Since I am beginning to recover from my first cold in several years, I thought it appropriate to discuss medicine, military medicine specifically. As one who spent most of his career flying, I was afforded treatment by “Flight Surgeons” and “Flight Dentists,” who specialized in keeping those who flew medically prepared for the rigors of duty at altitude, a cut above regular doctors and dentists.
One example of this is that flight dentists took a bit more care in preparing fillings so that no air would be trapped in a tooth – pressure differences at altitude would cause enough pain to incapacitate a flyer. Flight surgeons dealt with symptoms and diseases that would keep an individual from functioning properly during a mission.
Consequently, I almost never had a complaint about the care I received. Now, you just know that there is going to be an exception and here it is. When the nasty North Koreans seized the US Naval vessel Pueblo on January 23, 1968, all hell broke loose in Northeast Asia. Thousands of US troops were sent to South Korea in response. I was one of them, and as you might image, the logistical requirements overwhelmed every base that was inundated with more bodies than they could handle.
During an early deployment, I was assigned a bunk in a barracks wing intend for perhaps 18 people. That would have been luxurious compared to what really happened! Osan Air Base had nearly double that number of people jammed into that wing. As a result of breathing everyone else’s exhalations in those close quarters, colds and other viruses were frequently transmitted among the denizens living there. It wasn’t long before I came down with a very severe case of bronchitis, an upper respiratory infection.
My medical treatment consisted of some high-powered cough syrups and other meds that, even if I had not been under the weather, would have prevented me from flying due to the way they affected judgement and caused drowsiness. But, instead of being bedded in a medical facility, I was sent back to the very environment that had spawned my malady in the first place! The base hospital was out of space already.
I spent the next two weeks hacking and sneezing in my bunk, too sick to do anything but go to the latrine – and that only when absolutely necessary. I relied upon the kindness of strangers to bring me things like hamburgers and milk shakes as they went about their errands on base. Never a bulky person to begin with, I lost considerable weight and strength.
Finally, after roughly two weeks – and frequent visits from supervisors who thought I was malingering – I began to get better. The whole affair really angered me, and during one “inspection” by an unsympathetic senior NCO, I managed to hack up a big wad of green-brown mucous for him – and then I rewarded his (lack of) concern with one of the most powerful and spray-laden sneezes I could muster. Yup, four days later, that Doubting Thomas had the same crud. Oh by the way, I hope you enjoyed that as much as I did, Sarge!