“Alan, you look great,” I said, giving him a bear hug and a hand grab.
Embarrassed, he pulled back, flashing the same grin that I’d seen on his boyish face for the last 20 years. He was still wearing his hospital badge and the dangling plastic rectangle caught in the buttons of my shirt. We both laughed.
I was about to tell him of my recent fall from a deck chair, the pain, the trip to the ER, the medications—all the ingredients for a tale of old age, my stupidity, and a side effect of something new in the medicine cabinet of my life. Instead, I said, “So, what’s new?”
“Kinda tired, had a busy day yesterday.” His voice trailed off as he looked over the menu, making sure that he read both sides. A real detail kind of guy that Alan, always was and always will be, a man on a mission I always said. He asked the waiter several questions about the wines and finally settled on a house red, a brand that none of us had heard of before.
I shifted uncomfortably in my hard back chair, wishing that I’d popped another Motrin before coming, but I forgot. “So, what happened?”
“Well, we had another interesting case. I was team leader.” He stopped as the waiter delivered the wine in a scratched glass and withdrew.
I looked up from the menu and winced. My back hurt a lot. “Hey hold that thought,” I said, “Gotta go to the potty.” I stood unsteadily and walked slowly through the crowded room to the men’s. Alan was sitting there intently reading the menu when I got back.
“What do you think about getting roast beef here?” he asked.
“Sounds good, you know I interrupted the flow about the team leader yesterday, and….”
“Yeah,” his face was contorted. “A difficult case.” He put his hands together then moved them slowly as he spoke. “We had a guy, a guy who was hit in the face, the jaw in fact by a small arms round from below. He was a helicopter pilot. Blew out his jawbone then traveled up the face to the eye socket.”
I had no witty comeback so he continued.
“I did the leg bone and then inserted it in the jaw, complete with blood vessels and tendons.” His hands moved slowly and then he put them back on the table.
“Tell me more,” I said.
“There were ten of us in the operating room, I led the team for the leg then moved up to the jaw area.”
We removed a small piece of bone from the leg, and I refashioned it to be as much a jaw as I could. Stuck it in and wham! Seems to be a good fit.” He leaned back to tell the waiter what he wanted to order.
“How long did this take?”
“Lost track actually, but one of the other docs said we’d been in there for 14 hours. I did take a five minute pee break.” He smiled and took another sip of wine.
“My God, 14 hours, that is a really long time. Were you afraid you’d lose you concentration?” As I said this I realized how stupid I sounded.
“Hey this guy is kind of a miracle at Bethesda. Took that round in his helicopter, destroyed most of the right side of his face, but he actually landed the chopper. Medics told me that he’d lost nearly half his blood. After he was hit he flew for another 12 minutes, putting it down at the base safely, probably saving the lives of his crew and people on the ground too. I figured that those 12 minutes were worth 14 hours of my time, and the time of my team.”
He attacked his roast beef with gusto, seeming to rally. “So, what’s up with you, you looked like you were in pain when you stood up?”
“Nope, no complaints Alan.” I said. “I’m fine.”