I have received flashbacks for over forty-five years, this is a typical occurrence for those who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). When I returned from Vietnam it was common for me to experience flashbacks, they represented many traumatic events, it is a flash from the past. They happened at all hours, day and night. Some are brought on by triggers, others for no reason at all. When this happens, I am reliving the traumatic event just as if I was standing there, I can actually feel the fear and distinguish the smells, the sounds or intense emotions and the images. The mind is an amazing thing.
Over the years my flashbacks subsided to a very few episodes. Some of my flashbacks that occur are forgotten just as fast as they appear. Some of them I block out of my mind, I don’t choose to pursue that thought. In other words, I put that thought back in my black box and close the lid.
Then again, some of my flashbacks are too traumatic. I must face the event head on; I have no choice. I witnessed daily trauma for thirteen months in country. Some battles were so horrific and gruesome and nightmarish that you just don’t want to go there; but your inner self refuses to disconnect. These are the flashbacks that keep returning; it’s like the movie, “Ground Hog Days”. They keep coming back.
During my time in Vietnam, I probably ran 300 patrols and treated around 200 casualties. This was a lot of baggage to carry. Most of my patrols were mundane; after a while treating a wounded marine became an everyday occurrence. It was expected to have wounded and killed marines on a search and destroy mission. I mean no disrespect to the Marine casualties; you had to separate yourself from the trauma. Some of those battles caused terrible nightmares! They were not mundane. The sights, sounds, fear, chaos were indescribable! These are the events that forever torment me, one cannot hide from them, the flash will always reappear.
To keep my sanity, I must accept it and go on with my life. There is nothing I can do about the past. I am very thankful that God has always been in my life; he is my Rock.
The reason I am writing this is because of the flashback I had the other day that I cannot shake. It is not from a battle in the field. It all happened in a hamlet south of Danang, Vietnam.
I have mentioned this topic in another story, but I need to elaborate more in detail why it has affected me all these years. Then maybe you can understand why I am so haunted by it. We were on a mission near Marble Mountain. As we were walking through a village, a Marine informed me that one of the women was having trouble with her pregnancy. When I entered the grass hut, she was laying on a dirt floor on top of a blanket. She was a very young girl and in terrible pain as she was crying and moaning. Her breathing was short and rapid, her blood pressure was very high, legs and feet were swollen, between her legs was very bloody.
I then noticed a very small leg leading the way out from the birth canal! (I later learned that this was called a transversal or cross birth.) She knew she was in a serious condition and looked directly into my eyes and then down to her baby and back to me. She was speaking in Vietnamese but I knew exactly what she was wanting, “at least save my baby!” She was making this personal, her large brown eyes were pleading for me to help. Her eyes were also showing terror and I was very concerned that she was going into shock. There were several women present; I have no doubt her mother, family members and one or two midwives were present. They were all talking in high pitch voices, which confused me at the same time. However, I knew they were all anxious, confused and concerned. They all knew this was a very serious situation, I wanted to yell and tell them to be quiet so I could decide what to do, but this was their home and I was an invited guest.
I then told the Marine standing there to bring the radioman to me as we needed to call in a medevac. When he arrived, I instructed him to call our CP and request a chopper ASAP. Our request was denied, the CO said we had already lost a chopper the other day for a Marine medevac and we were not going to lose another one for a civilian. He ordered us to continue our mission and move out.
As we were preparing to leave the village, I could tell that they were very disappointed in me, I believe I was their only hope. I then administered two syrettes of morphine for her pain. In all likely hood the baby and the mother died. At that point I did not feel worthy of the Marines calling me Doc. I had let these people down. This is one of those cases that has haunted me all these years. The self-criticism never stops, I am my own worst enemy.
The midwives in Vietnam were very good in helping mothers in their delivery. Under primitive conditions, one couldn’t ask for more. They have been doing this for hundreds of years. The mortality rate for newborns in Vietnam was surprisingly low.
The Vietnamese people were very hard workers. Common practice was if a pregnant woman’s water broke while working in the rice paddies, she along with one or two other women would move her to dry ground and assist her in the birth. If they were about to deliver, then they didn't have the time to go all the way back to their dwelling let alone make it to a hospital. For women that are carrying a child it is a part of the everyday procedure. If there were no complications during the birth the midwife would put the infant in a cloth sling and secure it to her back and return to the rice paddy because getting the work done was very important.
There are still primitive cultures today where the women will take time out to give birth then go right back to what they were doing. When the water broke and they felt the child coming, they would simply get into a squatting position and another woman would catch or take hold of the baby as it emerged. While birth was a special event, the actual procedure wasn't that big of a deal. The pregnant woman would leave the village to forage with the other women and sometimes return with a baby slung on her back and the child's birth was celebrated at the end of the day.
HMCM Ronald C. Mosbaugh
Master Chief Corpsman (E-9)
USNR (retired) 31 years