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Chance the Good

May 29, 2004 -- Starting on May 21 and continuing through today, Garry Trudeau's influential and widely syndicated comic strip "Doonesbury" has featured a positive, nuanced nurse character, Lieutenant Chance Lebon, caring for character B.D., who has been seriously wounded in the Iraq war.

Lieutenant B.D., who lost part of his leg to a rocket propelled grenade outside Fallujah, first arrived at the U.S. military's massive Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany in the May 17 strip. There he was greeted by a physician, Major Spratt, who informed him that he would be "overseeing" B.D.'s treatment, which would focus on, as Spratt told B.D.'s wife Boopsie, "giving his soft tissue envelope a chance to stabilize and recover." After several strips with Major Spratt, Nurse Lebon first appeared in the May 21 strip. Ignoring B.D.'s obvious surprise at not having a female nurse, Lebon tells his patient that he will not be much a challenge, since he has lost "only one limb;" Lebon was hoping for a "basket case." B.D. responds that he was hoping for Ashley Judd as his nurse. The two quickly bond, however, as Lebon guides the wounded man through some of the aspects of life at the hospital, including setting up a web site to help friends check on his progress and send good wishes, and selecting the visiting celebrities he will have his "morale raised by." Before B.D. can actually meet the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders he selects, however, Lebon tells him that he has been cleared for transfer to Walter Reed, in Washington, DC.

Doonesbury 5/21/2004

The strip deserves credit for many aspects of its extended portrayal of a male military nurse. The strip handles the middle-aged B.D.'s very plausible initial chagrin at having a male "night nurse" by having Lebon simply steamroll through it, showing that he has what B.D. really needs. Lebon is clearly an intelligent, caring force in B.D.'s recovery, providing real emotional support. This comes not in the form of tearful sympathy or menial assistance, but through skilled coordination of B.D.'s interaction with loved ones, and irreverent comments seemingly designed to remind B.D. that he remains part of the human community. When B.D. declines to be set up as a celebrity for the nearby press, despite his civilian status as a college football coach, Lebon comments that he must put "his pants on one leg at a time." B.D. wonders if that's one from "the nurse's joke manual." Without missing a beat, Lebon answers "Number 14." Some may question whether this is sensitive caregiving, but it strikes us as the kind of gritty banter that could be highly effective in caring for tough, seriously wounded soldiers. The strip also shows respect by having Lebon addressed as "Nurse Lebon" or simply "Nurse," never by his first name, just as it did with Dr. Pratt. In addition, the strip introduces Lebon as an officer with the same rank as B.D.; many may not know that nurses are officers in the U.S. military.

The portrayal isn't perfect. Lebon's care is entirely emotional; he is not shown providing any care that would call on nurses' significant physiological skills, nor does he do any patient education with regard to B.D.'s physical condition. It is ironic that while the physician in the early strips describes the main purpose of B.D.'s stay at Landstuhl as allowing his "soft tissue envelope" a chance to heal, it is the nurses who would actually be monitoring that process and doing various things to enhance it. Nurses are the experts in wound care. But Lebon is not shown taking any action related to B.D.'s physical healing process.

One element of the Chance Lebon character that could be seen different ways is the name. At the risk of reading a little too much into things, we could not help noting that "le bon" means "the good" in French. Of course, it is not an uncommon surname, but to the extent the strip is suggesting that this military nurse is "good," that would obviously seem to be...good--except to the extent it might play into traditional stereotypes of nurses as being more about virtue than technical competence.

On the whole, while lacking in some ways, the strip deserves credit for presenting a positive, three-dimensional nurse character from a non-traditional demographic (men) providing critical support to wounded United States soldiers.

See the strips in order from BD arrives at Landstuhl, May 17: and hit "next date" to scroll through the series of strips.

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Also see:

Nurse Jewel shows B.D. the tough love

July 3, 2004 -- Garry Trudeau's widely distributed comic strip "Doonesbury" has introduced another positive nurse character, the tough Walter Reed nurse Jewel, who is now caring for Lt. B.D. following the loss of part of his leg in the Iraq war. more...



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