The doctor is back in
LANDSTUHL, Germany — It’s hard for Army Dr. (Col.) Everett Spees to say no because his whole life has been military medicine. He has been treating war wounded since Vietnam and was mobilized for Desert Storm in 1991.
At 73 and currently on active duty, Spees isn’t fading away. He’s sticking around.
Instead of living out his golden years at his homes in Boulder, Colo., and Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., Spees is performing cardiothoracic surgery at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center.
About two weeks ago, the surgeon with a razor-sharp mind and rock-steady hands began a 120-day assignment at Landstuhl, where he’ll employ his specialized skills, treating war wounded and regular hospital patients.
“I find it very hard to be out of the military, watching the news, see all that’s going on and not try to do something about it,” Spees said. “You just feel that you should be in there, helping.”
When asked, Army Dr. (Col.) Stephen Flaherty, director of Landstuhl’s trauma program, agreed Spees is the elder statesman among the hospital’s surgeons. Since his arrival, Spees has integrated seamlessly at Landstuhl, Flaherty said.
“Dr. Spees has been a great asset to our team,” Flaherty said. “He’s bringing in new thoughts and a wealth of experience in thoracic surgery.”
Before delving into what makes Spees — likely the oldest person serving in the Army today — tick, consider the following:
·He’s held the rank of colonel for 36 years.
·After 20 years in the Army, he retired from active duty in 1977 — the year “Star Wars” was released in theaters.
·He worked as an associate professor of transplantation surgery at Johns Hopkins University from 1977 to 1985.
·He was voluntarily recalled and served at Brooke Army Medical Center for 11 months in 2004 and 2005.
·He’s an ordained priest in the Polish National Catholic Church and does chaplain work.
So how does the Army get Spees to serve after a lifetime of service? Spees received a call from Human Resources Command asking him if he would like to volunteer for a specific assignment.
“When I’m not on active duty, I dream about it,” Spees said. “I dream about being in an operating room in an Army hospital, seeing casualties. It’s sort of a way of life. Whenever they call me and say they need me, that’s all I need to trigger saying ‘yes.’”
Since arriving at Landstuhl, Spees has worked in the surgical intensive care unit and performed two thoracic (chest) surgeries.
Actually, Spees would prefer to be performing his duties in Iraq or Afghanistan, but the Army does not allow those with cardiac pacemakers to serve downrange.
“It’s easy for me to say that since I can’t go, ‘Oh, yeah, sure, I’d be a hero if I had the chance,’” said Spees, jokingly. “My wife would probably kill me.”
A husband and father of six children, Spees was ordained in 1995 as a priest in the Polish National Catholic Church, which does not require its priests to be celibate or refrain from being married.
Eighteen years ago, doctors told Spees he had cancer and had only six months to live. At the time, he said to himself that if he had not been diagnosed with cancer he would like to become a priest. After more medical tests, Spees was told he actually did not have cancer. With his life back, Spees pursued becoming a priest and hopes to say Mass while at Landstuhl.
Even after his stint at Land- stuhl ends, Spees, who turns 74 in July, won’t hang up his boots for good. Unlike other old soldiers, Spees won’t fade away.
“I’ll go back to what I was doing and wait for them to call me again,” he said.