Monday, May 07, 2007

Different viewpoints on a war report while Beth and Linda go to ER

With vastly different experiences I have gained an insight into the impact of societal acceptance (or lack thereof): I am talking about the survey of battlefield ethics in Iraq as reported at the BBC versus CNN and about my trip to the ER on Saturday. How do those two relate? They relate because not only does what we expect to find dictate how we view and treat others (the ER crew with me, the US Marines with Iraqi civilians, the US public with the reports of US marines) but it also determines what we will expect and accept as behavior in other; making it almost impossible at time for communication when those expectations are breached (like when a female is trying to see another female in ER and keeps using the word “spouse”).

Let’s look first at the news story: “US Iraq troops 'condone torture'” says the BBC which talks about an army mental health survey done in Iraq and examined soldiers views of torture and treatment of civilians. They quote the pentagon and then start by saying that “less than half the troops in Iraq thought Iraqi civilians should be treated with dignity and respect.” They also highlight that the report told the Pentagon to shorten deployments but the reality is that they have been extended.

CNN on the other hand has the story titled: “Study: Anxiety, depression, acute stress in combat troops.” This particular title makes it appear that the only thing of interest to Americans is Americans if CNN has to chose a title about American Soldiers torturing civilians or American soldiers feeling depressed….let’s focus on the struggles of the guys in green! The story leads that one third of soldiers in high levels of combat report stress and depression. The third paragraph says that “third of soldiers and Marines reported that torture should be allowed to save the life of a comrade.” It omits mentioning that in the question the torture would be carried out on civilians.

In the report itself, pages 34-43 we find out that while over 80% of those interviewed said they received appropriate training, 17% percent of the forces (both soldiers and marines) felt ALL non-combatants should be treated as insurgents, the percentage who believed torture was okay if it saved the life of another US soldier was over 40%, and if it led to information of insurgents, 35%-39%. About 10% of soldiers admit to “modifying” the Rules of Engagement while 7% of the marines are “rogue” or “have unit members who ignore the rules of engagement”. That wasn’t surprising to me, what surprised me was percentage of marines who stated they would report a fellow marine. Q: Would you report a fellow marine of stealing from a NON-combatant? Yes: 33%; No: 66%. Q: Would you report a fellow marine for injuring or killing an innocent non-combatant? Yes: 40%, No: 60%. Indeed that was the highest score for marines on ALL questions of reporting, while the lowest was for unnecessarily damaging property at 30% for yes. Correctly trained: Yes. Will report illegal acts against civilians: No.

The report also found that if a unit member had died, the percent of illegal actions against civilians almost doubled or more, for instance damaging non-combatant property went from 8% of self reporting to 15% answering the question yes. If the soldier has handled the dead or body parts, it goes up again; 20% for damaging property and the difference in hitting and kicking civilians when “unnecessary” goes from 3% to 9%. If the percentages are statistically accurate we are talking about thousands to tens of thousands of soldiers just in the kicking and hitting of civilians, maybe over 100,000 soldiers in the cursing at, verbally abusing civilians. But, that is a debate for another day, since these are just statistics, and self reported ones at that (usually self reported stats are LOW). What interested me all the more was that a report comes out saying that a Marine, the symbol of American ideals can go on a spree of robbing civilians, kicking random people, destroying their stuff and no one will do anything about it; indeed already many are acting out in this way. And the news response, and the national response is that the soldier needs to be taken care of. Or rather “does not compute.” Marines and soldiers heroic and breaking down under stressful conditions in combat and needing to be helped or at least blame leaders about this betrayal of “our boys” (and girls…some forget): That can be understood. American soldiers advocating torture, beating up civilians and robbing them as part of their “road to democracy”: does not compute!

Now to my EMT experience. Little did we know, when hearing a story on Friday night about EMT personnel who told the person’s boyfriend that he was “making up” his sickle cell anemia attack, that within 12 hours I would be in an ambulance; admittedly a stationary ambulance that had refused to allow Linda to accompany me because they assumed she was a nurse or registered aide (hey, two women…what else could we possible be), and having a EMT telling me, “Stop calling me Linda” since I couldn’t see and just kept saying her name over and over again. But my story is really rather repetitive as when even my heart specialist has no idea what is wrong with me, or why I pass out or faint or can’t get enough oxygen or become partially paralyzed or have neurotic slurring and spasms, then I guess I shouldn’t be too offended when the EMT keeps assuming (when I can’t speak) that I am a hysterical female having a panic attack and when I can speak that I am an ex-athlete who did performance enhancing (and perhaps recreational drugs). I shouldn’t be, but I am. Which is why I tend to give the EMT’s medical quizzes (they could define sickle cell anemia, nor the basic signs of hypothyroidism). Indeed, it was only my persistent and vindictive quizzing, which made one EMT so mad to dump me OUT of the ER recovery area and into the waiting room in a trolley in my bathing suit (and here I didn’t shave my legs because “it was only an hour swim”) which reunited me with Linda.

While I was labeled “hysterical female”, Linda had been labeled by the EMT as a lower end health professional who should step aside now that the “pros” had arrived. This is why they kept asking her, “What organization are you with” (meaning: Vancouver Island Health Authority, Private Nursing care), after she passed on the medical history. And she was looking puzzled and going, “Blue Cross?” (our insurance agency). “No, what organization are you with.” They assumed she was a health care person as she assisted in my transfer to the ambulance but once there, it was no go. “We don’t have any room.” She was told (they had an entire unused bench), and told that she could meet me “at the hospital.” She didn’t realize until later that they were denying her because they had never twigged she was my partner, but rather that they were “taking over” from her job. This left her to walk to the hospital. Once there however, getting to see me, or even find out if I was there was difficult due to a perception: what right does one female have to find out about another female in ER? So the ER information staff kept coming back to her with “So, you are a friend of the family?” and once with, “Was it your mother you are looking for?” Fed up, Linda said quite distinctly, “Her name is Elizabeth McClung and she is my SPOUSE.” This statement caused half the waiting area to immediately swivel necks to stare at her. While she didn’t get any information about me; or even find out if I was in the back, the woman stopped asking what her relationship to me was. In both instances, in a country where it is not only legal to marry, but we have, the inability for my partner to be with me in the hospital or in an ambulance comes not from the legal standpoint but because non of the medical personnel were able to process the information that we were partners, married, spouses and instead, would try to find something in their frame of reference which could work.

Marines and soldiers who have lost someone in their unit find it emotionally safer to assume EVERY Iraqi is the enemy and act accordingly’ a country finds it easier to look in the mirror if they focus on getting upset at Marines not getting more help, instead of what is being done daily in their names; EMT personnel (three men) see a woman holding another woman’s hand and stroking her hair and come to the only reasonable conclusion: she’s a medical professional, paid to help me. And me? Humiliated, labeled in ways that blame me for being unable to speak and move, once I get my voice back, I use it to lash out in frustration, displaying competence to try and put myself back in some equal footing, to try and publicly demonstrate they the EMT people do not know all the answers. A course of action, while temporary satisfying, can, as EMT still have power over my placement, have me dumped in a waiting room in just a swimsuit (a nice high cut Jackie O style).

The triage doctor and I agreed that I didn’t need to be there, I needed more specialists. “But people keep bringing me here when I can’t talk…or move…or breath.” I tell him. It happens. One person suggested I get a med-alert bracelet. Not sure what to put on it: leave to cook for 40 minutes, check occasionally. Not all EMT personnel are jerks, nor are all soldiers in Iraq. But sadly enough exist of both to make us civilians a bit leery of meeting them again.


KateJ said...

On the Iraqi question...I get the impression that anyone in US who even questions any aspect of what "our boys" are doing, is seen as unpatriotic, disloyal, supporting "terrorism" etc etc.
Unless they are a relative of a dead soldier, in which case their comments can't be totally ignored, but can be usually be put down to grief or whatever.
Same thing here in UK - criticising the government that sent them there is one thing (almost no-one supports the war) but actual soldiers, that's a still a no-no. Brits just blame everything on the Americans... "our" troops are different. Maybe they are, I don't know.

kathz said...

I realised things were badly wrong in Iraq - even worse than bombing etc - back in the summer of 2003 when I and others saw a news clip showing U.S. soldiers kicking their way into an Iraqi house and threatening the inhabitants. If they were prepared to do that in front of embedded journalists and a TV crew, they had moved beyond what was usually acceptable. Of course, there's evidence that U.K. troops behave in the same way but we're sold a myth of their good conduct. Our leaders really should read some of the popular fictions that exalted the British Empire - they offer quite a range of thuggish behaviours for admiration and emulation. Of course, the ways in which troops are trained to protect members of their unit are particularly dangerous since they foster group/institutional loyalty against any threat or criticism.

Meanwhile, your ER experiences seem to have made a scary time far worse. There used to be a badge saying "How dare you presume I'm heterosexual?" - it seems to be needed in such circumstances. Very best wishes etc to you and Linda.

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