The letter Auburn writer and former Vietnam War nurse Sarah Blum had been waiting for for years finally arrived in her mailbox last week.
In it, Black Rose Writing of Castroville, Texas, informed her it had agreed to publish “Warrior Nurse: Healer, PTSD and Healing,” the story of her service in the chaotic, blood-soaked operating room of the 12th Evacuation Hospital in Cu Chi, her later struggle with PTSD and how she has healed.
“Good news,” Blum said of the letter.
The book’s projected publication date is February 2025 or later.
Part memoir, part narrative-non-fiction, the book begins on the day in 1967 when Blum arrived in Vietnam to begin her tour as a nurse, which started at the Evac hospital in the infamous Iron Triangle, known for the ferocity of the fighting there.
All the operations were there, and the battlefield was everywhere around, she said. On any given day, units like the Wolfhounds, the Manchu or the Bobcats would be hit badly, so the 12th would get the mass casualties in, and she saw the worst of the carnage.
Pulling no punches, Blum lays out all she had to deal with during her one-year tour and afterward back home. She takes her reader through the process she followed to deal with the PTSD that manifested while she was driving to work one morning during rush-hour traffic, and how she learned about PTSD as a professional psychotherapist.
It follows the story of the young nurse she was, who learned to stuff the horrors of what she was seeing so she could do her job, and how those horrors resurfaced years later.
Blum at 26 was one of the older nurses — most of her peers were closer to 21 or 23, and the soldiers were 19 or 20.
”Everything was strange and different,” Blum told the Auburn Reporter in 2021. “I had no way to relate to so many things. Like just going to the 90th Replacement Battalion. We had this little building that we stayed in with bunk beds. Rats running around. I wasn’t used to that.”
The book follows Blum back to the United States in 1968, she said, when she found her country at war with itself — young people burning their draft cards, marching in the streets, torching American flags.
“It was difficult and painful,” Blum said. “I didn’t know where I fit in. I wasn’t a civilian, I wasn’t one of them, and they were angry at those of us who’d been to Vietnam. So I didn’t want to tell anyone who I was. Here I’d been to war. I knew what that was, but this was different. One time a protester attacked me with eggs and spat at me. I didn’t feel safe at home.”
She describes PTSD, what it is, how it affects people, how it manifests differently in different people, how it affects the brain and body, and then she identifies resources that could help the sufferer with the healing process without having to attend therapy or a group.
Later, she relates her experiences in Washington, D.C., where she went for the Salute to Vietnam Veterans. There she testified at the first PTSD hearings ever, at the first hearing on Agent Orange, and the “tremendous emotion” that poured out of her fellow veterans. She also took time to visit the Vietnam War Memorial.
“When we tell our stories is when it all comes alive again. But I never know from one moment to the next what’s going to come up. Only when the emotions come up now, I let ‘em. I don’t want to ever close them again,” Blum said.
It will be her second book. The first, published in 2013, was “Women Under Fire: Abuse in the military,” a searing examination of sexual abuse in the armed forces.