When Nurses Are Called to Duty

Earlier this year, in the midst of the Iraq war, two of Wuesthoff Health System’s surgical nurses were called to serve their country.

Alex Cooley, CRNA, a first lieutenant in the Army Nursing Corps and father of four, was one of the Wuesthoff nurses who served in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Cooley spent time in Iraq serving in a field hospital, and was involved with the care of rescued POW Jessica Lynch.

He spent most of his 16 weeks at the Army’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, the largest American hospital outside the United States. Americans wounded in the war were treated at Landstuhl before bring transferred to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC.

Shifting Gears
“It was a bit surreal giving anesthesia to soldiers who had been shot in one case,” Cooley said, “then doing a labor epidural for delivery of a baby in the next case.”

Most of the soldiers were in excellent spirits, and were highly motivated, he said. They just wanted to get back to their unit and do what they were trained to do.

“I feel honored to have been able to serve them,” Cooley stated.

As for Wuesthoff, Cooley said the hospital and anesthesia group “was nothing but supportive to me.” Cooley trains every year to keep up with his skills in the Army, as well as supplemental training needed for each mission.

Grandmother Serves
Gladys Jeannette Curtis, CRNFA, is a Navy lieutenant commander select, a reservist who joined the Navy 13 years ago. She has three sons and nine grandchildren.

“I joined the Navy to serve my country and help in time of war with my skills as an operating room nurse,” Curtis said.

When she was called to active duty in April, she was excited, anxious and very busy changing her life in Satellite Beach to live in Bethesda, MD. She was told that she could be gone anywhere from 1-2 years, although as it turned out she was back home by summer.

Support From Co-Workers
Curtis said her superiors at Wuesthoff were very supportive, assuring that her job would be there when she returned.

For the open-heart surgery unit where Curtis works, she said she knew it was going to be a hardship while she was gone, with a nationwide nursing shortage in progress. But her peers accepted the challenge and utilized the RNs who had been cross-trained to fill in for her. The team also picked up extra call during her absence.

“Everyone I worked with helped tremendously with the emotional aspect of this adventure,” Curtis said.

During her orientation at National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Curtis spent a great deal of her time the first 2 weeks just trying to find her way around the 10 buildings of the medical center.

Curtis felt privileged, she said, to work with some of the wounded from the war, and their families. It was a great honor to serve her “wonderful country in this way,” she said.

History of Service
Women became an official part of the U.S. Armed Forces when the Army established the Nurse Corps in 1901. Seven years later, the Navy created its own Nurse Corps.

World War I marked the first time women who weren’t nurses could join the military. More than 30,000 women enlisted during the war, including 10,000 who served overseas. When the war ended, they were discharged from duty. Approximately 7,500 American military women, mostly nurses, served in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War.

Hundreds of nurses were among the reservists called up to serve their country in Operation Iraqi Freedom. They worked in three field hospitals, two mobile hospitals and one based in Kuwait, caring for Iraqi prisoners of war and British troops. Nurses in Iraq were also involved in the humanitarian relief effort.

Nursing in the armed forces is different than the norm. In military healthcare, nurses must be prepared to care for the sick and save lives, while overcoming difficulties in different arenas at one time. Nurses are prepared in “operational readiness,” and often help beat the odds in times of war.

Playing a Vital Role
Nurses have played a vital role in all wars, and especially this year in Iraq. The Air Force called up approximately 380 of its 2,290 Reserve nurses, the majority of whom are critical care and flight nurses. They were used to staff various medical functions, such as flying critical care air transport teams, mobile expeditionary medical hospitals, and aero-medical evacuation crews. They were also used as replacements at Air Force hospitals for active duty nurses sent overseas.

Reservist nurses follow a regimented schedule, which includes tough physical work and living conditions that can be harsh, minus the physical comforts of civilian life.

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Rene’ Jackson RN, BSN
Port Charlotte,
Florida 33954
e-mail: rene@rjacksonrn.com
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