By Lt. J. G. Karen Cryer, staff nurse, Naval Health Clinic Hawaii
Lt. J. G. Cryer is currently assigned as a staff nurse on one of the seven National Committee for Quality Assurance certified Medical Home Port teams at Naval Health Clinic Hawaii. Her work as a Navy nurse is one of many we are highlighting this month for Nurses Week and the Navy Nurse Corps birthday May 13.
I graduated from nursing school in 2010 and gained two years of experience from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, Bethesda, Maryland, where I worked in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). In 2012, I reported to Naval Health Clinic Hawaii. From May 2013 to Feb. 2014, I took the opportunity to deploy to Afghanistan.
I quickly transitioned from the inpatient setting to learn ambulatory nursing skills. In addition to becoming skilled in providing patient centered care as part of the Medical Home Port team, I maintain my NICU nursing skills at Tripler Army Medical Center where I am the only military nurse, Army or Navy, practicing in their NICU.
The life-changing experience of deployment. When I heard that my command was tasked to deploy a Nurse Corps officer, I readily accepted the challenge. From May 2013 to Feb. 2014, I was deployed with the Marines of Combat Logistics Regiment-2 (CLR-2) out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.
While deployed, I was given the assignment of running an extended care ward and wounded warrior barracks staffed by one other Navy nurse and three corpsmen on the medical compound in Camp Leatherneck, Afghanistan. It was a 20+ bed unit. There were Marines, Sailors, Soldiers, Airmen and NATO forces in our ward that had been injured (both combat related and non-combat related). The injuries were bad enough to keep them out of the fight, but not bad enough to get them a ticket home.
I took care of a lot of patients who had sustained traumatic brain injury, been blown up, guys with gunshot wounds, shrapnel wounds, post-operative appendectomy patients, hand injuries from getting fingers caught in heavy machinery and of course Marines who had worked out too hard in the gym and were unable to walk because they were in so much pain. There were also a few cellulitis, abscess and dental surgery patients thrown in there from time to time.
The patients didn’t necessarily need so much medical attention as much as they needed emotional support. There was really nothing for them to do on the ward except read, watch movies, eat and heal so we had the opportunity to get to know a lot of our patients. A handful had to stay for as long as a month! I will never forget the interactions with each one.
This wasn’t the typical deployment that you hear about with lots of traumas and excitement. It was a lot of long hours coordinating care, making sure the patients were healing well, corresponding with their respective units and helping them understand what was going on with each step. During this deployment, I learned a lot about the Marine Corps and made a lot of lasting friendships with people in my company. It was definitely a life changing experience that I will never forget and made me proud to be a Navy nurse!