Thursday, 4 August 2011

The last prayer


We worked in shifts of sorts

Three days on call, three days off duty, it was the easiest way to work the system with the shortages in petrol and the unreliability of public transport, the fewer trips we made the better.

As one team arrived there would be a hand over, unlike the usual handover of inpatients, our handovers consisting mainly of a resume of events in Baghdad, which bridges were still standing, which roads still open, where else had been flattened.

The morning duties were fairly light, very few people turned up, and after a while we'd drift back to our on call room and switch on the radio trying to tune into radio Monte Carlo, to follow the news of events in Kuwait.

Before we set out in the morning, we would put a saucepan full of water onto the heater, the water would very slowly heat, and over the following six or seven hours the potatoes and eggs within would be cooked.

Eventually darkness would fall, and at about 6 p.m. they would start coming.
Flying over our little dark buildings, ignoring us, flying on to one of the many places nearby that had obviously been put on the hit list.

We'd stand in the grounds of the Hospital watching the skies helplessly, trying to guess which site it was to be tonight, there was no electricity, and little petrol available for our generator so this had to be rationed, by working out where the strike was, we could judge how long it would take before the cars, jeeps and lorries full of bodies and wounded would arrive, and turn the generator on for their arrival.

Taking our places as we heard the distant sound of the engines, someone would stand at the main entrance, vetting all arrivals, this was the first screen, the dead from the still living.

The dead were diverted to the evacuated wards round the back, the still living rushed through to the second person standing at the door to our modest casualty department, where a second screen would take place into those critically injured who would be seen immediately, and the walking wounded who had simpler injuries (anything from second degree burns to joint dislocations to broken bones).

We would be busy for hours like this sifting through everyone, every member of staff pitched in from radiographers, and nurses to ambulance drivers and the receptionist who became adept at suturing, finally after stabilising deciding who needed referral to the hospitals in Baghdad.

Once that was finished there came the task of the dead.

Identifying some was easy; I clearly remember one young boy almost had a smile on his dust-covered face; his eyes still open, clouded over, and his face perfect; it was only when I went to turn his head that it became clear that the whole back of his skull was no longer there.

In others it was more difficult, with distraught wailing mothers and pale shocked fellow soldiers trying to identify people from their footwear, their clothing, their name tags or anything recognisable from the midst of the mounds of what was left of tens of young men.

We slept fitfully those nights our rooms next door to our makeshift mortuary.

The morning would bring fresh suffering, as mothers, sisters, fathers, brothers, and friends would arrive from further a field to take away their precious boys' remains.

As the sun came out so began another job.

The bombing never was as precise as it they always claimed, and a collection of small houses near-by had been flattened, I needed to issue the death certificates.

Here in the rubble that remained had last night stood a home to a family of four.
I was given their photographs; the parents were just 20 years old, their two children 2 and 4 years old.

In the corner of what had been a room was a burnt mass of flesh from the bones I could make out three distinct people but not a fourth, everyone started hunting furiously for the second child maybe she had crawled out and was alive somewhere?

The hope was short lived; she had indeed crawled out but lay dead only yards from where the rest of her family had perished.

The vision of this family would haunt me throughout the weeks that followed.
As I worked far from home, my brother at the army barracks elsewhere and my father in yet another corner of this beleaguered land.

Each night I would pray.

If my family's name is on one of these missiles let me be with them when it falls.

A&Eiraqi said...
At that time I was only 8 and a half years old, that time was pleasant to me as the whole family was together.

12 years later, I could realize what the war is.
I lived every moment you mentioned, lack of supplement, innocent people being killed for no reason, blood, bones and flesh.
And of course the family had to split and I had not to pray only but to check the corpses in case one of them is related to me.

Such reminences bring some difficult questions which I'm not prepared to answer; will it happen again? Do I want to live it again?
Will we go back?

I can tell the difference between the A&E here and there
24 January 2008 22:46

3eeraqimedic said...
Dear A&EIraqi
I know that to your generation the previous wars all pale into insignificance, and yet if I still have such painfully clear memories of the time what of all of you in years to come?
Your questions are another issue, the reasons we leave are often very different from the reasons that we decide to remain, and in 1991 these questions were exactly what I thought, in my mind the answer was it will happen again, and I do not want to see it again.
And finally I bet you see a difference between the A&E's, Friday night with drunks, and overdoses, interspersed with sprained ankles. he he
25 January 2008 19:27

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