(Full story can be found in One Hundred Voices, an anthology from Centum Publishing, 2016)
“Why is he here?” I peer across the hall into room 186 at my new patient.
Liz looks at me. “What do you mean, here?”
“Here. He’s from … I don’t know, the middle east? How did he wind up here?”
My coworker pulls her log from her scrub pocket. “I told you. He’s like, a captain or something in the army over there and he got blown up. They had to reconstruct his whole shoulder and right arm. Part of his jaw. His right leg was shattered. I guess he needed the specialists here.”
I don’t speak the words on my tongue: what earned him the use of our surgeons? Fighting in a war I don’t understand, one which has cost me so much?
“Sarah….” Liz matches my stride. “He’s pretty miserable with all the drains and hardware,” she motions around her right side, neck to fingertips. “Just … keep close, okay?”
I soften. “I will. Don’t worry.”
Liz doesn’t need to warn me. I am a good nurse.
I’m just not in a hurry to meet my new patient.
When I get to Safet’s room, he is sitting up in bed watching the doorway as I enter. He looks like an animal – a wild, cornered animal, eyes wide and black, mouth drawn down grotesquely on the right from the swelling and sutures that extend from his collar bone to his reconstructed jaw. He is thin and lanky, one boney knee drawn up under the sheet.
He cradles his bandaged right arm with his left hand, body rigid. I see, poking out from the gauze at his wrist, the external brace the surgeon created just for him: metal talons extending out over each finger, 5 small titanium pins securing each rod through the back of his hand to the bones.
My eyes meet his and I could cry. He hasn’t said a word, but I am not sure he can. “I’ll get your pain medicine.”
I inject the morphine through the port in his IV line, and watch, gratified, as I see his posture relax. His room is bare. No cards, no flowers. No family in this country.
The next day, I make Safet first on my rounds. The sight of him stops me in my tracks. His eyes are on the wall-mounted television, tears streaming down his face in silent sobs. I look to see what in the world he is watching.
It’s war footage. It’s a live feed on some news channel: chaos, screaming, women and children and buildings on fire, gunshots in the background. The streaming caption across the bottom declares a state of emergency, citing numbers: dead, wounded, civilian casualties, too many numbers.
I pick up the remote to turn it off and he stops me.
“No.” He looks at me, tortured, and then back at the screen, shaking his head. He’s mourning someone, maybe his whole family, and punishing himself for being here, safe.