.
I have prayed many times, “Please, Lord, let them now be reunited in Heaven.” There are so many ways to show our veterans how much we care. A simple thank you doesn’t seem adequate, but it brings a smile every time.
Kaye Steadman lives in Chickamauga. She is a storyteller, published writer and author of the book “My Name's Not Verly.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Facebook.