Before serving in the military, Kitrina Serna described herself as stubborn, stupid, spoiled and a bit naive. She opted for culinary arts school over college. Her ambition was lackluster, until one day, a billboard to join the Army National Guard, intrigued her. Her part-time commitment would be just two weeks per year and one weekend per month for twenty years. How bad could that be in exchange for an education?
The Journey as a Surgical Technician
Kitrina never imagined she’d be activated and deployed. Like many guardsmen and women, all she’d wanted were education benefits. Then, Desert Storm happened. Kitrina was trained as a surgical technician. Once deployed, Kitrina’s first surgery, an amputation, was led by a 1-star general.
“It was awful,” she recalls. “I had limited training before Operation Desert Storm, but not much practical; he was unimpressed with my abilities.” Before long, the heavy, rapid caseload had Kitrina working 12-hour shifts, six days per week at King Fahd Medical Complex, in Riyadh, Saudia Arabia.
She was a quick study, and became adept and efficient in O.R. Humor proved to be a useful coping tool. “For example, a 21-year-old enemy soldier presented with a scrotum injury. It was my first scrotum prep. You can imagine the joy of the men on my team, watching a young woman, new to this scene, doing her first scrotum scrub. Humor helped us deal with it.”
Once Kitrina’s tour ended and she returned home, she was always introduced as, “This is Kitrina, she just got home from war”. “It was like my new last name.” She wasn’t angry, per se, but numb. “I just couldn’t process what happened during the war. You can’t tell your family and almost wonder who these people are, whom you call, “family”.
They just aren’t capable of understanding. Kitrina remembers breaking down when she experienced a flashback, while driving home from hospital bedside. The issue described the day he was hit. The photo of Tony confirmed he was the young soldier, whom Kitrina had treated, from O.R.
nursing school, one day. “The song, ‘Highway to Hell’ came on the radio, just as it had while on the road to Baghdad.” After twenty-five years, Kitrina can still recall what she was wearing to school that day. The nightmares became brutal, as the numbness subsided. “I’d wake myself up beating on the bedroom walls.” Alone time was awkward. “Silence is so loaded.”
Kitrina worked through her PTSD and seemed fine for about 8-10 years, until the wife of a Vietnam veteran told Kitrina it was time to get help. In reality, Kitrina was struggling mentally and physically. Getting into the V.A. System was difficult, at best. One day, she packed a lunch, a USA today and ended up calling in sick to work. It was serious time for help. She told only one person at the V.A. that she was struggling -an elderly security guard- then, she collapsed into a puddle of tears.