1 : a state of open, often prolonged fighting; a battle or war
2 : a psychic struggle; often unconscious, resulting from the opposition or simultaneous functioning of mutually exclusive impulses, desires, or tendencies
1 : the firm decision to do or not do something
2 : the quality of being determined or resolute
3 : the action of solving a problem or contentious matter
4 : music; the passing of a discord into a concord while changing harmony
I tell the fire crew that I’ve got this if they want to cut out. They are always in a hurry in this city and when it’s a stat call that’s a great thing, but when it’s a geriatric patient who’s looking for his reading glasses on a non-emergent call, they tend to get impatient and that’s not so good. I’d rather let my patient take his time and feel comfortable than hurry him out the door. He finally spots his reading glasses on the music stand surrounded by three trumpets he’d been practicing a short time earlier.
We were called here because his wife noticed that he got dizzy when he stood up from the couch and was slow to answer questions after sitting back down. I do my assessment and find him negative for stroke signs, STEMI (S-T elevation myocardial infarction, meaning heart attack), diabetic problems, and everything else I could think to ask about that may cause a near syncopal (fainting) episode.
It’s likely that the beta blockers he takes for hypertension kept his heart rate low enough that his blood pressure couldn’t keep up with the sudden demand of standing up and he got a little light headed. His wife cares about him and wants him to get checked out anyway. Both he and I can see that arguing with her is a losing proposition so he’s going to humor her and go to the ED with me. That’s okay with me, honestly I would rather take a man in his mid-eighties to the ED than spend an hour documenting why I didn’t take him.
I complete my entire assessment in his living room and he’s symptom-free so I’ve got very little to do as we drive to other side of the city to his preferred hospital. Being a non-emergent call (some might call it a BS call), I don’t have to rush him to the closest facility or take him to a specialty hospital â€” he can choose where to go. If it makes him feel better to go across town that’s fine with me.
As I’m sitting on the bench in the back of the ambulance, filling in his demographics on the laptop for my paperwork, I do a quick lookup on him to see if we’ve transported him before. We have, so his information comes up. His insurance information indicates VA (Veterans Administration) coverage.
His name is of Japanese decent and he’s in his mid-eighties. I always like to thank the older Vets for their service and sometimes hear some stories when I get a chance, so I ask if he fought in the war. Men in their eighties only recognize one war; everything since was just a conflict.
“Oh yeah, I fought in the war, got drafted in ’44 as soon as they let me out of the internment camp.” He has a slow meticulous cadence almost as if he is planning where to stop and take a breath and adjusts his words to facilitate regular breathing.
“Are you serious, you were locked up and then you went to fight for the country that did that to you?”
“Yeah, my mother told me to. She said, ‘You were born here, this is your country. If they want you to fight for it then it’s your duty.’ So I did.”
I remember hearing about the 442nd Combat Infantry Group that fought in Europe. It was comprised almost exclusively of Japanese-Americans. They became the most highly decorated regiment in the history of the US Armed Forces with 21 Medal of Honor recipients. Yeah, okay I’m a geek, I’ve been known to put off cleaning the kitchen because there’s something compelling on the history channel, much to me wife’s chagrin.
“Well, I was sixteen when they put me in the camp. When I turned eighteen they said I had to sign up for the draft and as soon as I did they drafted me. I was supposed to go to the 442nd and was in the States training for it because they were losing those guys all the time â€” almost half of them died. But part way in they changed their mind.
“See, I was bilingual with no accent so they wanted me to help out in the Pacific. They sent me to language school for seven months, it was supposed to be nine months but they were in a hurry. Once I was done I got attached to the War Crimes Investigators and did translation for the interrogation of prisoners as we took back Manila.”
I think of the integrity and maturity that was displayed by this eighteen year old boy. After being imprisoned in a camp for two years at such a formative time in his life, he’s able to come to terms with some of the most difficult issues faced by humanity; prejudice, loyalty, inequality, duty.
“So you’re eighteen and doing the translation as they interrogate people?”
“Yeah, they were worried about me being so young at first too. They asked me, ‘Are you sure you can do this?’ I said, ‘I don’t know, let’s give it a try!’ So I guess my language skills were pretty good because it was easy for me. They were really impressed and kept me busy for the rest of my tour as we moved across the Pacific and into Japan. Being bilingual probably saved my life – as a translator I wasn’t really in danger of being killed.
“When my tour was over I got a job as a contractor in McArthur’s Tokyo doing intelligence work translating military documents. It was a good job, I did that for another five years.”
I imagine what it must have been like for him as a young man of Japanese descent – working within the American military machine after the national outrage following the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Then to go to the country of his parents’ birth immediately after atomic bombs were dropped on civilian targets. The conflicted emotions must have been overwhelming.
“So what did you do when you finally came back to the States?”
“Oh, I worked as a CPA for twenty something years. I mean, I still do some work for them in tax season but mostly I’m too busy to work any more.”
“Too busy? So you’ve got a lot to do these days?”
“Oh yeah, I’m real busy. I play the trumpet in two bands, seems like I got a gig a couple times a week and I’m practicing all the time. I even go to a brass workshop for two weeks every year. I love to play the trumpet, it keeps me young.”
His face lights up, he sits up a little straighter, and gestures with his hands while talking about music. This obviously means a lot to him – it seems it’s a big part of his life.
“When did you start playing?”
“Oh, when I was a kid in high school, then when we were in the camp it was pretty much the only entertainment we had. A few of us in the camp could play an instrument. We’d get together and play concerts to keep people’s spirits up. Then when I went into the Army I played the bugle to wake people up in the morning.
“When I got out and started working I didn’t have a lot of time, but twenty years ago I retired, well mostly retired, so I had a lot more time to play again. Been doing it ever since!”
As we’re backing into the ED I realize I haven’t done any paperwork. I’ve been listening to this fascinating man throughout the trip. He’s a man of honor and duty who led an amazing life and is now enjoying his golden years as a musician. The whole time I’ve been talking to him he was smiling with an alert sparkle in his eyes as if recalling fond memories. He has made peace with the past and expresses his strength of character and love of humanity through his music. I am a better person for having met him.