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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: I am a medic in the Middle East. I was out on patrol with some of our guys when we were hit with a mortar attack. More than one guy was wounded.

I ran to the first guy and saw that he was hit. He had a wound I knew he wouldn't be able to survive. He pulled a letter from his pocket, put it in my hands and pushed me away. I tried to apply pressure to his wound to slow the bleeding, but he pushed me away again. It was like he was telling me to go to the next man who needed my attention. Everyone survived except him.

At first, I thought I did the right thing by respecting his wishes to help someone I could save. When I got back and talked to his family, they were angry at me for not trying harder to save his life. When I signed up for this job, I knew I wouldn't be able to save everyone, but I am supposed to try my best no matter who it is I am saving.

Was I wrong by going to another man who I could save? Was it wrong of me to take his letter and leave him after he pushed me away twice? Please tell me what you think. -- DOC IN DISTRESS

DEAR DOC: I think you were doing the best you could in an impossible situation. Your patient may have instinctively known he was not going to make it -- which is why he gave you the letter. Of course the family was angry that you couldn't save their loved one -- they are grieving. I urge you to talk to a counselor about what happened and the feelings of guilt you're experiencing. In a situation like the one in which you found yourself, wrenching choices sometimes have to be made. Please stop second-guessing yourself.

DEAR ABBY: My father is in the early stages of Alzheimer's. While at a family party, my stepmother started talking about how she and Dad had just visited their friends, the Royal Family in England. I assume she thought she was being funny. My poor father was completely confused, but my stepmother continued on with the charade. We all felt uncomfortable and didn't know how to handle the situation. The grandkids felt bad for Grandpop.

I recently learned that my stepmother pretended her friend was his daughter. Dad is confused enough without having to be tricked in this manner. My stepmother is a very complex, challenging woman, and I need to handle this matter very carefully. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. -- SAD ABOUT DAD IN NEW JERSEY

DEAR SAD: Your stepmother is not only "complex and challenging," she has a twisted sense of humor. Ridiculing someone with dementia is cruel and, in my opinion, qualifies as elder abuse. As to "tricking" your father into thinking her friend was his daughter, I wish you had mentioned what she was trying to accomplish by doing that. Your father -- and his assets -- may need protection. Please consider discussing this with a social worker who specializes in senior services.

DEAR ABBY: My husband doesn't like his sister. When he drinks beer, he says ugly things about her and starts to cry. When I said she's his only sister and to cut it out, he closed his hands into fists.

I twice tried calling her at 1 a.m., after he fell asleep. Well, our phone bill arrived and her phone number is on it. He's the one who gets the mail, so please answer this in the paper. The bill is due in 10 days. -- PEACEMAKER IN FLORIDA

DEAR PEACEMAKER: If your husband is the one who pays the bills, fess up while he's sober, because it appears he doesn't handle his beer very well. And from now on, respect his boundaries because there may be good reason why he and his sister are on the outs.

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