Friday was a typically beautiful San Diego autumn day. And for the six JCOC alumni spending their day touring the USNS Mercy (T-AH 19) and being granted a behind-the-scenes look at Naval Medical Center San Diego it was a long series of "gee whiz" moments.
Rather than muster up at the "normal" JCOC time of 4:00 or 5:00 a.m., we started our day at the more civilized time of 9:30 out of consideration for those driving in for the day. Introductions, followed by a brief ride to San Diego Naval Station brought us pier side one of two hospital ships in the U.S. Navy, USNS Mercy. There we were met by Commander Carolyn McGee, director of nursing and clinical support services, Captain James Rice, commanding officer of the Mercy, and Tim McCurry, deputy director of Military Sealift Command San Diego.
Rather than simply provide us with the standard "Welcome Aboard" briefing, our hosts instead chose to tell us about heir latest deployment to the south Pacific for Pacific Partnership 2008 earlier this year. During the deployment they treated patients in the Republic of the Philippines, Micronesia, New Guinea, Timor Leste, and Vietnam. At times, the Mercy's medical teams were seeing up to 1,500 patients a day, working alongside the medical professionals of the host nation.
After the brief and a tour of the ship, we shoved off for an afternoon at Naval Medical Center San Diego. First stop: lunch, where we learned that "Balboa," as it's known, has a staff of more than 6,000, evenly divided between military and civilians. And that the staff sees more than 4,000 patients and delivers 10 babies (on average) each day and dispenses 2.4 million prescriptions a year (that's the same as 25 of your local Walgreen's). Our guide for the afternoon, Michael Wiener, first took us to C5 (Comprehensive Combat & Complex Casualty Care) so we could see some of the work being done with returning veterans. We saw how they are using motion capture video to do gait studies, virtual reality simulators to help alleviate the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder, and have established a website to help veterans identify resources available to them.
Later, Ms. Belle Esposito, manager of the newly constructed Fisher House, showed us the new facility designed to house families while they stay in San Diego to be at the bedside of their recovering servicemembers.
Our afternoon continued with a tour of Radiology where we saw a CT Scan machine that is able to render an image of a beating heart in a matter of minutes. And if that's not enough, the doctors can manipulate the image on the screen in order to look at it from any angle.
The last stop of the day was the operating rooms. There we saw an overwhelming amount of equipment and associated technology that is literally saving lives 24/7.
Earlier in the day I saw a quote that, when taken in the context of the entire day's experiences, may be the impression these medical professionals leave on our wounded warriors.
"People will forget what you said. People will forget what you did. But people will never forget how you made them feel."