09 December 2010

bedpan commando

Too many family stories die with their tellers.  I want to preserve as many as I can by writing them down and sharing them here.  I encourage you to do the same.  Oh, you needn't blog them, but write them down; write them down!  

My grandfather, James Wilkinson, enlisted in the army towards the end of WWII.  He was stationed near Ogden, UT as a "bedpan commando" and worked at a hospital that treated injured soldiers returning from the frontlines. (My research suggests that he worked at Bushnell General Military Hospital*.)

The story, at least the way he told it, was relatively short. 

The first surgery he attended as a young medic was an amputation. The sights and smells were new and overwhelming. So, he was already pretty green when they handed him the still-warm arm and asked him to dispose of it. He always laughed at his listener's involuntary shudder and then admitted his own feeling of shock as he stood there holding someone's arm, not quite sure what to do. Towards the end of his tale, he would gleefully confess, that he had been sick to his stomach- although now I can't remember if it was before or after he took the arm to be incinerated.

If it had been my story, embarrassment might have prevented me from sharing that particular memory.  Maybe Grandpa Jim was embarrassed, too- at first.  But he obviously learned that sometimes the best stories are the ones that are uncomfortable for the teller.

Now that I think about it, his story may have influenced one of my mottos: 

If you are going to laugh about this in 5 years, you might as well laugh about it now.

*Bushnell General Military Hospital was one of 5 amputation centers in the US during WWII and treated soldiers who had lived in the mountain states when they returned injured from the war. 

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