Stan told my young daughter and me that he was assigned to be a nurse in the army simply because he had worked on cattle. He continued with his story.
“They assigned me to a hospital train,” Stan said. “The war was raging, and there were heavy casualties. They gave me almost no training. No one had time.
“I remember my first surgery assignment. It only took minutes for the doctor, who was a captain, to get annoyed with me. ‘You are no nurse!’ he yelled at me. ‘Who told you that you were?’
“I replied that I really was not a nurse, and it was a general who told me that I was. I told him the general said I was just because I had worked with doctoring cattle.
“The doctor was quiet for a moment and then said, ‘I see. When we asked for help, we assumed they would send us trained nurses. I guess you will just have to learn.’
“I did work at learning. I watched and listened to everything the trained nurses and the doctors did and said. Sometimes I felt it was taking me forever to understand what I was supposed to do, and I got yelled at a lot. But one day, the doctor I had worked with on that first surgery told me he felt I was learning faster than any student he had ever worked with in medical school. Then he laughed. ‘But then, you are training twenty-four hours a day.’
“Sometimes I didn’t feel I was doing any good. But my ultimate goal was to do no harm. Now and then a critical decision someone made endangered a patient’s life, even though that person was trying to do their best. I spent a lot of time praying that I wouldn’t make that kind of mistake.”
Stan paused as if contemplating that thought. When he continued, he spoke in a more subdued voice.
“One day, a young man came in with a head wound. He was blind, his eyes were bandaged, and his world was dark. He was frightened. He wanted a doctor he could talk to, and each time the doctor tried to excuse himself, the young man would nearly go crazy. The doctor waved me over, then said to the young man, ‘I think you need to talk to Dr. Danser.’ I started to say that I wasn’t a doctor, and he motioned for me to be quiet. He then said to the soldier, ‘Yes, Dr. Danser specializes in cases like yours.’
“I sat down by the soldier’s bed, and he started to talk. He told me about his hopes and all he wanted to do. I learned he grew up on a farm just like I did. I even shared a story or two with him, but mostly I just let him talk. Soon he relaxed and went to sleep.
“From then on, they gave me the assignment to be the ‘Doctor of Consolation’ for the soldiers who needed it. Besides my nursing duties, I would listen to those who needed to share their fears. Sometimes it was hard to listen to men who had lost the ability to fulfill their life’s dreams when they went home, if they were even going to live to make it home.”
Once more Stan paused, and this time tears poured down his face as he continued.
“One day, I was working in surgery when the soldier that was carried in was my best friend and bunkmate from my training. We did everything we could in the surgery, but the doctor didn’t expect him to live.
“Later, as I sat by his bedside, he was unconscious, so I talked to him. I reminded him of the dreams we shared about our lives. I told him about my wife and reminded him he had a girl waiting for him at home. I just kept talking, hoping it would help him regain consciousness.
“I said, ‘Remember, you said that if you were ever wounded, you would be glad to see me and know that I was here for you. Well, I am here for you.’ Finally, after a few days of me talking to him, he opened his eyes briefly, smiled at me, then he was gone.”
Once more, Stan paused. When he continued, his voice quivered with emotion.
“After I came home, I always made it a point to remind people that it was David, and men like him, who gave up their dreams so we could have ours.”