Scalpel Wars
Joanne Faries

By breaking things, like a nose, a foot, a hand, I saved lives in 1965.  I also imposed years of health problems on young men, but at least they were alive. As a doctor, I took a vow to heal people, not hurt them. Yet, pain became a password for life.  

A strong, strapping farm boy in Iowa said, “I contemplated sticking my arm in Dad’s thresher.”  

Young fishermen, twins, as a matter of fact, spoke as one. ”We’d chop an appendage as easily as we behead fish aboard our Seattle boat, Lady Luck.”    

Outside a Pittsburgh smelting plant, a short Italian fellow told me, “I’ve come close to dipping my toes in that molten steel. You’ve gotta do better than that, Doc.”  

Moving around a lot, my reputation preceded me. Letters appeared at my rooming house or hotel room with names and addresses of families to visit. Grandparents sent money and begged me to do anything to detour their grandsons from the draft. Boys who didn’t shave, but had their induction notices, found me. I ensured that none could pass the physical.  

This wasn’t the career I envisioned. It chose me. After seeing news footage from Vietnam, and anticipating the horror of war years to come, I was compelled to fight in the only way I knew. Medical training, a steady hand, and a fearless imagination. I fooled Uncle Sam with surgeries that could take years to heal.  

I had to maim ‘em to save ‘em.  

First published: May, 2008
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