“My patient, let’s call him Eric, was assigned to me on my first night shift after he was transferred to our unit from intensive care.

I was a brand-new Navy nurse on the wounded warrior floor at a military medical center.

Eric’s wife hadn’t slept in a horizontal position for days. She vigilantly sat in the chair next to his bed and would tell me if she had any specific concerns or noticed any changes in his status. With this degree of sacrifice and physical and mental struggle, she became just as much of my hero as the wounded sergeant in the bed. In addition, his dad would call me at the nurses’ station to ask for updates on him. “Does he know what happened to the other three young men in his squad that were with him?”

Eric was physically and emotionally wounded after eight deployments and six Purple Hearts. This time, he had been shot several times, and his internal injuries required a nasogastric tube to deliver feedings and medications, and he had lost a leg. Eric was always uncomfortable and terribly anxious. He suffered from hallucinations due to the cocktail of opiates required to manage his pain. When he was somewhat awake, all he could really do to communicate was a thumbs up or down. Mostly, he would just stare straight at me with this look of fear and helplessness.

Nursing care for the vulnerable wounded warrior population was equally exhausting and rewarding. As I treated physical and psychological wounds for warriors injured from explosions straight off the battlefield, I addressed the needs of their wives and families and helped them bear their burdens. I needed to learn quickly to develop rapport with my patients, earn their trust, and show understanding in order to help guide them through their often-lengthy recoveries. Many times, the best medicine for my patients wasn’t medical. For example, I spent hours facilitating visits and arranging phone calls to comrades still overseas. Probably the most rewarding moments were when my patients, like Eric, would come back to visit us on the ward after enough progress in rehabilitation to be walking on their new prosthetic legs.

I was deeply impacted by the severe problems these brave patients faced, such as chronic pain, infections, and feelings of helplessness from new disabilities. As a nurse practitioner, I hope to be able to provide a higher level of care for complicated patients like those I treated as a Navy nurse several years ago.”

–Ellen Dreibelbis, Nu’11, University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing