With a burst of oddly intense eye contact, Pugh blurted out, “There’s milk coming out of my nipples.” Artwork by Tim McDonagh for Coffee or Die Magazine.
Being a good medic comes down to two things: knowledge and composure. Do you know your shit, and can you keep it together and execute when you’re needed? Everything else is secondary. I prided myself on all three and had rightfully earned the trust and confidence of my guys. I knew the standard and fiercely maintained it so I would never lose my team’s trust. I always had an answer and always kept it together.
Always, until the night in Afghanistan when Pugh wandered into our tent and uttered that terrifying sentence: “Hey Doc, I need to show you something.”
I had been a medic long enough to know that no enemy action held as much danger as an infantryman uttering these words.
He had found me in a tense moment — I was about to drop a Draw 4 on our RTO in a game of Uno that had been going on, off and on, for most of our eight months in Afghanistan.
Playing Uno and being a good medic have a lot in common: Your eyes give you away, and the simple act of averting your gaze can be an indicator that you’re hiding something. Everyone at our table was hiding their eyes.
And so was Pugh. I realized this wasn’t a normal visit.
“All right man, let’s step outside.”
I slapped our RTO with the Draw 4 and took a moment to savor his reaction before grabbing my jacket and following Pugh out of the tent. I sharply drew in a big breath of crisp mountain air and held the burn in my lungs. The night sky was perfect. I let the breath out with a sigh and motioned to Pugh to head to the back of the tent as I flicked on the red light of the headlamp around my neck.
“So what’s going on with you, Pugh?” I said as I slid my hands into my pockets. Most times when a soldier wants a private meeting with a medic, you can expect to end up examining genitals, so I wanted to make sure my hands were warm. I’m nothing if not considerate.
“Well …” Pugh stumbled on his words and looked generally anxious and uncomfortable. This was uncharacteristic of the typically brash, cornfed 240 machine-gunner who killed people for a living.
“This stays between us, man. You know that. What’s going on?”
With a burst of oddly intense eye contact, Pugh blurted out, “There’s milk coming out of my nipples.”
“Oh yeah? What’s it taste like? Did you try it with your protein powder?”
Pugh didn’t say a word and began to unzip his jacket and uniform. I took my hands out of my pockets and vigorously rubbed them together for one last burst of warmth as Pugh lifted up his T-shirt to the cold night air.
“Oh man. You’re serious,” I said in anticipation.
Without saying a word, Pugh squeezed his titty and produced a small, horrifying glob of brownish white semiliquid.
Knowledge and composure. At this point, I didn’t have either.
“Oh fuck” was all I managed to get out before Pugh’s expression changed from slightly worried to full-blown panic.
“Oh fuck, Doc!” Pugh choked out as he looked desperately to me for answers that he was slowly realizing I didn’t have. I looked down and away from Pugh, which only stoked his anxiety. “Oh fuck, Doc, is this bad!?”
Tactical Combat Casualty Care doesn’t cover male lactation, so I was wandering into unknown territory.
I asked Pugh when this all started happening, and he mentioned that he had just noticed it this morning when he woke up and found his nipples were crusted to his T-shirt.
Like a good medic, I palpated the affected areas, finding them unremarkable with no obvious deformities or abnormalities. For good measure, I gave his nips a slight honk to see if milk would shoot out — it didn’t. Noted.
Now that I’d been to second base, I hit Pugh with questions in the hopes of shaking something loose in my mind.
“Does it hurt when you milk them? Does milk come out of both nipples? Is the milk that comes out of both nipples the same? As in, do both nipples shoot out that curdled chocolate milk stuff or does one come out like strawberry milk or something?” I then asked if he could produce milk on command.
“Yup, sure can,” Pugh said with an odd hint of pride.
“Okay. Did you taste it?” I asked.
“No,” he said.
“Why don’t I believe you, Pugh?”
“That’s fucked up, man,” he replied, which I noted was a non-denial denial. “What’s the taste matter anyway?”
“The taste could indicate a lot actually. Salty could mean kidney involvement, sweet could be an issue with your liver or potentially diabetes.”
Let me be clear on that last bit: I was bullshitting him.
“I didn’t taste it,” he said again, and I let it go.
But I could tell that my questioning was starting to calm Pugh down, which was good because I still had no fucking clue what this could be.
“Pugh,” I said. “I think you’re either pregnant or actually a woman.”
He didn’t think my joke was funny, but I did and that’s who it was really for.
“Actually,” I said, as seriously as I could manage given the subject, “I think you might have a hormone disorder, bud.”
But as he started to put his shirt back on, I noticed he had enough back acne to put a junior high football team to shame. And the answer hit me.
“Pugh,” I asked. “What all are you taking right now, my guy?”
“Like meds or supplements?”
“Somewhere in the middle. What kinds of anabolic substances are you on?”
Pugh immediately fired off a litany of performance-enhancing drugs and steroids and who in the platoon was also on them but not suffering the same symptoms.
“Yet,” I said. “They’re not having the same symptoms yet. You could also be doing that shit wrong or just having a weird reaction to it. I don’t know too much about them, but just come off that shit and you should go back to normal.” A visible wave of relief washed over Pugh and his milky nipples, and we both composed ourselves to head back inside our tent.
Pugh wasn’t two steps into the tent before the other guys launched a barrage of questions. Pugh, now surprisingly confident and unashamed, lifted up his shirt and began to squeeze milk from his nipples for the entire squad, expecting the same reaction that he had gotten from me.
Without missing a beat, one of our squad mates jumped up, lifted up his shirt, and began to return fire with milk from his own nipple. “Yeah, it’s from that shit we got. It happens sometimes.”
The room erupted with laughter as we all sat back and watched the two lactating soldiers see who could produce the most milk. As the laughter faded and the milk ran dry, one of our squad mates couldn’t help but ask Pugh the question that I knew was burning in everyone’s minds.
“So … what’s it taste like?”
While this story is based on real events, aspects of it have been altered to protect the identities of the service members involved.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2022 edition of Coffee or Die’s print magazine as “Private Parts.”
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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