Spouses help make long deployments bearable
MUZAFFARABAD, Pakistan — He noticed her first in the hallway to the OR. “She had real long hair then, and she was fixing it up and putting it under her cap,” he said. What he thought, he said, was “Wow.”
She had heard about him before his arrival in 1992 as a surgeon at the U.S. Army’s 97th General Hospital in Frankfurt. “The rumor was he was counting his number of bites before he swallowed,” she said. “So I thought, ‘OK, we’re getting this oddball.’”
Inevitably, the two started dating. Then she left Germany and the Army. They corresponded fitfully — he once accidentally began his letter to her “Dear Lisa” instead of “Dear Linda,” which cooled things off for a while. But then, he had a long deployment to Hungary. “After that,” she said, “he really wanted to come and see me.”
They were married in 1997 in upstate New York, and she returned to active duty and Germany.
Eight years later, Col. Victor Lebedovych, senior surgeon with the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital, and Lt. Col. Linda Lebedovych, a nurse-anesthetist with the unit — the only married couple in the MASH — are sitting on boxes in the Pakistan sun discussing the merits and deficiencies of various MREs. “The beans are terrible,” Linda says. “But they have lots of fiber.”
MREs and other inconveniences of deployment are a lot easier to bear, they both say, when one’s spouse is along. “I guess people envy us,” says Linda, 50, who brought along a fluffy quilt to Pakistan instead of her Army sleeping bag. “I hear it a lot: ‘You’re on a deployment but your spouse is with you. You’re in no hurry to leave.’”
That’s not quite true, she said. What is true is, she said, “You really don’t hate your deployment as much.”
Now deployed to Muzaffarabad to provide humanitarian aid to earthquake victims, the couple, who combine warmth, wit and more than 50 years of medical and military experience — “Fifty years alone for him,” Linda adds — also spent September together in Angola. Before that, they enjoyed a deployment of several months in Kosovo.
During those times, they often eat together and usually sleep in the same tent — along with about 10 other people. Victor, says Linda, is her battle buddy. And they frequently work together in the operating room.
“There have been times when we’ve worked on very difficult cases together,” Victor said. On one tough case, Victor says, “I said, ‘If something happens to this patient, it’s going to be Lebedovych and Lebedovych that killed him.’” The patient lived.
The two, who were each married once before then spent many years as single people before they became attached, clearly enjoy each other’s company. “When we were in Angola, I was very impressed how they communicated back and forth as husband and wife,” said Col. Ken Meade, a MASH obstetrician. “It’s a pleasure to be with them.”
Just about everyone agrees it’s fun to be around them.
“They banter back and forth and they tease each other, and it’s fun to listen to,” said Maj. Robin Blixt, a nurse attached to the MASH from the 67th Combat Support Hospital, who met them on the current deployment.
Victor, 62, says one important aspect to deploying together is its beneficial affect on the marriage. Since the Army’s Iraq and Afghanistan deployments began, divorce rates in the military, which usually are significantly lower rates than the U.S. population, shot up, especially among officers. Part of the reason why, experts say, is the distance that can grow between separated spouses and the difficulties adjusting to new roles each has taken on by the time the deployment ends. But also, people get lonely on long, stressful deployments, despite their best intentions and military rules. When he was deployed to Kosovo for some six months, Victor said, pairing up, even among some of the most straight and narrow people, was not uncommon.
The couple will neither confirm nor deny if they’ve ever paired up together while deployed, which Victor says he believes, theoretically, would not be a violation of General Order # 1 since they’re married.
On this deployment, the commander expressly forbade even married couples from sleeping together, Linda says. And the Pakistanis requested that men and women sleep in sex-segregated tents. So the Lebedovyches sleep apart.
They still see a lot of each other every day at work. He admires her meticulousness in her work, he said; she likes the way he’s so experienced and comfortable in making his diagnoses and surgical plans. “He acts like a big joker,” she said, “but when push comes to shove, he’ll get real serious real quick.”
Both agree he’s an egomaniac, which many would say is not an unusual personality trait in a surgeon. What’s the difference between God and a surgeon, Victor asks? “God knows he’s not a surgeon,” Victor answers.
He also admits that he can’t rid himself of a fondness for the term “Nursey-poo,” even though being married to a nurse has given him a better appreciation for the work nurses do, he says.
“He makes jokes but he really knows how hard we work,” Linda says, “and we’re the ones at the patients’ bedsides.”
Both say they like the emotional respite while on humanitarian deployment abroad from caring for wounded young Americans.
“It’s a lot more painful to see our American soldiers,” Linda says. “You don’t know what words to say for comfort. You don’t want to say the same thing. That’s what they say — ‘You’re a hero. You’ve done a good thing.’ But so many injuries.”
“Here it’s pure helping people instead of seeing the atrocities of war,” Victor says. “It’s good for us. We work together. We feel like we’re doing something useful.”