Dr. William Clayton Petty believes anesthesia is a gift from God to mankind, and for many years it was his privilege, his living, and his blessing. In Vietnam Doc, he shares his unique experience as the chief of anesthesia at a very busy military hospital during the Vietnam War.
Petty received his orders in 1969 and reported to the 24th Evacuation Hospital, a hospital with a phenomenal record for trauma care that recorded low mortality rates of two to three percent. He tells how the Vietnam War was his baptism of fire in anesthesia for trauma, and he describes the workings of the complex task of providing surgical care to multiple soldiers with traumatic injuries due to combat.
Vietnam Doc offers keen insight into the intensity of the life of a medic during the war and of the wounded soldiers he and other medical personnel worked so hard to save. Poignant, reflective, and often gut wrenching, Petty narrates his personal reflections on how these events affected his life and those of others.
Mass casualty had a practical definition at the 24th Evacuation Hospital: The hospital holding area was full, casualties were coming out of helicopters faster than we could find places to put them, and the triage team had to start making life and death decisions,
Healthcare workers, i.e. medics, doctors and especially anesthesia providers, have the privileged opportunity to share what could be the last waking moments with a wounded soldier before they go under the knife. A repeated heart-breaking moment that never got easier and still brings tears as I write these words was to answer the question "Doc, am I going to make it? Sometimes these were the last words of a mortally wounded soldier; words you heard, not his sweetheart, his wife, nor his Mom and Dad, but you. What would you say to the soldier if one leg was blown off at the knee, the other leg in shreds hanging from mid-thigh, and the plastic bag, neatly taped to the abdomen by the medic, was full of intestines? The only words of comfort and love that left my lips were "Yes, you will make it and go home.
William Clayton Petty, MD, has had a distinguished career in the United State military and also became a well-known national and international expert in anesthesia machines, safety in anesthesia, and anesthesia for trauma. Retired, Petty teaches the history of medicine classes at the local university. He lives in Cedar City, Utah.
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