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Interview with Gail Gutierrez [7/10/2004]

Esther Dombrowski:

___ford, I live at 202 Hunters Run Terrace, Bel Air, Maryland 21015. Today's date is July 10th, 2004. I will be interviewing Gail A. Gutierrez, retired Navy officer, on this date. And present we have with us friends, would be Kathleen Casey (ph), a registered nurse, and brother Buddy Littlefield (ph). Buddy is the brother to Ronnie Dunford (ph). We will begin by just asking Gail some demographic information. Gail, can you tell us where you were born, when you were born.

Gail Gutierrez:

I was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in April 12th, 1947. My parents lived in the South Hills area. My dad was a teacher at the time. And...

Esther Dombrowski:

Where did you obtain your education, where did you graduate from?

Gail Gutierrez:

For college, nursing?

Esther Dombrowski:

Well, high school?

Gail Gutierrez:

I went to high school at Bethel Park High School, and graduated from there. And then I went on to college to the University of Michigan, where I completed four years for a baccalaureate in nursing. And my last year of college was paid for by the Navy. I had applied, and during -- it was during the Vietnam era, so they would pay for either your last year or your last two years of college. So I got on the nurse candidate program, and they paid for my last year of college, and then I owed them two years in turn for payback for the money for school. So I took my nursing exam, and then I went to Newport, Rhode Island for our indoctrination. And it was just for nurses and -- I don't think we had -- I think it was just nurses. And it was in old barracks and we had to -- they were kind of like a fire trap, and we had to go around and do rounds on them, like every two hours or every hour, something, I don't remember, we all stood duty for a two-hour period. And during that time you had rounds you had to make to make sure the building wasn't on fire, and it was all locked up and everything. And also while there you were learning the military decorum, who to salute, what ranks or what ranks on their shoulder boards or their sleeves or their collars, what -- what was an enlisted person's uniform like. So you were differentiating all those things and learning the military jargon and the protocols, and learn when you were out walking, who to salute, or when to salute, all that -- that sort of stuff. And then we graduated from there, and then I went to -- my first duty station was Corpus Christi, Texas. And Corpus Christi, Texas was a really beautiful place. It had a really old, old hospital with -- it was a wooden hospital with wooden ramps that went out to a variety of buildings. The hospital consisted of like separate buildings connected by ramps. And it was very old. And we took patients in that were coming back from Vietnam. The hospital was filled to capacity. And when I first got there, I worked -- let's see, I worked one of the clinics, I think I worked OB/GYN clinic, and then they moved me to the orthopedic ward. So I got a lot of experience. I was very ill at ease at being both a navy nurse and a nurse, because I was new to nursing, and I was naive and unsure of myself and not very sophisticated, and I didn't really know how to talk to these young men who had come back from war.

Esther Dombrowski:

What time is this, Gail, about what year?

Gail Gutierrez:

1969.

Esther Dombrowski:

When did you graduate from college?

Gail Gutierrez:

In 1969.

Esther Dombrowski:

So all this happened very quickly?

Gail Gutierrez:

Right. The Army took nurses directly out of college and sent them to Vietnam. The Navy didn't do that. You had to work for at least a year before they would send you to Vietnam. And that was one of my goals was to be able to go work in a hospital ship or work with the Navy hospital in De Nang. But the Navy wanted you to have experience first before you went over there, in the Navy and in nursing, if you were new. So Portsmouth was the starting place for me. And we would get in a Medevac plane maybe twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening. And you would get a call that the Medevac plane is coming and get your beds ready for the patients. They would come in on litters, which are -- litters are like --

Esther Dombrowski:

Stretcher-type things?

Gail Gutierrez:

Stretcher, right, exactly.

Esther Dombrowski:

Cloth-type thing?

Gail Gutierrez:

Right, exactly. And they would be strapped to the -- they would put those stretchers on top -- or the litter on top of a gurney, and strap them down so they wouldn't fall off or anything. And they -- what they did was they would send them to the Navy hospital there, of those people who lived in the vicinity or somewhere close in Texas, so they would be closer to their family. And this would probably be either the last of their stops or the second-to-last stop before they would go to, say, a VA hospital for rehabilitative care, if they had lost a limb or were blind or something like that. But most of these fellas had been triaged along the way and had different medical care given to them, like if they were injured in the field, a corpman would take care of them. Then they would be Medevaced to either De Nang or to the hospital ship, and there they would be given some emergency treatment, enough to stabilize them, and then they would be sent to Yokosuka Naval Hospital.

Esther Dombrowski:

Where was that?

Gail Gutierrez:

In Japan, Yokosuka, Japan. And then from there they would be treated, stabilized, and gotten ready for the next Medevac flight, which would bring them to their ultimate destination. For us it would be -- for these guys it would be Texas, but they might end up going to Chicago first, come to San Francisco, go to Chicago. I mean, you never knew where the plane would have been. We used to have to write reports on all the Medevacs that we got in, and we would have to write their route, you know, exactly all these different places they went on the reports. I am not sure what they used the information for. And you would get in quite a few Medevacs. And then as 1969 went into 1970, there were fewer Medevacs because the war was winding down.

Esther Dombrowski:

When you say Medevacs, you are talking about helicopters?

Gail Gutierrez:

No, these are -- no, Medevac just means a patient who has come on a flight. It is geared specifically for patients, so they could be in a transport plane. It wasn't just a -- it wasn't a helicopter. They would be coming a distance, and they would be -- they would have -- they would be usually Air Force planes that would bring them in because they had Air Force hospital nurses on their plane that would be taking care of the patients, if they needed IVs or oxygen or any of that stuff. Remember, they weren't sitting in a seat just like everybody else. They were strapped in on -- in the airplane. So they were specific Medevac planes they called them.

Esther Dombrowski:

How long would it take them from point of destination in Vietnam to get to you?

Gail Gutierrez:

It depended. It depended on how bad their injuries were, if they had needed a lot of surgery along the way to get them to the next point to stabilize them to bring them back to the States. The ultimate goal was to get them back to a Navy hospital somewhere near their home. So it always related to how bad their injury was, how quickly they could move them, the Medevac system, there were always different variables in that. So anyway, the -- as I was saying, I was not prepared for taking care of people who had been to war. I didn't know anything about it. And so it was easier for me to be military and be rule conscience and be nursing, to focus on technical things and to talk, because I felt ill at ease. I didn't know what to talk about. All of them had their own little sufferings. But on the other hand, when I worked the orthopedic ward, they were the funniest people to work with. They were hysterical. Here they are, these young 18-, 19-year-olds. I remember the first time I made rounds or one of the first time I made rounds, the ward was an open bay ward and there were like 39 beds on it, so I went down half on one side, and as I turned the corner to come up the other side, this young man in the corner bed lifted up his stump and waved to me with it and said, "Good morning, Ms. Crowley," that was my maiden name, it was like, "Aaah, what do you mean, good morning?" It's like -- and you knew he was doing it for the shock value, you know, could he get that effect, and he certainly got that effect on me because it was like, "Aaah."

Esther Dombrowski:

How old were you at this time, Gail?

Gail Gutierrez:

Twenty-two, 22. And he was probably 20. But what that also shows is that they really tried to make the best of bad situations. And the orthopedic patients were like teenagers. They were always getting into trouble. They would -- the Navy had these old wooden wheelchairs. You remember those kind of wheelchairs? And -- they were nice because they leaned back, so some of the patients would come back with the half body spica cast on them up to their midriff, and one full leg in the cast all the way to their toes, and the other one half to their knee, and they would get themselves in and out of bed somehow into those wheelchairs, and then they would race around in them. Sometimes I would get a call from security on the base and say, "Um, we have two guys in wheelchairs here racing down the street. Are you missing anybody?" "Oh, yeah. Could you please bring them back?" So in that sense, they really were -- their youth helped them a lot to make the best of things. Sometimes there were situations that were very sad. I remember this young boy who was 18, I believe. He had been married before he went to Vietnam. And they had a baby, I guess, some time during the time he was gone or right before he left. And he was in an ambush, and he received napalm burns, and lost one of his limbs, I think his leg. He was blinded. And it just was a very sad situation. And at the time, his wife would not be very nice to him on the base. They had a trailer park that they set up so families could come stay there and come visit their fellows that were in the hospital. And he would go to the trailer after work or at the end of a day or for a long weekend, and she would come up -- she would sneak up on him, and he would ask, "Who is it? Who is it?" And she wouldn't tell him, you know, she would like scare him. And when he would tell me that, I would just feel so angry towards her, how could she be so thoughtless? And I -- and, again, that shows my youth. I realize now that she didn't know how to handle it any better than he did, and there wasn't any kind of group counseling or counseling focusing on helping the families blend back together again. You know, here you have this husband who goes away, he has got a full body, and now he comes back with a partial body and he can't see. And you are 17 or 18, married to this guy, and all that responsibility, and a baby. And, you know, it is a major change. You know, it isn't just that you go to war and that you do your part. It is what happens when you come back? It is -- it is the next stage of all of that, and it is very, very difficult. But I never valued what I was doing because I wasn't in Vietnam. I never felt that any of that was really all that important. Because it seemed that what was really important was to go to Vietnam and really help the soldiers. I think that -- not aware I had that attitude, or if it permeated the culture at the hospital, but that -- because they were well enough to be home, they weren't -- their bodies weren't -- you didn't see them in the initial throes of the war wound. So I don't think I ever valued really what I was doing. I was doing my part. I came in the Navy because -- not because of school, paying my school, but because Vietnam was going on and there was all this unrest, and I felt like, again, my naivety, I felt that I needed to support my country, as I felt that we needed to be there. I needed to do my part, and my part was to do what I could to help the men who had been there. So that was really a very altruistic reason to come into the Navy. And that was my motivation. And sometimes the guys would come back and, say, they had a leg cast on, I remember this one young man, his name was Ben Mabree (ph), he was a redhead like I am a redhead, and very fair complected and had freckles like I have freckles, and he was probably 20, 21, 22. He had been on a riverboat and they -- he had -- they had been shot at or something, and he was sitting in a place that he wouldn't normally be sitting in because he was the gunner. And I guess there was an explosion or something and broke both of his femurs and got extensive burns. And when he was shipped back to us, he was shipped back in a body spica, and both legs were in the cast. And so when they shipped them back from Vietnam or when they go on any Medevac, they bivalve the cast, which is they cut it on both sides so it can be taken off if the plane would crash in the water or something, then they could miraculously get themselves out of this cast and swim away, right. So anyway, when we took his cast off to inspect his wounds, when he first came to us, there were maggots in the wounds, and I thought I was going to throw up. I was just so -- so upset by that sight, and I just thought, oh, my God, I can't believe it, oh, oh, oh, oh. And the wound was impeccably clean. It was very fresh, and the tissue was healing. It was just so disgusting, though, seeing these little white bugs in there moving around. Well, he wasn't with us for two weeks. And pseudomonas was rampant in the ward, and in two weeks he had pseudomonas, you could smell the pseudomonas. So all that nice clean wound, you know, got infected because of technique or whatever we did at the hospital. And now I believe in -- and I think even medical practice uses maggots to keep, you know, wounds like that that are liable for major infections, to keep them clean so that they can heal properly. But as a 22-year-old, it was pretty disgusting, you know, and I was definitely not prepared for bugs in the cast. So... But that young man made an impression on me because he would cry in the middle of the night, and I had absolutely no idea how to help him. And I would feel really, really inadequate, and ill at ease, and the only thing you could do -- the only thing I felt I could do was go over and check, are you in pain? Can I fix your bed? Or do something technical like that. I didn't know how to sit and talk to him. I could sit and hold his hand, but, you know, silence felt overwhelming, too, because it is like you should fill the silence with words and comfort, and fix it. You know, the nurse in me wanted to fix it all. And he just -- I still can hear him crying in the middle of the night. And, -- anyway, I don't know what happened to him years later. You know, because his -- the fellows would move in and move out fairly quickly. But the orthopedic ward had two wards. It had one for those who needed acute care, and the other ward was called the -- I think it was called the rehab ward. These fellas were on what they call limited duty. They couldn't go back to their station because there was some physical problem, whether they had a cast or, you know, a wound that needed some care, looking after, or they needed recovery time. But they had them doing the cleaning in the hospital. They would get assignments, so they were on duty at the hospital. So we would have them mopping the floors, moving the beds, picking up the trash outside on the grounds, and, you know, they were always assigned to some work detail. And very pleasant, did their jobs nicely. And the other thing I noticed that the majority of the patients who were in -- well, the patients were Navy, they were Marine Corp., a few Army, probably no Air Force. Not that we wouldn't take them, but that was just who was here at the hospital. And the majority of them were a lot of uneducated black men. So there was a preponderance of black men in the military at that time and -- who came from backgrounds where they didn't have a chance to go to college so they could not get deferred. So I know there was a lot of controversy about that at the time. Again, I think because I was young and naive, I really didn't understand the implications of it, but I do remember there being a lot of black men in the orthopedic ward in the rehab. But very nice. I met some really wonderful, nice, nice men. Of course, they are young, they are all flirting with you, and, again, I wasn't sure exactly how to handle some of that. So I remember one time one New Year's Eve I was feeling so sorry for these guys who were left in the hospital and couldn't go home, that I sneaked in a bottle of Champagne, and went around and gave all of them a glass of Champagne. You know, of course, I would have been in real trouble if I would have been found out. You know, there are just some things where you'd have to bend the rules for situations like that, and I remember we had a chief nurse who wouldn't let them smoke. They weren't allowed to smoke. Well, these guys had smoked their way through Vietnam and survived all this awful stuff, and, you know, their nerves were on edge. They are confined to bed, and their life has changed, and not to allow them to smoke -- well, we had the policy that they could smoke with somebody sitting with them, you know. But this chief nurse was just adamant, no smoking. So, again, I bent the rules a little bit, so I would have somebody watch, stand guard, and so if we knew when she was coming, "All right, everybody, cigarettes out," you know, we would clean everything up. Of course, you know, you realized that you could smell it, but she never picked up on that. So whether she was looking the other way or not, I don't know.

Esther Dombrowski:

What was your role in all this, what was your title?

Gail Gutierrez:

I was -- first I was staff nurse, and then eventually became charge nurse of the orthopedic ward.

Esther Dombrowski:

And your rank?

Gail Gutierrez:

Well, I was an Ensign, and I was a Lieutenant J.G., and probably a Lieutenant on that ward. And I was always very assertive, very bossy. So I rose through the ranks easily, because -- I think because of my ability to be organizationally savvy and tell people what to do, it just came naturally to me. And I also worked ICU at this Navy hospital. And it was a very small unit. In fact, in the Navy, you pretty much, as a Navy nurse, you had to learn a lot of different kinds of nursing. I worked -- you had to stand by in the OR, you would take OR call. So if they would have an OR case in the middle of the night, say, an appendectomy or something, they would page you or call you at home and you would go in and you would be the OR nurse for that case. You know, you didn't really know where anything was, so you were kind of on the OR techs to help guide you. You would have been oriented, but you didn't work there so you didn't remember. It wasn't your common place. But I stood by on lots of surgeries in the middle of the night. Appendectomies where they couldn't get them back in because it was so full of air, and they are pushing in, you're tired and you want to go home, and it was, like, hurry up and get that intestine back in there so I can get home, because you have to get up in the morning to go to work. We also worked -- let's see, we would work two weeks of nights, and that's two weeks, 14 days, without a day off. And sometimes I look back on it and I don't know how I ever did it. I would be so tired. I would be sick to my stomach like about 2:00 or 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning. And I was having a difficult time sleeping during the day because I lived in the BOQ, eventually I moved to my own apartment, but even still it was very hard for me to sleep during the day. I put tinfoil on my windows. And back then drugs weren't -- except for narcotics, weren't really -- they were more easily available, so I would take -- I took -- I remember taking Seconal home from the drug pile there, and I would take a Seconal when I would first go home, and then I would wake up after four hours wide awake and couldn't go back to sleep. I wasn't going to take another Seconal, and then I would have this feeling like I was hung over. It was really hard. And so I tried something called Dalmane back then. And that worked well, but I also waited until after I woke up after the first four hours and took it, and it didn't have any hangover type effect, and I was able to at least get eight hours of sleep. But you would lose time off because you would work 14 days with no days off. And so you would lose -- I believe it was two days off you would lose in this process. And then you would come back, you would work like I think it was a Friday through -- Friday night through a Friday morning, two weeks later. And then you would be off then Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, and you would come back to work on Tuesday on P.M. So it was like, oh, a four -- four-day weekend. And then you would work a week of P.M.s, so it was all -- that was the routine in the Navy, it didn't matter what hospital, Navy hospital you went to, that was the routine. And then you would work days and alternate P.M.s, fit that in until your next rotation nights. The chief nurses then were very rigid, very -- very rigid. And, of course, I was always ready to break the rules and do the things you are not supposed to do, and even though I loved telling other people what to do, I was always, like, well, the rules are for everybody else, not for me. Sometimes I would get in trouble. But -- What else?

Esther Dombrowski:

When -- how long were you stationed right there?

Gail Gutierrez:

I was stationed Corpus from '69 to '72. I was going to get out of the Navy, but I ended up getting married. And again, I didn't do the right thing. You were not supposed to date enlisted people, and he had been my patient. So again, I broke all the rules and got in trouble for that. I married my husband who was disabled in Vietnam and was a Marine. And I was going to get out of the Navy because, you know, I was going on to bigger and better things. The war was pretty much over now, and I found out how much nurses made in Corpus Christi, Texas, it was pitiful. I was making more in a two-week salary than they were going to pay for a whole month. So I stayed in the Navy, primarily for the money. And then we decided to go to Sicily. So then I went to Sicily after that for two years. And I love traveling, so the Navy then really fit my lifestyle. I just absolutely loved the traveling. And we got to live in the country. It wasn't like you were just there for a two-week tourist. So...

Esther Dombrowski:

How long were you in Sicily?

Gail Gutierrez:

From '70 -- let's see, Corpus from '69 to '72, and then from '72 to '75 in Sicily. And I was sent there actually to replace a nurse who had drowned. She was a young woman. She was out playing ball with her husband and her mother on one of the beaches, and I -- the ball went in the water and she went to go get it, and I guess the undertow pulled her in. And it was very, very sad. They were a young couple. And so anyway, I was sent there to replace her. But the Sicily was an absolutely gorgeous duty station. It is not on the beaten track of tourists, so -- and it has so much history, and I just had such a wonderful time there. And beautiful place. I lived in a villa that had a winding staircase like you would see in a movie, and the balcony outside my bedroom looked out on to Mount Etna, snow covered Mount Etna spewing smoke, and then you would go around the corner and you could look and see the Mediterranean on out in the distance. It was just like -- it was so beautiful. I lived on the side of Mount Etna. They had all these little towns on the side of Mount Etna, and my town was called Nicolosi, and the floor in the house had this most exquisite tile. It was a decorative tile. But what you don't know when you go there, when you are cleaning, you know, you are a good housewife, you are cleaning, you know, and you are dusting and everything, and a couple hours later you feel the same dust on the floor, see it on the table that you just dusted a couple of hours ago. Well, all of that was the soot from Mount Etna that you just really didn't see. But it would settle. And they would turn off the water in the summertime at around 5:00, because there was always a water shortage. So if you wanted to take a bath or anything, you had to get up before then. And when we would leave to go down to the base, I would fill my bathtub with water, so when I would get home that night there would be a layer of soot in the bottom. And this is with every window closed. You know, it is just amazing to me how bad the air was that you didn't even know it was that bad. I remember that some people developed allergies who had never had them. One woman came over and had to live in one room with a special humidifier or something, and then eventually they had to Medevac her out because she could not live there and be outside that room because of the -- all the soot from Mount Etna. But it was such a beautiful place, you know, because -- and the people there were very, very nice. It was a fun place, you know, it was a jumping off place to go up to Italy. And Sicily itself had so much beauty. You could go to Palermo, and -- actually Sicily was -- is somewhat like the United States in that on the east coast, you have a lot of the -- it is green and a lot of agriculture, and you go across the United States, it gets dry and deserty, and then you get to the far coast and you see palm trees and things. And Sicily is a lot like that. But there is so much left over from Roman days and Greek days, Roman theatres, and there's even a town that's so beautiful called Taormina where they had film festivals, beautiful place. The water there is crystal clear. In fact, when I first got there, I brought over four dogs, and they had to be in quarantine for three months, I think. So I found a kennel that would take them, and the kennel overlooked the water. And they had a beautiful run. They had a nicer place to stay than I did. It was really, really nice. And the man who owned the kennel raised German Shepherds. It was really a very, very nice place. So I went to Rome, did Rome. Did Naples and Pompeii. And I would take a hop whenever I could. I went to Greece. But what I didn't know was I was going to Athens, and I forget what was going on at that time, but you couldn't leave the airport, you know, you had to stay in the military airport. So I went to Athens and got on the plane and came right back. So that wasn't much of a trip. I went to Tangiers. I went to -- where else did I go? Malta. Malta was a beautiful island. And, again, it was very much like Sicily in that it was used as a prize in war. So it had a very eclectic, cultured group of people. Malta had been occupied by Britain for many years, so they spoke English but they had a heavy population of Arab, Spanish, English, Italians, everything there. Beautiful island. They had a Blue Grotto there that was gorgeous. Very hot.

Esther Dombrowski:

During all this time, when did you obtain or go back to graduate school?

Gail Gutierrez:

Well, I -- after ten years of being in the Navy, I was really hungry for education. Prior to that, I wasn't at all interested in school. I was tired of going to school from high school to college. So I started really craving going to -- going to graduate school, and I applied for the Navy to send me. And I got turned down the first time. I thought I would be a shoo-in, but I didn't get picked. [Interruption in audio file.]

Esther Dombrowski:

Today's date is July 10th, 2004.

Gail Gutierrez:

Where was I?

Esther Dombrowski:

Your son was six.

Gail Gutierrez:

Oh, Brian was six. And -- so that was another -- okay, anyway, so Brian was six, and I didn't get accepted for graduate school by the Navy. You had to apply to schools, and they had schools that would accept you, and in addition, you had to apply to the Navy for them to accept you, for them to send you to school. So you were competing against pretty sharp people. So I was not picked up the first time, and, oh, I was crushed. I was really disappointed. I thought, well, I am going to apply one more time, and if they don't accept me, I am getting out of the Navy, because I really want to go back to school. And I was living in -- the first time I think I was in Guam when I applied. Then I came back to the States to Long Beach, California, and I did get accepted the next time I applied. And since I was on the west coast, you had to go to a school that was somewhat close, and they really -- the leadership really wanted me to go right there in Long Beach or UCLA. But I had been trying to get to Bremerton, Washington for years. And it is like the spot that everybody wants to go to. And so I wanted to see what was so great about it. So I wanted to get stationed there. Well, I couldn't get stationed there. So I thought, well, what about the University of Washington? So I applied, got accepted at the University of Washington. And worked it out that I was -- they sent me to the University of Washington for two years. And that was really nice because they pay for your salary while you are going to school. They pay for all your books. They pay all your tuition and everything. You just have to do the work and get the grade. But they gave me two years. And it was really a wonderful program. And I loved the area, but it rains every day, so I wasn't all that excited about wanting to stay there and go to Bremerton when I was in Seattle. So after graduate school -- I graduated in 1989, '87 to '89 was graduate school. And I got stationed in San Diego where I never wanted to get stationed. I had heard terrible things about how big it was, and they used to call it the Pink Palace because the building was stucco and it was painted pink, and it was such a big place, you would get lost. And I ended up getting sent there for my duty. And it really was probably one of the worst duty stations I had ever had. I had a miserable two years there. Our Director of Nursing was alcoholic. I had worked in the alcohol rehab unit for six years in Guam and Long Beach, so I had all this experience, so if you have that kind of experience and your Director is alcoholic, there is -- they put you off by -- keep you at a distance by treating you badly or ignoring you or doing a variety of other things. So there was such a rift in nursing service there, and we ended up conducting an intervention. And it was -- she had already been to treatment three times, and she was offered treatment again and she refused. So she was removed from her position there. But it was -- it just was a very mean-spirited place. It was very hard to work there. And at the same time, I developed chronic fatigue syndrome, and I didn't know that. I was pretty sick. I just thought I was stressed. And then I got promoted to Captain, which surprised me because I had never paid attention to the promotion boards, but I had always been picked up the first time around. Well, this time, I knew when the board was going to be because everybody around me, my peers, were all anxious to see were they going to get to be Captain. And that was the first time I had ever paid any attention to that, so I was more nervous about was I going to get picked up or was I not going to get picked up. And I really didn't -- hadn't stayed in the Navy for getting promoted or anything. I stayed in the Navy for security. I made the decision at the ten-year mark that I wanted security. I wanted the retirement. I was a single parent by now. And I felt it was important that I stay in the Navy for at least 20 years. So here I was at my 20-year mark, and I was up for Captain, and was I going to get it now? You know, do I want it? Do I want it? Did I want to stay longer? Blah, blah, blah. Well, I got promoted and I decided to stay. So I was given the choice of going to Washington, D.C. Well, that was going from the -- what do you call it? The fat into the fire or the fire into the fat? Whichever. Oh, my God. Working at the BUMED was -- is a very political place.

Esther Dombrowski:

What is BUMED?

Gail Gutierrez:

BUMED is the Bureau of Medicine and Science. And very political. I am not a political person. I like to be forthright and upfront. And I hate playing games. And the woman who was my boss who was the Assistant Director of Nursing Services, Captain Sotonick (ph), she was smart, very, very smart. And somewhat politically savvy, but she was a tyrant. She was a dictator. She ran ramrod over everybody. And I was embarrassed to be associated with her. She would yell at people in the hallway. I remember this male captain came over to our spaces to negotiate or do some work or find out something, I don't know, and I heard her out in the hallway, I couldn't believe it, I was so embarrassed for him, and embarrassed for us. It made it difficult for me if I was negotiating. I was the Assistant Director to the Admiral for Nursing Practice. So anything that had to do with nursing practice and policies and licenses and things, I was responsible for. And sometimes I would have to negotiate with different departments for nursing, the Nurse Corps needs. And I wouldn't really run into a lot of trouble initially until they found out working with me, Gail Gutierrez, was palatable, because they would always see all of us as -- in -- as Marge, you know, that we were like her, we were tyrannical and obnoxious and pushy. And I remember her even saying one time to me, stop going over to their spaces, bring them over here, you want them in your space so you have the power. And it is like, I am not into power, I am trying to negotiate, you know. But that was her thing in life was being in power. And she ruled it over everybody, even one of my peers who was -- she wasn't a Ph.D. but she had done a lot of research and she could ring circles around Marge. Marge was yelling at her one day in the office. And it is embarrassing. I mean, here we are, senior leaders, I had been in the Navy for over 20 years. I had a graduate degree. I was very responsible. And here is this woman yelling at us, you know, like we are children. And I just found it so demeaning. So my stress level was worse, and my -- what -- I still didn't know that I had chronic fatigue, I just, again, had -- I was having memory problems. And very tired all the time, and I just thought it was stress. So when Operation Desert Storm -- I think first it was Operation Desert Shield, she wanted to send me to Bahrain, but I was in the middle of a workup for hearing loss. And so even though she tried to send me, she wasn't allowed to because I was in this medical workup. So she arranged to have me transferred to Bethesda. So I worked at Bethesda in Maternal Child, I was a department head there. And that's when I discovered that I had chronic fatigue syndrome. The stress level was nothing, and I was still feeling all these symptoms of tiredness and memory problems and things. And I got worked up and found out I had chronic fatigue syndrome. But Bethesda is a very political place, because it is a National Naval Medical Regional Center, and so you would have the president come there for treatment. When the president would come, you would know he would be there because the hallways would be blocked off. They would have special drapes up so that you couldn't see out the window toward the area where his room would be. There were Marine guards. There were no signs posted ahead of time, so you would walk this long corridor and get there and be frustrated because a Marine wouldn't let you get by. That's how you would find out the president was there. There was no heads up or warning, you know, and I am sure for security reasons. But that was my last six years in the Navy was with chronic fatigue syndrome, and that was really very difficult, and that included San Diego and BUMED and then Bethesda. So I was really ready to retire when I retired. They say that when you are no longer having fun, you need to get out. And I was really not having any fun. So I was glad to retire. And I was a member of the Nurse Corps, Navy Nurse Corps Association for a while. But for some reason, all that stuff at the end left a bad taste in my mouth. So I have a few special Nurse Corps friends that I keep in touch with, but more than that, I am not interested in going to the functions and reliving all that stuff. But it was a very good life. It supported me as a mother of a child, you know, after I was divorced, and I had the security that I wanted. And now that I am retired, I have that retirement income which gives me a lot more flexibility in terms of choice of jobs that I want to take. I feel like I had every possible experience you could have in nursing. I have done patient care, I have done, you know, orthopedics, medicine, OB, nursery, delivery room, psychiatry, alcohol rehab, ICU, and -- I don't know, I feel like I got a good education in the Navy itself. You know, got a good upbringing, learning how to be a nurse, how to be clinically savvy, how to be politically smart, how to negotiate for things as an administrator. So it was a pretty good life, and I -- the part that I enjoy the most is remembering my travels, all the places that I went over around the world, and only once did I take hops. Most of -- you could take hops if you were active duty, but the rules about hops were too stringent in terms of time management. So I usually opted to take a commercial flight. So at the station in Guam, my son wanted to ride the bullet train in Japan. So we caught a hops to Japan, and I had reservations to go to Korea, so we were supposed to go to Korea first, and, you know, hops don't go perfectly, so we got stranded in Yokota for an extra day, and then we went to Seoul, Korea. Of course, they gave away our reservations because we were late. So we made other arrangements. But Korea was really interesting because you could go to Oson, Korea and have clothes made. People would go there and have their uniforms made. Ski clothes. Ski clothes they would have made. Uniforms. I had a leather coat made. In 24 hours, you would go in and get measured, tell them what you want, and come back 24 hours later. I had this beautiful long leather coat. I had a ski jacket made. And that was when eel skin was just first coming out, and you could buy eel skin wallets and purses for a song over there. And back here in the States, they were going for 50, 100, 200 dollars, but there they were like four dollars. And I kept hearing about mink blankets. I couldn't wait to see a mink blanket. I thought it was a real mink, you know. It was a very soft, furry blanket, that they called mink, but it wasn't real mink at all. It was a synthetic product, very much like -- what is that stuff we have now? It's real soft. Fleece, similar to fleece. So I traveled a lot. My house is full of all kinds of things from my travel. And it is interesting because when I bought this house and I had set up some shelves to display my things, I bought a couple of things locally, but they don't have the same meaning to me. They were just really there to fill the spaces, whereas all the other items represent where I have been and my memories, everything is memories. And my Christmas trees would be the same way. I have a lot of ornaments that were given to me by people over the years, you know, for presents, or one of my staff would give me something or whatever. So every time I would put those on my tree, my trees were always memory trees, and it always meant so much to me at Christmastime because I would be remembering all these people, you know, so that's been --

Esther Dombrowski:

What was the feeling among the men which you were taking care of during the Vietnam war with all the civilians marching in the streets against them, and how were they treated when they were --

Gail Gutierrez:

I am not sure how much of that was taking place at Texas where I was. I know that there had been lots of riots and things on the school campuses and all. I think I heard more about it later, at the ten-year --

Esther Dombrowski:

It didn't affect the men you were dealing with? I just wondered --

Gail Gutierrez:

Not --

Esther Dombrowski:

I mean, you're sick and you're back home and --

Gail Gutierrez:

Well, I heard stories about people when they got off the plane, in San Francisco, that people would throw rotten tomatoes or eggs at them or boo them.

Esther Dombrowski:

But you didn't get a reaction from the men, I mean, directly? How about the political situation? Did they get involved in that or were they just trying to get well.

Gail Gutierrez:

They were just trying to get well, you know, they were recovering from the shock of having a body damaged. And trying to readjust, reconnect with their families, and think about what their future was going to be, if any.

Esther Dombrowski:

What year did you retire from the military?

Gail Gutierrez:

1994.

Esther Dombrowski:

And at what rank?

Gail Gutierrez:

Captain 06. Because I had chronic fatigue syndrome, I applied for the Veterans benefits for -- what is it called? -- vocational rehab, because I wasn't going to be able to work as a nurse administrator because of my memory problems, and my tiredness, so I applied to go to college and get a degree in art. And I thought I was going to teach it, but I discovered that I don't really like dealing with children, so -- and I thought teaching art was going to be teaching art to adults, but the program that I would have had to be in was K through 12, and I was just, like, oh, even the college kids are too young. You know, I want adults, real adults. So now that's my second stage of life is being an artist, trying to develop that career, which is very intriguing because it is so different from nursing. And the vocabulary is very different. The lifestyle is very different. The connections, everything is done by connections, where nursing is not quite like that. But who you know, and what show you have been in, and all of that is very important to be an artist.

Esther Dombrowski:

Do you express any time -- do you think about your military career? Have you done any pieces specifically expressing that?

Gail Gutierrez:

I did a couple of pieces. I did one after I retired about my whole history. What I did was I did a scroll, and I bought material, black material, that was the same quality as the material of my black uniform, my dress uniform. And I took the stripes off my uniform, and I put one stripe at one end of the scroll, and at the far end I put the four stripes of what I achieved at the end. But since I had been a nurse candidate, I had also been enlisted, which I found out many years after I was in the Navy. I didn't even know I had been enlisted, so when I did this scroll, I put every rank, including the enlisted rank that I was, I put the -- I got one of the -- oh, one of their rank insignias and attached it to this scroll. And then I wrote a poem based on what was said about me at my retirement, and I had a copy of that, so I wrote it on rice paper. And then I put my -- the -- like when you are an Ensign, you have an Ensign bar. When you are a Lieutenant J.G., you have a Lieutenant J.G. bar. So I put all these different ranks at the different stages of the poem, because it represented different things or different places where I had been, all the way up to Captain. And then I closed -- I rolled it up, and I closed it with a button from my uniform, you know, these gold buttons with eagles on them. So I made a buttonhole and then used the button from my uniform to close it, so that was one of the pieces I did about my career. I didn't really do a lot of pieces, though.

Esther Dombrowski:

______+ this project, would you be willing to --

Gail Gutierrez:

To make something?

Esther Dombrowski:

Yeah.

Gail Gutierrez:

Oh, sure.

Esther Dombrowski:

To send that, would you want to send that?

Gail Gutierrez:

Oh, I could.

Esther Dombrowski:

Is that something that you would consider?

Gail Gutierrez:

I hadn't thought about it.

Esther Dombrowski:

Well, _______+?

Gail Gutierrez:

It was done a long time ago, so the rice paper may be, you know, not in the best of shape. But, yeah.

Esther Dombrowski:

Just a thought, just a thought.

Gail Gutierrez:

So it was a good life. Very good life.

Esther Dombrowski:

Do you have any regrets?

Gail Gutierrez:

I regret that -- not that the war didn't go on longer, but I regret that I never did get to go to Vietnam. And, oh, what I started to stay earlier was that I never felt like I had done much, because the guys were already back home. And it wasn't until I was stationed in Long Beach working in the alcohol rehab unit, that one of our counselors decided to have a homecoming for those who had been Vietnam vets, so we had the counselor from the VA come over, and he was running a group with just the guys who had been in Vietnam. And when they came out of the group room, we had lined up on the hallway all 70 patients and all the staff with little flags, and we welcomed them home. And I tell you, you talk about a tear jerker, oh, my God. Then we went in in our big classroom, and we sang America the Beautiful or the Pledge of Allegiance or something. And there was not a dry eye in the place. And the VA counselor made a speech. He had a lot of disabilities from Vietnam. Or his body was really disfigured. And he said that he really appreciated the nurses and doctors in Vietnam that had helped him, but he said that he really wanted to thank those who were home, who helped him transition back here to the real world. And I just could not keep the tears from flowing, because that was the first time I felt like I had really done something. You know, that it mattered to somebody that I had been there when they came back.

Esther Dombrowski:

Now that we are sitting here crying and sharing that moment, of course. Well, Gail, I want to thank you for taking the time and sharing so intimately of yourself, and knowing that -- just to get to knowing -- to know you a little bit better and deeper, and I appreciate you for all that you do, not because of what you did to serve our country, but because you are a good friend. And thank you very much.

Gail Gutierrez:

Thanks for asking me.

 
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  October 26, 2011
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