A medic examines a soldier's ear following an explosion at Joint Security Station Sadr City in the Thawra 1 neighborhood of Baghdad. US Army photo by Sgt. Zach Mott.
Just a few weeks after leaving the Army, I found myself, as many vets do, on the cusp of choking a motherfucker out.
The motherfucker in question — we’ll call him Jeff — was a 20-something-year-old college kid who bore a striking resemblance to Chunk from The Goonies. I liked Jeff. Jeff made an otherwise horrifically boring political science class fun with his boisterous commentary and youthful exuberance (he was a dumbass).
I never had a problem with Jeff until one day he noted my old combat boots, beard, and soulless gaze and correctly deduced that I was a veteran. An excited barrage of questions soon came my way, and I was perfectly happy to answer them all, until they started to get a little too personal.
A flight medic prepares to conduct combat hoist during as a crew chief watches from their UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter Aug. 9 in Herat province, Afghanistan. U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Rasheen A. Douglas.
Upon learning that I was a former medic, Jeff quickly started asking me questions not suitable for Political Science 101, nor in any casual conversation for that matter.
“Seen a lot of action? Ever cut anyone open? What's the worst shit you’ve ever seen?”
To this day, I’m not entirely sure why that last question — What’s the worst shit you've ever seen? — got me, but it did. I was seeing red. The class had fallen silent, and many were looking back to see how I would react. Luckily, it wasn't with violence. I ultimately composed myself and fired back with a meek attempt at a witty, deflecting comment.
“The worst shit I’ve ever seen? I had this really sick cat once …”
Jeff laughed and, thankfully, moved on. But I didn’t. Combat medics are prized for their ability to be quick-thinking, cool under pressure, and intelligent. I let my emotions get the better of me, and my whole reaction to that situation should have been better. I shouldn’t have gotten so worked up, I shouldn’t have fantasized about hitting that dude with a textbook until he looked like Sloth, and I should have had a wittier, funnier reply to his stupid question.
Combat Medics and Airmen render aid to injured Iraqis. U.S. Army photo by Capt. Michael R. Vincent.
I failed to live up to our standard as medics, but that doesn’t have to happen to you. Learn from my mistakes. If you're a former medic/corpsman/health care provider, someone will inevitably ask you to recount a traumatic event for no other reason than to satisfy their own childish curiosity. Don’t get pissed; they don’t know any better. Instead, do the rest of us docs proud and hit them with any one (or more) of these carefully crafted comebacks.
Question: What’s the worst shit you’ve ever seen?
1. “Your mother.”
2. If they say their mother is deceased, quickly say in a terrified voice, “Then what is she doing RIGHT BEHIND YOU!?” and then run away when they look.
3. “One time, I got a Salisbury steak at the DFAC with a hair growing out of it.” If they push, describe eating said steak.
Soldiers participating in the Special Forces qualification course try to revive a simulated casualty. U.S. Army photo by David Chace.
4. Name any movie starring Steven Seagal. They’re all bad.
5. Set them up like you’re about to tell an epic war story, and then immediately take them the other way. “No shit, there I was, knee-deep in the ball pit at Chuck E. Cheese …”
6. Say nothing, and start twitching.
Coalition force members treat simulated wounds during first-responder training exercise in Kabul. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Matthew Freire.
7. Ignore the question and tell them they’ve got a little booger hanging out of their nose. After they take a couple of swipes at it, start gagging and go, “Nope, still there!” Repeat as needed.
8. Put on a somber expression and recount a death scene from a war movie like you were actually there. “Bubba was my best good friend …“
9. “I walked in on your grandparents having sex once.”
10. If they inform you that their grandparents are dead, say in a terrified voice, “Then what are they doing HAVING SEX RIGHT BEHIND YOU!?” and then wait to see whether they look. If they do, run away, because who in the hell would turn to look at that? Weirdos.
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Eric Miller is a former Army Combat Medic from Parkersburg, West Virginia. He holds a bachelor’s degree in history and has worked with homeless populations and veteran services throughout the state. He is an avid outdoorsman and has recently become interested in woodworking.
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