Thursday, May 2, 2013

Short Story: Concerning the Origin of the Term "Medicine"

     The following is a short story I wrote about a fictionalized field trip myself and a former shipmate took to Antietam National Battlefield in 2007, as part of a training exercise for our command. As Navy Mass Communication Specialists for the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, it was our job to follow all of the medical students around and take pictures of them learning and not fucking off, and during the trip, Raz and I happened upon a performer in uniform whose job it was to tell the horror stories of battlefield medicine during the Civil War.
      The man was probably just a normal guy, albeit a history geek, and he really knew his stuff. Adult me recognizes this, and appreciates that such a man would take his own time and money to be at a historical site to properly pass down its events, and to impress upon others the importance, gravity, and sanctity of the area. That takes a lot of dedication, and more give-a-fuck than I could muster on doomsday, and to choose to direct such energies at educating is commendable.
      Buuuuut me back then was too busy thinking up dick jokes to notice, and so here's roughly nine or so pages of them. Enjoy.

Concerning the Origin of the Term "Medicine"
Jeff Hopkins

            Spring was coming early to Maryland, and the concrete walkways winding through Antietam Battlefield National Park were dry and clear of ice. The morning was still cold, and the first-year medical students of the Armed Forces Medical University wore field jackets over their uniforms. The students all wore the gold bars of ensigns and 2nd lieutenants and were dressed in the colorful camouflage of the Army, Navy and Air Force. They marched in a gaggle out of sync with the cadence, resembling a school of drunken tropical fish. Ahead, underneath a stand of trees stood a small tent with what looked like a small whale sitting in it behind a table laden with tools.
            The company commander calling the cadence had been through this particular drill three times over. Each year, the university sent its plebian medical students to Antietam to learn about battlefield medicine during the Civil War to give them an idea of how grisly a war could be, and each year he was tapped to “drive the bus,” much to his disappointment. The majority of the students had been officers in the military for little more than the four months they had been in school, and their greenness showed in more than just their uniforms.
            Cumpnee…halt!” cried the company commander, and the train of students slowed to a stop, with several in the back bumping into the students in front of them. It was a mockery of military bearing, in perfect balance with the mockery of the human form watching them from the tent. The CC gave the order to fall out, and the students gathered around the tent to listen to the civil war actor who would be their teacher for the next half-hour.
Drinking in the stature of their instructor, their first thoughts were of heart conditions associated with hyper-obesity. Well, not all of them; some of them marveled at how modern craftsmanship had progressed, that such a light, small stool could support such a morbidly fat man.
Still others in the throng of first-year military medical students surrounding his tent thought of the stench emanating from the man's seldom-washed Civil War army uniform, his wire-brush hair, and the bottles and instruments which laid out before him.
“Alright, gather around, and keep it quiet, I don't want to have to talk over you," he said. "Every year we get a new batch of butter bars wandering through here, and it's my job to teach you a little about Civil War battlefield medicine.
"To start, my name's Bob Denver, I was a Union Army medic in the Civil War. A lot of you new, young med-school types haven't learned much history, or have maybe bullshat your way through a class or two, but remain naive about the finer points," Denver said, absently scratching his crotch.
"The Civil War was actually a direct result of the American Revolutionary War. Yep. The British were some smart, hardy, psychotic men. They used to paint their barns with our blood. The way they'd lay on at least five or six coats of blood with a paintbrush earned them the nickname "Redcoats," which is where the term originated."
Someone coughed.
"Yeah, we were pretty tired of that, so we decided to say fuck all that smart shit and just fight ourselves," Denver went on. "So we divvied up and picked teams, hammered out the conditions of war, you know all that political crap. We figured, 'Sure, it's a war, but we can at least be civil about it,' which is where the term Civil War originated.”
One medical student in the crowd piped up.
"Sir, I don't think that's actually how-"
"No talking until I'm through, then we'll have time for questions and suppositions," Denver interrupted, and ignoring the dubious looks of the students, went on.
"You're probably wondering why my tent has a rickety sign on it that reads 'Dr. Peeps.' Well, my specialty was urology. 'Dr. Peeps, P.Ph.D., nice to peep you' was how I'd typically introduce myself.
"You're also wondering," Denver began, and paused to swig from a large bottle in a brown paper sack. He then burped greasily. "…about the extra 'P' in my degree. Well, considering I worked with peepees all day, it only seems appropriate. The joke around the medical tent in those days was that the acronym PPhD meant 'Piss-Poor Health Department,' or my personal favorite, 'Pork Pulled: Hundred Dollars.”
"However, the first definition is a little closer to the truth. Medical training in those days was very primitive; my final anatomy practical exam went like this," Denver said. Then, pointing in turn to each of his nipples, followed by his crotch and ass, recited, "milk, milk, lemonade, around the corner, fudge is made."
"Still," he went on, "I'm much happier I became a PPhD rather than a PooPoohD. The PooPoohD training was a lot more intensive, but the pay was shitty."
Denver howled with laughter at this, jostling his giant belly, which rippled in long, slow waves. His stool creaked.
"I'm kidding. Didn't matter anyway; there was typically only one of the two at a camp at any time; the Army didn't have enough money to supply both. Consequently, if you were up in the peeps, you were down in the dumps, which is where the term originated.
"Funny story; we weren't actually called 'urologists' back then. They called us 'pianists,' somewhat because it sounded like a high-tech version of the word 'penis,' but mostly just because we liked to play with our instruments."
Denver grinned at the crowd. When no one laughed, the smile slowly turned to a scowl.
"Well it was funny to me," Denver growled.
            “Anyway, like I said, I was a urologist, and these instruments here all have to do with my practice. You’re thinking, ‘wow, what use was a urologist to a Civil War soldier?’ but there were a lot of dick ailments a soldier could have,” Denver went on. “British soldiers were motivated and vicious, but they were horrible shots. They were trained to aim for center-mass, but when they missed, they tended to miss low.
Denver picked up a series of small pipettes, which were each sized a little larger at one end than the one preceding it.
            “Urethritis was a big problem for the dick-hurt soldier. They were all commanded to drink as much water as possible to keep from getting dehydrated, and when they couldn’t pee, they’d swell up like bearded, stinky sponges. These were used to gauge out the urethra, and allow urine to flow. We’d stick ‘em in, then pull them out and go to the next larger size. We would “gauge” the reaction of the soldier upon each insertion: if he didn’t squirm, it wasn’t big enough. If he screamed, we were golden. This is where the term “to gauge something out” originated. See? You came for a medical lesson, you got an English lesson too!” Denver said.
            “Sometimes, we’d gauge it out too far. The soldier’s dick would constantly leak, in some cases, flowing like a spigot. The solution: corks. It wasn’t uncommon to hear, ‘Doc, we got a leaker!’ which would then be answered with, ‘Awww, put a cork in it!’ which is where the term originated. You see these corks in these bottles?” Denver asked, indicating the corked bottles before him with various colored powders and minerals in them. “These are the corks we would use. Some of them still have blood and urine on them. It’s like a smelly, blood-flecked fossil.”
            “Sir, weren’t medics worried about contaminating the urethra with the medications kept in the corked bottles? What would happen if a patient had an allergy to one of those medications, and you put the contaminated cork in direct contact with a bodily opening?” A student asked.
            “Oh these bottles aren’t full of medications, hahaha!” Denver laughed. “They’re not even really supposed to be bottles! They’re civil war cork-holders. They just function as bottles too, by coincidence. This stuff in here, well, let me put it this way, have you ever been to one of those touristy places, where they sell sand-birds? That’s sorta where I got the idea to put colorful shit in these bottles, just to pretty them up, like.”
            Five or six students grunted in disgust, and trudged away towards the visitor center.
            “Corks were fine and good, assuming the economy was ok at the time, and you had enough provisions. But we ran out of corks pretty quick in the field,” Denver went on, ignoring the attrition. “Not to mention the guys who we’d gauged out so much that corks wouldn’t fit in the holes. So me and a buddy one day went up to a few of the soldiers who had been hunting rabbits, and we asked for the bones. We found that a rabbit femur fit pretty well in those cases.
“You could always tell when a guy had had the procedure, because his pants would stick up and out in front. I don’t remember who started sayin’ it first, but all at once, everybody around camp was sayin’ ‘Hey, so-and-so’s got a boner!’ And that’s where the term originated.”
            “That’s gross!” A female medical student shouted, and stormed off. Two or three followed.
            “That’s a shame,” Denver said, “when a medical student can’t face the gruesome truth about health care.”
            “Anyway, putting the bone in was a relatively painless procedure, because the urethra had been made large enough through over-gauging. Taking the bone out, on the other hand, was awful. The urethra would slowly close up around the bone, snugging the hole up to close off the leak, and that was the point, but we then had to surgically remove the bone. We’re talking excruciating pain here. The men would, at some points, actually pass out from the pain. The faces we saw them make, they were so awful that we would close our eyes against them. We called that “gettin’ some shut-eye,” which is where the term originated,” he finished.
            “But sir,” another plucky med student had decided to take a shot at the make-sense game. “Didn’t the patients receive morphine?”
            “Well, no, the doctors had morphine, which meant the patients got less phine,” Denver said. “There wasn’t enough phine in between, you know what I mean?”
            “There was no midphine?” another student, asked, jokingly.
“Nope, you got mor- or less-, which is where the term originated,” Denver answered, dead pan, “and I’ll thank you to get serious and quit making shit up,” he added.
“In the aftermath of a battle, the medic and his staff would go through the battle field, assessing the casualties, in much the same way you kids do it now, with a tag,” Denver said. “But our tag system was a lot less complicated than yours. It was simple: if the soldier was going to live, he was passed by. If the soldier was expected to die, the doc placed a red tag on him. Yeah, the most dreaded words on a battle field weren’t ‘fire at will,’ or ‘retreat,’ but rather, ‘tag; you’re it.’ Then the soldier’s valuables, uniforms and personal items would be gathered up and sold, as a fundraiser for the Army.  After every battle, soldiers could look forward to a ‘red-tag sale,’ which was where the term originated.”
An ensign yawned loudly in the front row. Denver looked slightly annoyed, but the moment passed.
“What’s the matter, son? You don’t seem horribly impressed.”
“I just don’t see why we have to follow the Army and Chair Force around on this glorified nature walk. The Navy wasn’t concerned with this crap back then.”
“Are you kidding?” Denver leaned in on his chair, flirting with the very edge of balance. Several students held their breath, certain Denver would fall and need his own special brand of battlefield medicine performed on him. Probably one student mentally ventured, it would be similar to the battlefield medicine practiced at racetracks on leg-broke horses.
“The Navy pioneered some of the most successful battle medicine known at the time,” Denver finished, and settled back to the ground to some relieved (and some resigned) sighs.
“The Navy’s always had to be different, had to have a confusing ranking system completely different from any of the other services, and their strange thought patterns have been both burden and boon at once. For instance, take those gay uniforms with the mini-capes, like the Sailors are superheroes, off to save any self-respecting person from having sex with them. At the same time, those strange brainwaves came up with the idea for the first cranial replacement.”
The ensign was interested. He was inching closer.
“That’s right. Happened when the first iron-clad ships were battling each other. The-”
“Sir, the battle you’re referring to had no casualties. It ended in stalemate,” Denver was cut off by an older ensign a row back. His chest bore two insignia, one each above and below his service tape which identified him as a former enlisted corpsman of the sand-pounding variety.
 “I was just getting to that,” Denver growled. “If you know-it-alls could can it for more than a minute at a time, I’d be done already. But no, you guys who have all the answers just have to have your knowledge appraised by your peers, right? Were you there, mister Cross, on the day those vessels clashed? Were you in attendance miss Thorngrad, when the Union and Confederate armies battled at Bull Run? Were any of you here at Antietam? No? Then listen to someone who was!
“As I was saying before I was again so rudely interrupted,” Denver paused to glower at Cross. “There were no deaths in either ship that day, thanks greatly to the improvisation of the ship’s cook. One Union messhand was, in his boredom, resting against one of the port bulkheads at the wrong time, as a Confederate cannonball struck the hull at the exact spot he was resting his head. It shattered the top of his skull, it looked like a rotted pumpkin.
“So what to do? If the cooks didn’t act quick, this Sailor’s brains would soon leak all over the deck, and it was already hard enough to keep the dishroom clean. Then one of the dishwashers had an idea; he picked up one of the larger serving bowls in the dishrack and covered the hurt Sailor’s head with it, and secured it with napkins tied together. When the doc arrived on scene, he was so impressed with the cooks’ quick-thinking, he put them up for medals, and it wasn’t long before the crew was calling the place the ‘scullery.’”
The ensign who had been listening with rapt attention uttered a loud choke. He’d been had. He stormed off in disappointment with several of his friends in tow.
“What?” Denver called after them. “That was nothing! You should hear the story behind the term ‘scuttlebutt!’”
Denver now addressed a crowd of no more than 12 Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen. The strange sea of faces and pixilated greens, grays and blues had become no more than a puddle, which Denver noted with grim disappointment. There had to be one in the crowd whom he was getting through to! He scanned their young faces for any sign of interest, and found nothing but dubious expressions and vacant, bored gazes. But wait! There, a young Air Force second lieutenant stood straight, his face lit with rapt attention! Denver continued with renewed vigor.
“We have digressed a fair amount, I think,” Denver said mopping his brow with his sleeve. “I told you there was a damn good reason for urologists in the civil war, and I’m sure you thought that was bullshit.”
There was a murmur of agreement in the crowd.
Shut up! I guess then you’ve never heard of colonel Alain “Shoot ‘em in the Dick” Paulson, nicknamed for his famous methods of destroying enemy morale.”
“Oh fuck this,” the company commander said, finally giving up. “Anybody who wants to stay and listen to this bullshit can, but everyone else let’s get back to the visitor center and wait for the bus.”
Seven fell out with the company commander and trudged off toward the visitor center. Denver was losing them fast, and was talking quicker and quicker.
“They were trained to fire a variant of the standard rifle, with a compact barrel made to fire a very small projectile. It was, essentially, the first bb gun. Col. Paulson knew the best way to destroy an army was to take away its drive to fight, and nothing takes the fight out of a man like getting shot in the dick. These men did it with precision, and they were known throughout the South as ‘Paulson’s Pee-Shooters.’ Eventually the morality and decency squad (a.k.a. the churchgoing public) got a hold of the term and cleaned it up, made it a reference to the caliber of the ammunition being about the size of a pea. But you all know now where the term finds its humble origins.
“Eventually the Union trained up its own special squad of snipers, whose expertise was coming around behind the enemy and gettin’ them in the backside. Our own major Richard Carlson led the unit known as “Carlson’s Crack Shots,” and they rallied to his cry of “hit ‘em where the good lord split ‘em, men!”
An ensign and two lieutenants burst out laughing, and began to walk away towards the visitor center.
“That was a damn good show, mister Denver!” one of ‘em called back.
Fuck off!” Denver called back. “You all wouldn’t know the truth if it bit you in the ass! You’ll never be decent doctors!” He was frothing a little, to the slight concern of the last lieutenant standing, the one Denver had noticed earlier.
“I… I believe you, mister Denver.”
“As you should, kid, as you should. You know what? Since you’ve kept the faith, I’m going to tell you where it all began.”
“Where what began?”
“Medicine, kid.”
The lieutenant’s eyes grew wide.
“We didn’t always call it medicine, you know,” Denver launched into his final story. “It was known by many names: fixin’ up; succor; boo-boo kissin’ just to name a few, but it wasn’t until the civil war, in a shack not far from here, that the term ‘medicine’ was born.
“There was a couple of Union soldiers who’d been cut off from their unit in a horribly bloody battle. They were on the run from a band of Confederates, who were hot on their trail, and they were just about ready to lose their shit. The dirt trail they were following ran around a forest, and after a bend, a small shack came into sight. Salvation! If they could get the people inside to hide them, their bacon was saved.”
"The house belonged to the Bensons, who were just sitting down to lunch when there was a loud hammering at the door, followed by muffled voices. Outside, the two soldiers were shouting at the top of their lungs, ‘let us in! Let us in!’
“What are they sayin’ pa?” little Jimmy Benson asked his father.
“I don’t rightly know,” Benson the elder answered. “Sounds something like… medicine.
“What the hell is medicine?” missus Benson asked.
“Damned if I know,” Benson replied.
At this moment, the two soldiers attempted a running slam at the door, and knocked themselves out cold. The Bensons opened the door (which had been double bolted shut) and found two beat up Union soldiers passed out on their doorstep.
“I guess they were looking for a boo-boo kissin’.” Benson said.
“From that point on, the practice of fixin’ someone up was known as ‘medicine,’ and that my friend, is where the term originated.”
*$“Wow…” The lieutenant breathed out. “That’s one hell of a story, Mr. Denver.”
“Ayuh, and all of it true,” Denver said warmly through a ladle-shaped smile. He shifted his stomach on his knees and wiped his be-gutsweated hands on the sides of his pants. “But, I’m afraid that’s all I have for you today, son. The tour’s over, it’s time you toddled off. Thanks for listening.”
The lieutenant seemed to notice for the first time how late it had become, and he thanked Bob Denver for his time and wisdom. He executed a left-face, and marched alone back to the visitor’s center. Denver watched him go. The lad would be kicked out of the Air Force two months, three days and several hours from that moment as the result of a drug test, which revealed the man to be an insatiable pot head.
Denver checked his watch, then drank again from the bottle in the paper bag. A few minutes later, he caught the sound of giggling on the wind, and the sound built until a large, red-faced man and a giggling, suggestively-dressed woman stepped out of the woods and stopped, sagging on each other, in front of Denver. The man wore a uniform similar to Denver’s, albeit grass-stained and rumpled.
“Shit, it took you long enough Larry,” Denver said in a slightly irritated tone, and managed to look both appetizingly and disapprovingly at Larry’s lady friend. “I trust you didn’t pay for the whole night in advance…”
The woman sniffed and turned up her nose at Denver, and Larry sheepishly said, “She’s not a whore, she’s my date. And it was only half an hour, Bob. How were the students? Did they learn anything?”
Denver heaved his upper body forward over his legs, and let the momentum of his gut carry him to his feet.
“I always teach ‘em something,” Denver said, toddling toward a rascal parked discretely behind some bushes. Across the back of his civil war uniform, “Antietam National Battlefield: Janitorial Service” was embossed in yellow script.
“I always teach ‘em something.

“Yeah, yeah, ‘wow,’” said a voice behind the lieutenant, and he whirled to see two police officers emerging from a cruiser. “Alright Dylan, game’s up. C’mon back with us, the head nurse is worried sick,” the officer finished.
“Dylan’s” eyes were darting back and forth between the two officers, and his tongue was licking the corners of his mouth nervously.
“Good morning, officers! What can I do you for?”
“Cut the shit, Dylan, you’re coming back to the hospital. This isn’t going to turn into a discussion, and don’t play dumb.”
“Officers, is there some sort of problem here?” The lieutenant spoke up.
“Yeah there is, son. This man is an escaped mental patient, and we’re here to take him back. Don’t worry, he’s not dangerous, just a little nutty.”
“I don’t understand… he’s not an actor?”
“Heh heh, no. Well, only on Tuesdays. He’s pretty convincing, huh? You should roll by the hospital tomorrow,” the lead officer said, cuffing Dylan’s hands behind his back and leading him away. “He’ll be the first American female astronaut.”
“Oh, that’s a good one, with the voice!” his partner added.
The lieutenant was dismayed.
The two officers put him into the back of the car, and assumed their positions in the cab. The driver rolled down the window.
“Don’t worry about it, son. He’s convincing, we know. This happens every time they get a new guard on staff, he manages to make something up and get by them every time.”
From behind him Dylan said in a falsetto, “Canaveral, and step on it boys. I’m going to be late for launch!”
“Shit. Looks like the show is starting early,” the driver’s partner said. “Well… you heard the lady.”
The police car pulled out into traffic and began its journey back toward the hospital, presumably. From the back, the lieutenant heard a faint lady’s voice: “To the mooooooooooooooooooon…”
The lieutenant stood watching the road for a long time. Finally, he began to trudge back toward the visitor center.

All of the shit he said was true, and he was a time-travelling land whale who shoved metal pipes up people’s pee-pees like a fat, malignant Dr. Who.

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