Out of the just over 900 students that lived in "Challenger Hall", or the "medical squadron" as it was more commonly referred to as, I was probably the only one who didn't want to go to Las Vegas.
21, single, and very happy with the decidedly upward turn my life had taken -- the last thing I wanted was to be stationed for six weeks in what I saw at the time as the "Sodom & Gomorrah of the U.S."
When the day came for our nursing instructor to read us the results of our "Phase II" lottery, Major Allen had no issue piping up to his students "now calm down. As usual no talking, as usual no one gets to trade, and as usual I'll read yours last Airman Eldridge." Beyond unfair, I voiced my opinion of said injustice. And as usual Major Allen stated my opinions were what got me where I was in the first place. Last.
The names flew by. The class either lauded or protested where they'd end up next to continue their career training, but until your name was heard and you knew what group you were with, it didn't matter.
More names. Good, Vegas came and went and my name wasn't attached to the location.
"And for Keesler Air Force Base we have Barnett, Rodriques, Singletary and Eldridge -- is at Vegas with Shook, Anthony, Dantes and Chavez-Vallero."
A week later we took a taxi from the base to the airport, flew, and took a taxi from the airport to our next base. Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada. Not interested in going out every weekend for six weeks in a row drinking and gambling with my "of age" peer group, I worked out a lot, ate dinner at the base food court to take a break from the meals at the dining facility, and played a lot of pool.
Within a few days of playing pool in one of the local dormitory common areas I had made several friends. Kinley was a quiet, very small individual who wanted very much to be appreciated and feel like he was accepted. Hardly over 5 feet tall, he was surprisingly strong and spent much of his time staring up at you while you talked to him. Military folk are quite adept at new relationships however shallow, so soon we were talking. His parents were divorced, all his friends back home somewhere in the nameless south were nothings, and he was now a something. An aircraft mechanic, he had PCS'd (permanent change of station) to Nellis six months prior.
It was a Thursday night and the common area downstairs was full. Someone had the bright idea to put the couches on top of the tables to make arena-style seating, and there was big fight on tv.
The alcohol flowed freely, as did the military-typical yelling, arguing and toasting. Young military males do not hang out in groups at parties, they group around the girls that are always outnumbered. Tonight was no exception, there were three girls and six to eight guys gathered around each competing for their attention.
"C'mon, just have one drink, just stick around for a little bit." Kinley was drunk.
"No, I'm going to work out and wanted to come by and see who was yelling."
"Most of these guys are legal, don't sweat it man! Just do one shot with me." The alcohol culture in the military is so prevalent and potent it leaves in it's wake a plethora of underage drinkers.
"You know I don't care. I don't know any of these people and I don't even know who's fighting tonight."
"What the hell man? How do you not know Fedor?"
I smiled, shrugged, put in my headphones and walked out.
The next morning I caught the 6am bus to the hospital, walked through the quiet whoosh of the E.R. double-paned sliding glass doors, and put my backpack down in the break room.
"Eldridge, don't change into scrubs. You're wearing the radio today, here." Driving the ambulance. Sweet.
"I don't know the base streets."
"I'll be with you up front and you'll know your way back here."
The first call came at around 9am. My building.
Someone had called 911 because there was a person passed out in a recliner.
When we picked Kinley up he was pale and starting to turn a pastel-tinted hue of blue. He had drunk 3/4 of a bottle of vodka, passed out, and then was left alone. During the night he vomited, and because no one was there to turn him on his side, he aspirated into his lungs and was had choked. At some point he turned over on his own and coughed some of it out, but his pulse was weak and he was completely unresponsive.
Fifteen minutes later he was in the Emergency Department, lying in a bed. He'd been intubated and his stats were rising.
Halfway through my shift I was walking by his room with a stack of sheets to put on one of the beds next to his when he started moving, attempting to sit up. Doubtless his mind was still foggy; his eyes were still closed as his hands gripped the side of the bed.
"Kenny, I need you to lie back down." Patients -- anyone, really -- are most responsive to their first name. When he realized he was intubated it startled him and only half-conscious, he grasped at it, gurgling.
"No, don't -- I NEED A NURSE NOW!"
I barely made it across the room and leapt on top of him, trying in vain to pin his incredibly strong arms to the bed. It was too late. Within seconds he reacted violently to the severe discomfort of the tube in his throat that had saved his life and in one massive movement he bent forward, tearing it completely out. A moment later medical personnel flooded into his room. One doctor put both palms on either side of his head pinning him to the bed, a nurse put both forearms on his chest and a second physician said "Ativan and restraints."
Later that day I returned from another ambulance run to pick up an elderly man with chest pains to find Kinley had been moved upstairs to the ICU.
I never found out what finally happened to Kenny Kinley.
Not everything delivers the satisfaction of a conclusive ending.