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It was at the naïve age of 22 and in the middle of a war that I saw my first patient.

I had abruptly altered my college career path at 19 and joined the U.S. Army. Within the first two years I found myself living in a foreign prison surrounded by casualties: Americans, foreign allies, the enemy, soldiers, friends and innocent children.

I was not a nurse, had no medical training, and quite frankly, I had no idea what nursing involved. I remember walking through 115th Field Hospital at Abu Ghraib Prison during down time. It’s mind-shattering to see the devastation of so many Americans, but it is mind-boggling to see the same wounds of the enemy. I was drawn to observe the Army nurses change dressings, give medications and actually talk to these patients.  I was intrigued that they didn’t seem bothered, nor did they hesitate to provide the same quality medical treatment to all patients in their care. I was envious.

Halfway through my deployment, I went on a convoy with the military police. I was driving the second vehicle, which was full of medical supplies. After a long day, the trip back to Camp Bucca was a race against what little daylight was left.

Suddenly, the lead military police vehicle collided head-on with an Iraqi civilian pickup truck. It was a miracle I swerved in time to avoid the collision.

A combination of adrenaline and my natural tendency to take charge resulted in being the first person to check on the crashed vehicles. Basic Army training led me to take the next steps without delay. I found myself running from the crash site to my vehicle for supplies. I had no real medical training, and the accident scene was chaotic. Gauze and tape in my hands, I rushed out of the tarped vehicle only to find myself swarmed by Iraqi men waving firearms and yelling in a language I could not comprehend.

I do not recall taking any time to process what was happening. I found myself kneeling down in front of a man, an enemy, who was bleeding from his head. He did not speak a word but just sat peacefully despite the outrage surrounding us. It was that moment that I truly decided to become a nurse. That moment I knew, no matter the precursors, I could care for any human being to the very best of my ability.

Theresa Duggan

Life experiences can be a profound teacher. I immediately started nursing school after being honorably discharged from the Army. Growing up, there were no cliché nurses in my family who guided me through my life journey.  In fact, it was rare for one of us to visit the doctor’s office. Then the day came when I was 15 and my grandmother’s health started to fail rapidly. Complications from diabetes caused her to be hospitalized several times and cared for in the home by my grandfather.  My grandmother was a strong Irish woman and shielded her grandchildren from ‘bad’ days and delicate moments, yet we were all aware of her challenges and the loving care provided by my grandfather.

It is the culmination of my life experiences that I believe patients should be at the center of their care.  As seen with my own grandparents, family is often an untapped but very competent resource. My grandmother was bedbound for almost two years.  Even with her diabetes unstable: Not one bedsore.  Not one ulcer. Not one infection. Not one complication directly related to her home care. My family attributes that to my grandfather’s dedication and the visiting nurse’s guidance and support.

Society is on the verge of recognizing the importance of the Nurse Practitioner as a primary care provider and the important role such providers play in bringing individuals to a healthy lifestyle as we strive for a healthier society. I am proud to assist and lead my patients in navigating their health in this complex system at a higher level.

Theresa Duggan is an advanced registered nurse practitioner at the UW Neighborhood Olympia Clinic.


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