Scholar Melissa Thomas Shares Her Military Experiences through Writing

Featured Media, Blog | 05/01/2017

2016 Tillman Scholar Melissa Thomas‘ experiences both in the military and suffering the loss of her husband have made her realize how important relationships are and finding fulfillment in people as opposed to working on the next thing to add to a resume. With aspirations of earning her Medical degree from Yale University, Melissa has her sights set on a lifetime commitment to service either by re-joining the Army, working in the Public Health Service or the VA.

Not writing since she was a kid, Melissa recently got back into writing when she started medical school as a way to write down the experiences that happened to her while in the Army and share with her family and friends. Last spring Melissa earned first place in prose and poetry in the Yale School of Medicine literary magazine. The following is a piece published my Melissa in the magazine…

Dignity in the Desert

“Just keep breathing”
My last words
To a girl who spoke English as a second language,
Maybe third.
Did she hear me? Were her ears open?
As she gasped and wheezed
Through the tube
Protruding from her neck
A sign I took for positive –
No one squeezing air into her
Breathing on her own.
Small frame on a bulky green litter
Being lifted into the backseat of a vehicle.
Sweat soaking my uniform
In the dusty Iraqi wasteland –
My heart rate still racing
A sandstorm coursing through my veins
From the explosion minutes before
A war scene unfolding before my eyes
No movie screen shielding me from the inferno.
“Just keep breathing”
Not profound words, encouragement
In stark contrast to the sharp tone of the physician’s assistant
Discouraging us moments before –
“Don’t bother, that’s not what’s going to kill her.”
I grabbed trauma sheers
Sliced through smoky camouflaged pants in jagged lines
Reached for a bandage with a shaky hand
Pressing down on a wound oozing yellow
Not registering the exposed fat on her thigh,
Only prepared to see red.
The medic across from me
Met my quick, frantic glance
His eyes shared the same desperation
We couldn’t help her breathe
But her clothes would no longer scorch and singe her
Her legs would be bandaged
Not exposed.
Dignity in the desert.
“Just keep breathing”
My voice trembling like a rambling tank
I closed the door to the truck
For her drive up the road
To catch the ride on the helicopter,
That would never take her.