Dr Gordon Seagrave, the son of American missionaries, was a medical surgeon who lived and worked in Burma throughout his life. He joined the American Medical Corps in 1942, working with General Joseph Stilwell. His team of Burmese nurses were well-trained and admirably supported his surgical challenges.
We chose one of the porches for the operating-room and set up four operating tables. The upstairs floor was soon covered with bed-rolls, while the main floor was reserved for patients. The ambulances now returned from their second trip to the front, and with a good deal of trouble, the Friends located us in our new set-up.
We started operating again, and were soon in our stride. This was getting to be old stuff. Four of the nurses were upstairs getting a little sleep preparatory to taking over when the first group downstairs dropped from exhaustion. Two of them, with the help of Low Wang and Lieng Sing, were giving first aid to the casualties as they were brought in and deciding the order in which the patients would be sent for operation. Esther and Big Bawk each had two tables assigned to them, and were pouring chloroform in a way that would have delighted Tiny, who taught them. Koi, Kyang Tswi, Ruth, and Little Bawk were assisting, one at each table. The sun began to scorch us. Off came my surgeon’s gown, then my rubber gown. I would rather catch a Japanese bomb than perish from heat stroke as I moved from table to table debriding devitalized tissues, putting bone fragments together, throwing powdered sulphanilamide into the wounds and applying plaster casts. Sweat was still pouring, and my shirt, undershirt, and stockings came off and were thrown into a corner, leaving me in nothing but a pair of bloody shorts. It was grand to be a man! I could work in a pair of shorts without anyone’s getting excited. The poor nurses were not so fortunate. Their thin little Burmese jackets plastered tight to their bodies, they had to sweat and gasp and like it! A squadron of Japanese bombers passed over us on its way to Mandalay, and I forced the girls to jump into the slit trenches in the back yard. An hour or so later the formation returned. Since the girls were convinced that all bombs had been disposed of and that the planes were returning empty, I could not persuade them to leave off operating. Just as the planes were straight above us the bombs began to scream downward.
‘Lie down, you darn little fools,’ I yelled as the bombs burst a scant two hundred yards down the street.
Paul had dragged the spare nurses into one of the trenches and heard them praying as the explosions shook the house, “Oh, God, don’t let the doctor get hurt; don’t let him get hurt!”
As fire began to sweep the town we returned to our operating tables. Civilian bomb casualties were now being brought in. I simply could not locate the bullet in the thigh of one of our Chinese patients.
“Here, let me have a try,” said Koi. She inserted one tiny finger in the wound, using it as a guide for long forceps, and out came the bullet!
“Listen, woman. What are you helping me for? You take over this table and do your own darned operations! I’m busy. Debride each case, get the bullet or shell fragment out if you can, pack the wound, and if the destruction is extensive, put on a plaster cast.”
Kyang Tswi and Ruth were getting along pretty well also. All I needed to do was select uncomplicated cases for them, explore, and leave them to trim, while I kept them in view out of the corner of my eye. Little Bawk and I handled the worst cases: abdominal, chest, and head wounds. Just as we were really going to town I looked up and saw General Stilwell standing in the doorway! The room behind him was littered with the patients we had been operating on, lying on our little cotton mattresses. On the ground outside nurses were receiving patients from the trucks and giving first aid. Three Chinese casualties were standing by the wall of the operating-room waiting for nurses and Friends to carry away the one who had been operated on so they could climb up on the vacant operating table and sigh thankfully as Bawk or Esther began to chloroform them. My body was covered with blood.