"In surgery there’s a sheet up so you don’t have to connect face to face"

Sep 12, 2011

Kentucky veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are telling their stories while they’re still fresh in their minds. The recollections are the basis for an oral history project at the University of Kentucky, “From Combat to Kentucky.” Beginning this month WEKU will air capsule versions of the original interviews.  Today, we profile Army Reservist Stephanie Murphy, a veteran of the Iraq war.

Thanks to her Marine Corps veteran father, Stephanie Murphy was raised with deep respect for the red, white and blue…

“I did grow up very patriotic. I mean my dad…I knew from a very young age that you didn’t let the flag touch the ground,” said Murphy.

The 28 year-old New York native has far surpassed her father’s military experience.  Murphy’s Dad was in the Marines for two years. Daughter Stephanie has seven years in the Army Reserves to her credit, as well as  four years in the Kentucky Air National Guard.

After boot camp Stephanie became an operating room specialist, or as she puts it “surgeon’s caddy”.  After extensive training in handling trauma cases, she was sent to Iraq.  Murphy found out it’s not easy being a soldier and a healer at the same time.

“It’s hard to prepare medical people for warfare because it’s not in our mindset…our job. I’m not really great at firing weapons, like I barely always passed the tests, little pop up targets and stuff ,so I felt like if I had to I probably could have done it but you know I was just hoping that I didn’t have to do a lot of warfare. Just wanted to get to base safely and once I’m on the base I’m good,” said Murphy.

Eventually Murphy was ordered to arm herself…she was riding in a Humvee, patrolling the dangerous Sunni Triangle.

“I was down, I had my weapon, I’m lookin’, I’m lookin’,course my back is completely, I’m trusting my passenger, to fix that, to take care of that, but I really wasn’t concerned about that, I was more concerned about people on the side of the road, I just got lucky, we got lucky a lot of times actually, laughs,” said Murphy.

Venturing away from base was the exception during Murphy’s deployment in Iraq.  Most of the time she was doing her job in the operation theater.  While Murphy tended to seriously injured soldiers, her training taught her to focus on the injury and not the person.

“First of all, in surgery you have to understand there’s a sheet up so you don’t have to connect with that person face to face,” said Murphy.

And that’s the way Murphy wanted it, saying the impersonal approach helped preserve her sanity. Of 36 seriously injured patients she attended to in surgery, 31 died.

Since she’s been back in the U.S there have been no flashbacks or other evidence of post traumatic stress disorder, which affected some of her co-workers.  But Murphy admits to involuntary reaction to fireworks.

“I love fireworks, love’, love’em, love’em. That’s part of me being patriotic on July 4th, love July 4th. I can be around fireworks, for like a whole year cause my heart would start racing, I feel my heart is beating in my chest, my pulse would start racing, I would get a anxiety about it and stuff. I forced myself to be around it, so I didn’t hafta um, you know deal with that,” said Murphy.    

Stephanie Murphy says she’s proud of what she was able to do in Iraq.  Now 28 years old, Murphy still has one foot in the military, a member of the Kentucky Air National Guard and the other foot in medicine, a graduate student in the physician’s assistant program at the University of Kentucky.