Truth or Fiction?
I knew I wanted Northwest of Eden to be based on true events – and ultimately, it is – every single event in the story is absolutely true, at least the best that I can remember it, and I think I did a pretty good job of taking notes.
Had I continued on the path I took initially, I would have captioned it “Based on a True Story,” which means, “There actually is a true story that inspired this but most of what you read is utterly fabricated.”
First, there were a LOT of actors in this macabre play – there were around 250 soldiers in various capacities that made that Combat Support Hospital work – I am proud to say that I knew most of them, at least on a casual basis, and many became like family. In the Emergency Section alone, there were 23 of us at any given time. I couldn’t possibly mention them all without confusing the reader.
Secondly, the emotions were raw, perhaps more than I was comfortable with revealing. There was love and caring married with absolute hatred and having an affair with the two sisters, anxiety and insecurity. I wasn’t sure I wanted to reveal those things about myself, much less a whole group of other people.
Would I need their permission to use their real names? What if I said something about someone that they felt was private? There were so many issues to overcome, that I started out by creating a character based on Thomas Hartley, who appears in Chapter One, and John Myers, who appears in the second chapter. I amalgamated those two fine men and created Jim. Jim could be revealing without getting hurt, and I could insult him if I wanted. I could even end up hating him. No one would care, because he wasn’t a real person.
And therein lied the problem - as the first few chapters progressed, Jim became like a mannequin. He felt sort of real, but he just wasn’t, no matter how hard I wanted him to be. Sometimes he was Tom, John, or Jon, but he never really developed into Jim.
I might also have included “Names have been changed to protect the innocent.”
Except they weren’t. And they aren’t.
So I went back and made them all real. I used real names, because it would have been insulting to hide them. These were the finest people I have ever worked with. They did remarkable things under the worst conditions, and sacrificed a piece of themselves to do that. Many of them still feel the hurt when they are by themselves in a quiet room and have a little too much time to think.
I made two exceptions for the witches who occupied the nursing executive office. I decided that if they didn’t have souls, then they didn’t deserve names, either.
As a true story, the truth of it all was just too important. The reader needs to feel the warmth, laugh out loud, and cry out in anguish with each one of us.
That was the only way that the truth felt true.
Yancy Caruthers (1971- )grew up in Alton, MO, and joined the Army Reserves at 17. He became a nurse, and worked in several areas until finding a passion in emergency medicine, which ultimately led to a job with an air ambulance company. He served in Iraq two different times, and retired from the Army as a Captain.
After this experience, he decided to leave the medical profession and pursue other endeavors. He has now lived on three continents, and is hoping to reside on at least three more. He currently lives with his family in Nassau, The Bahamas.
Author Links -
Book Genre: Memoir, Military/Medical
Publisher: Independent (CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing)
Release Date: eBook April 2014, paperback May 2014
Book Description: Northwest of Eden is the author's first person account of his experience during Operation Iraqi Freedom as second-in-command of an Army emergency department and leader of an air transport team. The varied cast of characters provides top-notch medical care to service members in harsh conditions, while wielding the darkest humor against each other just to stay sane. Most of the time they succeeded...
My nose hairs stung as I shook the sleep from my head. The putrid smell was back in force, although I hadn’t noticed it the night before. I reminded myself to call someone in housing and have them try to disrupt whatever animal funerals were occurring under my hooch.
I sat down in my office and rested my head on my left hand, feeling stubble there. I hadn’t forgotten to shave, but I’d somehow skipped that half of my face.
“You look like hell,” Maria said.
“I love you, too,” I replied. I went on to tell her the details of the prior night’s flying adventure. I was just wrapping up the story when I looked up to see Sullivan.
“I just wanted to apologize for last night,” she began. “I didn’t mean to leave you hanging with an unstable patient but I had to have eyes out.”
“I understand that. What was going on up there?” I asked. I wanted to ask what was more important than giving our patient CPR, but I held off, figuring Sully would explain it, and she did.
We had taken fire.
Apparently some idiot with a machine gun had opened fire on us, and the pilots had released several clusters of flares to mask our position, then banked sharply to fly sideways to our original course.
Sully laughed as she told me the rest – the bad guy had then turned on a spotlight, trying to shine through the flares to get another crack at us, but he discovered an interesting military fact instead.
The Cobra AH-1 attack helicopter also has a spotlight.
Upon seeing our escort craft, the dirtbag repented of his terroristic ways and ran full speed into the bushes. I waited with anticipation to hear about how the AH-1 fired a rocket up this guy’s ass, but apparently when the medical chopper one is supposed to be protecting takes off in a dead sprint at 150 mph, it’s considered bad form to stick around to shoot one bad guy, so they peeled away and followed us.
Sully’s commander would later tell me that we hadn’t taken “enough” fire for the engagement to qualify as a combat action.
So I was content to know that we got shot at “some.” I was also glad that the guy wasn’t that good at it.