Most emergency physicians have very short attention spans.  Thus, many of us have side-gigs.  That is, we have other interests that we engage in that are tangential to medicine.  One of mine is weapons of mass destruction.  As a consequence, I have been engaged in lecturing as a consultant since 1996, when the Feds started what was called the ‘Domestic Preparedness Program,’ to prepare municipal responders for terrorist events.

I have worked under different programs, and different consulting firms; under the DoD and DoJ, but the lectures are basically the same.  These programs have taken me across the country and as far as Japan.  Most recently, we have focused on military facilities.  So it was that I found myself on Parris Island last week, as a class of sharp young Marines was about to graduate and embark upon their various adventures in the service of freedom.

Looking back on my life, I wish I had been a Marine for a while.  There’s something about it. Something remarkable in the crucible they endure, and the way they carry themselves when they graduate.  Much of our culture fails to appreciate the honor, the privilege, of struggle and the badge that struggle confers.  I think that Marines still get it.

Sitting in a classroom there, I realized that while there have been plenty of USMC GI Joe’s, there has never to my knowledge been a ‘Consultant GI Joe.’  Try to imagine him: little computer case slung over his shoulder; proud corporate emblem on his polo shirt; right had boldly extended with travel voucher, ready for signing.  Sigh.  It doesn’t hold a candle to that uniform, that look, that rifle.

Fortunately, one need not be a Marine to be heroic.  I know this, because I live with a figure of heroic proportions.  He is my son.  Let me rephrase that.  I think all of my children are heroic figures.  They are brave and bright, clever and self-assured.  But Seth, my diabetic child, made me think of those Marines when I returned home two nights ago.

Putting him to bed, I pulled out his glucometer, prepared the spring-loaded lancet, and pressed the button that drove it into his finger.  I take it for granted, like locking the doors, feeding the cats, reading the Bible to the kids, or saying prayers with them.  It is the background.  But this time, as I did it, he winced and made a little noise.  A tiny, almost imperceptible ‘ouch.’

‘Did it hurt, son?’  I asked, concerned my technique was off.

‘Yes Papa, it always does.  But it’s OK.’

I could have cried.  I wonder how many of those Marines would face what my boy faces without fury, rage, bitterness or depression.  Oh, I respect them immensely.  But I respect my boy so much more.  At the ripe old age of 11, his fingers bear the callouses of untold sticks.  His hips and legs the scars of injections and pump sites.

Do you think he complains?  Do you think he is despondent?  Hardly. In fact, he is as full of hope and wonder as anyone on earth.  His interests range from blacksmithing to the bagpipe (which he plays), to western myths and ancient languages.  His pain has propelled him forward, rather than pulling him down.

It’s like those Marines.  Sometimes, the misery, the hardship, the awfulness of what we face is a kind of lens that focuses the pain into an energy no one else can grasp or contain.  Suffering makes Marines walk with pride.

Suffering makes my son a force of God; a force to be reckoned with one day.

I don’t know what he’ll be.  But I know that his drops of blood make him heroic.  And heroes are remembered, in this life and the next.


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