My Excellent European Adventure
My Excellant European Adventure
In August 1970 the USS Saratoga was in port on the Greek island of Corfu. The Skipper called me to his stateroom the day we arrived in port and informed me that I had been promoted to O-3 and that it was my honor bound duty to "drink your bars" that evening. I had never heard the term before but I knew for certain that the activity was guaranteed to: A) Cost me money and B) Get me drunk.
That evening we were at a local drinking establishment downing bottles of Ohi and Fix beer. By the time the C.O. arrived my squadron mates and I were already well lubricated. The Skipper pulls a pair of Lt. bars out of his pocket, put them in a water glass, and filled it to the brim with Ouzo and added just a splash of water to turn the liquor milky. Then he told me I couldn't wear the new bars until I chugged the Ouzo and caught the bars in my teeth. Never one to disobey orders, I did as instructed, once for each of the bars.
The next morning I had the world’s worst hangover. Not an unheard of event but not fatal either but by that evening though I realized I did have a problem. I had gone to sleep with my right arm on the metal “lubbers” frame of my bunk and my little finger and ring fingers were still asleep hours later. The condition persisted for days and was becoming a problem and an irritant so I decided to see the Flight Surgeon. Every aviator in the Navy knows that Flight Surgeons are some of the most bored people in the world and sit around hoping somebody will catch the clap or even a bad cold so they would have something to do. Of course, Naval Aviators are some of the healthiest people in the world so they rarely need any doctoring.
After a examining my arm, the Doctor told me: “You slept on your arm and put your ulnar nerve to sleep. Your ulnar nerve is 25 cm long and will heal at about 5 centimeters a month. It will be four or five months before your fingers regain their feeling.”
With that I thanked him and started to leave and he says “Not so fast there, Lieutenant, there is more. It is a nerve problem and I am not certain that I am correct, you need to see a neurologist.” There is one at the Navy hospital in Naples and I’ll arrange for you to see him.” Jackpot! A vacation in Naples on TAD with per diem! It just doesn’t get any better than that! The C-1 COD was already scheduled to go into Naples and as it turned out I was eating spaghetti and drinking Chianti by 1800 hours.
The next day I reported to the hospital and the orderly looked at me with a startled look and said “You are here to see Dr. Nerves and he is no longer with us. You will have to see Dr. Shrink.” With that he led me into good doctor’s office. Dr. Shrink says, “Hello, Lieutenant, I am a psychiatrist and you are here to see a neurologist. Dr. Nerves killed his wife last week and they sent him back to the U.S. You are here to see a neurologist and the closest one is at the Army Hospital in Lundstuhl, Germany.” The next day I caught a ride on a C141 to Rome and then an Alitalia airliner delivered me to Ramstein where I caught a taxi to the hospital.
It was a three days before the doctors could see me which gave me the opportunity to explore Ramstein. I was fortunate to hook up with some of the Air Force F-4 fighter crews at the local O-Club and they gave me a tour of the base and some local watering holes. They even asked me if I wanted to have a ride in one of their back seats but their C.O. nixed that idea. I did, however, get to sit in an F-4 that had flight controls in the rear cockpit.
When I finally got to see the neurologist he told me that I had slept on my arm and had put my ulnar nerve to sleep. He said, “Your ulnar nerve is 25 cm long and will heal at about 5 centimeters a month. It will be four or five months before your fingers regain their feeling.” With the diagnosis confirmed I was cleared to return to duty. Little did I know my Excellent European Adventure had only just begun!
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