I felt tired. No, it was more than that. All I wanted to do was sleep. I felt hot, but then everyone felt hot because Vietnam is tropical and has a similar latitude to Nicaragua. My squad mates kept trying to rouse me and it was getting on my nerves. I wanted to sleep. They would nudge me and coax me to get up. I was laying on a shelf of dirt in our foxhole. It was much more than a foxhole really, the holke was 10 by 8 feet and seven feet deep. We’d lain logs across the hole and piled sandbags on them. All in all, it was a good protected position, even if the enemy dropped mortars onto our position. The air was dank and humid in the hole and I was sweating heavily.
My squad leader finally took hold of me and sat me up. “Jesus,” he said, “he’s really friggin’ hot.” Three of the others all reached in to touch me and then there was a moment where the guys all commented and agreed with each other that I was hot. Our squad leader had them drag me out of the hole and I protested all the way. They laid me out on a poncho liner and the with a man on each corner, used it as a litter to haul me to the medic’s tent. My temperature was taken and it came back 104. A manilla colored tag was tied to my boot that said “FUO” and within about a half hour I was loaded onto a Huey and medivac’d to the Nha Trang army field hospital.
It was there that I found out that FUO meant fever of unknown origin. A bit later I found out I had malaria. There are a number of ways to get malaria. You can get it from the water, from mosquitos and other parasites -like leeches. Just a few days before we’d been on overnight patrol and when morning came, we found leeches stuck to us. They were inside our clothes as well as on exposed skin. We spent a good half hour removing them from each other. We heated our bayonets over our little Sterno stoves and touched the sizzling blades to the leech’s bodies and they fell off. Some had to be encouraged more to let go and this was done by scraping them off the skin with a cold knife. The people at the hospital were pretty sure that was the source of my illness, but in Vietnam, out in the jungle, it could have been any number of things that passed malaria to me.
For the most part I still just wanted to sleep. In the air conditioned bays of the hospital they were content to let me. Except when they didn’t. They kept a close watch on my temperature and when it rose above 104 they would use different methods to cool me. Sometimes a pair of husky orderlies would hold me under a cold shower. It seemed freezing to me, although in reality the water was tepid. Once, when my temperature climbed to 106, they put me first in a shower and then a tub with water and ice cubes. I was told they had to be careful, it was a balance between getting my temperature down quickly before I suffered brain damage, and shocking my system so brutally that I had a heart attack or stroke. I only remember that it felt so cold it was hot. As if I was submerged in boiling water. Like the others who had to endure similar treatment, I fought against those trying to help me. Sometimes it would take three or four orderlies to contain those of us being bathed in the chilling water.
I can’t help but remember the three weeks I spent as the excellent people at the Nha Trang hospital nursed me back to health when the temperature rises. For the next couple of weeks it’s supposed to be near 100 degrees and our home has no air conditioning. We sweat in the stream of fans waiting for the possible reprieve that darkness might bring. And as I do I recall my days at war.