THE LIVING DEAD
As an army medic my buddies and I often amused ourselves at the expense of the new arrivals in our unit. Green horns could always be found on missions to retrieve Eustachian or Fallopian tubes from central supply, receiving instruction on how to check feces for blood. (The old trick involving a sterile bed pan, partially melted chocolate, and corn), or (the now classic) apple juice in a specimen bottle urine test. Such sophomoric humor was common around the Fort Sam Houston Medical Center, much to the dismay of the new soldiers, and the chagrin of our superiors. But these practical jokes were becoming ordinary and mundane. Just plain worn out. We longed for something new and exciting. Something original, something to call our own.
Its white washed walls were pitted and flaking, stained with time, the roof topped with brick-red clay tiles. Yawning arched doorways swallowed you whole as you entered the building to negotiate the maze of corridors and cavernous rooms. Walking into the old hospital was like stepping into the belly of a giant beast. Horses were housed in a basement stable years ago when the Calvary was still active. Sometimes on hot Summer days you could smell their long gone apples. Brian, Mike, and myself were assigned to the chronic care wing of this haunting place. People dying was an unfortunate reality here, and upon their demise we were charged with cleaning the corpses, filling out forms, tagging the toes, bagging the bodies, and ultimately, wheeling them to the morgue. Morgue carts were large two tiered rectangular boxes on wheels. The bodies were placed on the lower level and a sheet was draped over the upper level. This was done so other patients didn’t get upset seeing you rolling down the hall with what was obviously a deceased individual.
Now the walk to the morgue was a long and scary proposition in itself. We worked the midnight shift and most of the lights in the facility were turned down to a minimum. First you took the elevator down to the basement. (ooh, a morgue in a basement) Then you pushed the cart down an endless hallway, the kind that seemed to get longer as you went, and was lit just enough for you to negotiate your cargo to its destination…, the morgue. Clear to the other end of the lonely old hospital, and an entry room lined with giant jars filled with body parts, deformed babies, and other human oddities. It still makes my hair stand on end.
Sergeant Mulligan was the newest addition to our medical team. He was a decent enough guy, firm but fair. He balked at the thought of doing any preparation on the remains of the unfortunate, and left us to the work that no one really wanted to perform. He would however wheel the body to the morgue refrigerator. And took his sweet time, he did. Sometimes he would not come back for at least an hour. Never did know exactly why a ten minute trip took that long. Well, one night one of our patients left this world. The remains were properly prepared and Sergeant Mulligan was notified ,as he had requested, that the body was ready to be moved. You could hear him whistle as he wandered off in the direction of the elevator, a squeaking cart-wheel keeping time. What was he whistling? Hmm.., Red River Valley I think it was. There was a familiar ding. Then he was gone.
One minute, Two minutes, Distant screaming could be heard. It was coming from the elevator shaft. Distant but clear. The profanity was obscene and it was getting closer. Sergeant Mulligan burst through the stairwell door, wide-eyed and going on and on, something about the body reaching out and grabbing his arm. Mike and I just stood there smiling. About that time the elevator again emitted its familiar ding. The doors opened, and there stood Brian with an empty cart. The Sergeant stood there for a second as if perplexed. Then Brian quipped.,,
“Guess I’d better go get that body now, how’s that grab ya Sarge?”
With that he reached out and grabbed Mulligan’s arm. We all laughed long and hard. The Sergeant stopping every so often to call us bad names and tell us how much he hated us. It was a tradition for a while. And every time one of us pushed the cart we always checked inside first.
Early To Rise
Dress your army buddy up in a frilly pink dress when he has passed
out from a night of too much cheer and watch the expression on the company
commanders face when he wakes you up for that surprise early morning
Wake up a guy taking a nap in the barracks about 6pm while you’re
still in uniform and tell him he going to be late for the 6:10 a.m. formation. Then
watch him do the bug tussle trying to get ready for the non-existent gathering.