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A Career in the Trenches: Vietnam Vet Found Calling as Nurse

  • Nurse Albie Wyce, at right, works with a patient in the Intensive Care Unit at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., on May 6, 2014. Talking with the family in the room is physician James Geiling, left. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Nurse Albie Wyce, at right, works with a patient in the Intensive Care Unit at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., on May 6, 2014. Talking with the family in the room is physician James Geiling, left. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nurse Albie Wyce, a Vietnam veteran, works at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., on May 6, 2014. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Nurse Albie Wyce, a Vietnam veteran, works at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., on May 6, 2014. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nurse Albie Wyce, a Vietnam veteran, works at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., on May 6, 2014. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

    Nurse Albie Wyce, a Vietnam veteran, works at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., on May 6, 2014. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nurse Albie Wyce, at right, works with a patient in the Intensive Care Unit at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., on May 6, 2014. Talking with the family in the room is physician James Geiling, left. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Nurse Albie Wyce, a Vietnam veteran, works at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., on May 6, 2014. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)
  • Nurse Albie Wyce, a Vietnam veteran, works at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, Vt., on May 6, 2014. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck)

White River Junction — Mary Hubisz always knew that fellow registered nurse Albie Wyce could calm and comfort intensive care patients of every stripe, generation and condition at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

“Then I Googled him,” Hubisz said. “I was commuting in with him sometimes then, and one day in the car I told him, ‘Albie: You’re a hero!’”

As far as Wyce’s VA colleagues are concerned, the heroics continued long after his hitch with a reconnaissance platoon in Vietnam ended in March 1970. After leaving the Army in 1971, he pursued a nursing degree at a time when few men considered the profession an option. Then he spent three decades in mostly civilian medical settings up and down the Eastern Seaboard.

The last nine years have been spent at the White River VA, fine-tuning skills and instincts that you can’t just pick up in a classroom or an online course.

“Our patients can relate to him,” Hubisz said. “He’s a vet. He’s very straightforward. I think they respect that. When he’s on the floor, you don’t worry. There’s nothing going to come through the door that he can’t handle.”

Which is why the ICU’s interim nurse manager, Sarah Beaudry, can’t imagine the unit without Wyce.

“He’s an incredible teacher,” said Beaudry, a 1990 graduate of Stevens High School who joined the VA nursing staff 10 years ago. “If he hears a diagnosis, he can explain it backwards and forwards. He can make them understand.”

And to the relief of his colleagues, the 65-year-old Wyce is not making imminent plans to retire, even after the “harsh” winter just past.

“I enjoy it,” Wyce said on Tuesday, the opening day of National Nurses Week. “There’s a certain gratification you get from the patients. They don’t have to say it. You just get it. As long as my health stays good, I expect to stay with it maybe another three or four years.”

Wyce said that his main personal health issue since Vietnam is post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), a parting gift that keeps on giving 44 years after he left Southeast Asia. Among the “three close calls” that led to his three Bronze Stars, Wyce recalls a fellow soldier shooting an enemy sniper who appeared to have the recon platoon’s medic in his sights.

“There were times I could have got killed, and other people intervened for me,” Wyce said. “I was very lucky. I came out with no physical scratches.”

After returning home in 1971, Wyce went to nursing school in Philadelphia, with the aim of continuing to work with psychiatric patients as he had as an aide at a state hospital in New Jersey before his draft notice arrived.

In due course, he worked in intensive-care units, operating rooms and emergency rooms, each of which, he said, offered a form of occupational therapy.

“Coming back, becoming a nurse, doing what I do helped me a lot,” Wyce said. “I saw a lot of my friends from there, they’re usually unemployed, have the big range of problems. I came back and found my niche in life. This kind of helped me, got me through.”

Working early on in Philadelphia “was real high-speed stuff,” which Wyce said might have thrown him onto a different course if it hadn’t followed his Vietnam experience.

“Being over there made me an adrenaline junkie,” he said. “In this job, it pays you back in that manner.”

Wyce didn’t seek out explicitly military settings, even while he continued to serve in the Army Reserve, rising eventually to the rank of captain.

He did spend a stint working at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, where he got a taste of management, and learned that the higher pay didn’t make giving orders and doing paperwork any more enjoyable.

“When you’re a captain and a head nurse,” he said, “you’re no longer really taking care of patients.”

Still, “it always had been in the back of my mind, being a veteran, to work with veterans myself,” Wyce continued.

So when his partner landed a nursing job in the post-anesthesia care unit (PACU) at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in 2005, Wyce followed and put down roots at the White River VA.

“A majority of the veterans right now are vets who are my age,” Wyce said. “I relate kind of closely to them.”

Sometimes, he admits, the camaraderie can interfere with his workload.

“I can spend too much time in the room,” Wyce confessed. “I get talking with those guys, and sometimes you have to do other things. You have to back away, because somebody else needs you.”

And not just his fellow veterans.

“His experience is so valuable,” Hubisz said. “He has great experience in different areas. He’s done high-level nursing for a long time.”

And even on a staff of about 200 nurses, about 30 percent of them veterans, Wyce sets an example.

“You get more out of it than you give in this profession, especially here at the VA,” Beaudry said. “You’re taking care of our nation’s heroes. You’re part of history. The history those people have experienced is heroic, and just honorable. Everybody’s a VIP.”

Including, in Wyce’s eyes, his fellow nurses.

“My goal was never to manage my co-workers,” Wyce said. “I’ve always just wanted to help people get better. The energy of the people who do this with me here is beyond belief sometimes. If I couldn’t come to work looking forward to it, I wouldn’t keep coming.

“In this profession, I always wanted to get back to work. That’s why I’m not willing to leave yet.”

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.