Medic's job challenging, yet rewarding

December 20, 2005|by TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - The men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan are in the thoughts of many, especially at this time of year. With Christmas just a few days away, the nurses who care for the sick or wounded American servicemen and women are being remembered for what they give to others throughout the year.

Tech. Sgt. Carmela Emerson, who lives in Berkeley Springs, is one of those who serves others.

Emerson serves with the Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron of the 167th Airlift Wing in the W.Va. Air National Guard, based in Martinsburg, W.Va.

Emerson, who joined the guard in 1995, works as a registered nurse at Winchester (Va.) Medical Center's emergency room when she is not on active duty.


Emerson, a self-described "adrenaline junkie," said she has spent three tours of duty in the war or "hot" zones since 2003. She is an air medical evacuation technician or "flight medic," she said.

She is home for Christmas this year, but the last two have been spent in a war zone, such as Iraq or Afghanistan, escorting the sick or wounded "wounded warriors" she calls them to safer places for further medical treatment or back to the states for treatment closer to their homes.

When the patients are loaded into the aircraft, she watches their faces, Emerson said.

Knowing they watched her face, she said, "I knew that my expression was truly the most important thing I could have worn at the time."

"I saw the sadness in their eyes knowing when they get home, they may never be able to tie their own boots again, wipe their own tears, or even eat their favorite meals," Emerson said.

"I also saw the happiness in their eyes that told me they know they have done their best," she said.

They already missed the military family they were leaving behind, but they were looking forward to being with their families at home, she said.

On the flights, she said she talks to all the patients and offers food, pillows and blankets.

"This was their first encounter with what would await them medically 'out of the box,'" she said.

Emerson said she constantly checks the patients' vital signs and monitors them, and she talks to them.

"Getting them back home with 100 percent attentiveness to patient care was first and foremost," she said. "I wanted them to be home with their families."

Emerson said the patients were very thankful for the care that was given to them.

"My goodness, it's the wounded I thank every day. I am honored to be part of their patient care," she said.

When she returned from deployment, which was four months each time, she said she was so excited to see her son and family, but "the cards and letters I received while I was away was a morale booster for me and everyone else who also received mail," she said.

"I read the homemade get-well cards made by school children to the patients, and they were really excited to receive them." Some answered the cards, she said. "The support was really appreciated by the patients," she said.

Emerson said being away from her family and friends was hard, "but I never lost sight of the reason I was there," she said.

"No matter how many times we changed aircraft and worked long hours, I never thought of any of the missions as being about me it was about my commitment to the patients," she said.

Emerson said she bonded with the patients, and when she thinks of them, "I pray and hope they all are doing well," she said.

"My job is very rewarding and is always challenging," she said. "Welcoming them home was as great for me as it was for them."

Emerson said during the holidays, "no matter where we were, we made it special for everyone." When she flew out of Baghdad last year, it was 10 minutes after the New Year's Eve ball dropped in New York City, she said.

"We had apple cider, cakes, cookies and lots of food for the patients. We bought hats and noisemakers for the evacuation out. I felt it really made a difference, and I could tell by their smiles they enjoyed it," Emerson said.

"So, if you are asking how difficult it was to be deployed at Christmas, I would answer, 'This is what I do. I would go back today.'"

She said, "We are always in training to take care of the wounded, and our training prepares us for worldwide missions. I love it."

Emerson carries words of wisdom

Tech. Sgt. Carmela Emerson said, "Friends have given me many words of wisdom that keep my spirits alive, and I carry these with me in my helmet." They are:

People depend on decisions we make and trust us because of the history of our profession. It's all about respect. If you lose that, it's because you didn't care.

The moment may be temporary, but the memory is forever.

You can go the extra mile it's never crowded.

The most important thing in communication is to hear what isn't being said.

You can pray for someone when you don't have the strength to help them in some other way.

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