One day at NSAH, a sick Vietnamese man was brought to Medical Ward 2B by a large group of Vietnamese friends and family, which was somewhat unusual. The Vietnamese patient, face severely pot-marked from having small pox as a child, was in a coma. We were told only that he was an important man in the Vietnamese community, but we did not know precisely what his position was. I would find out much later that he was the Chief of Quang Nam Province.
It was thought that the Chief of Quang Nam Province would soon die, and I was ordered to inform the family to pay their final respects to the Chief. I informed the family of his serious medical condition and stated that we would do everything possible to save him.
Each day the Chief’s family would trail through Ward 2B past all our military patients to check on his medical condition. I kept the chief hydrated with continuous intravenous solutions; however, his condition remained the same – not getting better and not getting worse. I really felt for his family, and after two weeks their hopes were beginning to fade.
One morning, I went to the Chief’s room to clean him up. Admittedly, I was concerned that the Chief’s body didn’t seem to be fighting in his favor. On this particular morning, as I was scrubbing his arm, I heard a faint sound like “hmmmt.” So, I scrubbed harder, and I heard another “hmmmt” sound. Knowing that somebody was alive inside this body, a sense of urgency came over me.
I said to myself, “it’s now or never.” I decided at that moment that the Chief is going to come out of this coma now, or he might never wake up. I opened my hand and gave him a nice solid pat on his left cheek. Like Lazarus from the dead, the Chief sat straight up and began speaking some Vietnamese that I have never heard before, and I don’t think it was anything positive about me either! I smiled, shook his hand, and said “welcome back.”
He was incredibly alive and awake, as if he had never been asleep. I assisted the Chief in donning a clean set of military issue pajamas and then helped him into a wheelchair. I showed him how to move his hand to wave hello, and then proudly, I rolled the Chief out of his small hospital room past all the Marine patients on Ward 2B. Those patients, physically able, clapped and cheered for the Chief. You would have thought they were cheering for their favorite football team.
Eventually, I learned exactly what the Chief’s role or position was in the South Vietnam Government, and on the day that the Chief was to be discharged from the Station Hospital, he and his family presented me with a plaque and a short informal ceremony, which made Chief Nguyen and I “blood-brothers.”I recall the Chief’s wife being a charming, personable, and classy lady. The Chief’s daughter was very shy, but she smiled and laughed right along with us. I will never forget Chief Nguyen and his family. Since leaving Vietnam, I have not seen nor heard from them. If you have any information on the families whereabouts, please contact me.
The staff of NSAH, Da Nang, were the finest professionals I have ever worked with. I have also not seen any of the NSAH crew since leaving Vietnam. God bless all of them and the many, many lives they saved.
I was only 20 years old when this event happened, and above all, this was my most memorable and experiences as a Navy Corpsman.