This is a short story about my illness in 1969 that I brought home from Vietnam. I don't have a clue why I am writing about it other than I have a little time and feel the need to write about something. Here goes.
In the Central Highlands of Vietnam, there are a lot of different kinds of places to be. There are plains a lot like the foothills near Denver and mountains like you would see in Central America. The biggest difference is the heat and the humidity. I am not sure of the big reason for it, but the place stinks in ways that are hard to imagine. Just when you think you have smelled the worse out nearer to the rice paddies, you pass a market place where the combined smell of smoke and dried fish almost would gag a maggot. I spent a lot of time out in the hinterlands and not too many days near cities. By the time I had been there a couple of months, I became nose blind to the smells of dirty GI's. When you know you stink, the body odor of everyone else just doesn't stand out.
OK, lets talk about my circumstances. I was a young 2nd Lieutenant when I arrived in Vietnam. After a horrible first month, I was transferred to the 1st Bn, 92nd Field Artillery who's headquarters was just north of Pleiku. The Artillery Group I was newly assigned to provided fire support to units in the area north of Pleiku and some to units of the 4th Infantry Division. Most of the firing batteries were spread out in a 100 kilometer arc north and west of Pleiku. In other blogs, you can read about the job I had as the Battalion Ammo Officer/AO but this story really starts in late summer and early fall of 1968.
Just before I was assigned to C Battery, I went to the field as a Forward Observer with small units that needed a fill in while their FO went on leave or R&R. Most of the time We were out with just what we could carry. For me, I carried a ground cloth, a poncho and an air mattress. Throw in C rations, ammo and water it was a load to carry in 100 degree weather. I always try to carry a battery for the portable radio, PRC 77 I think.
Most every unit had a medic assigned and he was responsible for looking after our health. Any kind of a wound, blister or rash would soon turn infected if the medic didn't help put whatever miracle medicine he had. He also dispensed the pills that were designed to be a prophylaxis for malaria. In the Central Highlands that consisted of a daily little white pill and on Monday a bit orange one. I could never tell if the little white pill had any effect on me but come Tuesday, our unit always traveled slower because a lot of us would get a touch of the runs after the big orange pill. When I came home to the States, I was assigned to Fort Carson, Colorado.
The Army gave me a 30 day supply of the little white pills and while I was assigned at Fort Carson, I took one a day and began to have what felt like the flue until I came home to Kansas in July. I'll bet I took the maximum amount of aspirin each day to help kill the headaches. My supply of the big Orange pills lasted until the first Monday in July.
When I got home, went back to working construction until school started in September. I was able to work for a couple of weeks before I really started to get sick. It started as a fever and really a feeling or weakness like I had a super strain of the flu. The off thing was that it was every other day for a week or so. My Doctor put me in the Hospital for a couple of days and they found nothing. I didn't run a high fever there either.
As soon as I got back home, I started to run a fever and threw up breakfast. I remember getting blankets to help me stop from feeling cold. My wife went to work and when she came home about 3 in the afternoon the trailer we lived in was about 100 degrees. She called my parents house and everyone loaded up to go to the VA.
Upon arrival at the VA, one of the Emergency Room people said that I clearly had Malaria. They admitted me to the hospital and a Doctor visited me to see if I would like to join a trial they were starting to treat Malaria. It seems that Lieutenant came home from Vietnam with Malaria and Leukemia. As soon as they started the chemo for Leukemia, his Malaria went into remission and by the time then ended the treatments, it was gone. For the next three weeks or so, they would give me a big green pill and by 9 AM, I could not get out of bed. I could smell the chemicals coming out of my pores and I COULD NOT HOLD DOWN LUNCH. That evening, I would start to feel better, get up, take a shower, put on new pj's and sleep like a baby. One evening. my wife came to visit and we snuck out of the hospital to get a chocolate milk shake at the fast food restaurant across the street. I had to surreptitiously slip back into the hospital through the emergency room. I'm pretty sure that I was not the only patient that did that.
Like I said, for three weeks or so I was one pretty sick guy. Then one day, it all changed. The pills stopped and I was given a few duties around the hospital to help the nurses. The only salvation was that I needed to go to Wichita State to enroll for fall classes. Once free of the hospital, I didn't go back. I felt about 75% better and started classes that fall. I got a letter in the mail that gave me a 10% disability for a year. As I remember, it was just enough to buy a case of beer or two but I took it. With the wife working as she also went to school, the GI bill and a few odd jobs, things went well for the next two years.
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