First Page: Coming to Terms
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June 17, 2017
Gereskh District Hospital,
“Fuck, fuck, fuck….” Dr. Kai Corey chanted it like a prayer as he worked upon the young girl lying on the operating table. He just hoped that the two women who’d brought this girl to him, mute witnesses to the struggle to keep her alive, could not understand his words.
Sweat dripped from his forehead as the fierce heat of an Afghan summer day beat into the tiled operating room. None of the rooms in the small hospital were air-conditioned, since their tiny generators had to be saved for more important things, such as the ventilator that was currently pushing air in and out of this girl’s lungs. He grunted as Alice, his nurse, wiped the sweat away from his glasses before they smeared and he’d have to stop operating long enough to clean them. The heat was a bitch, but it was at least natural.
Not like the animals who’d done this to an innocent child – and why? The story Kai had pieced together from the interpreter’s quick sentences was that she’d given directions to a stranger who’d stopped her while she was getting water from the village well. Since he wasn’t her father, brother, uncle, cousin, or husband, the village elders decided that she must be some kind of slut. So they’d punished her: first by a gang-rape, then by slicing off her ears, her nose, blinding her…if that hadn’t been enough, someone had laid a curse on her – Kai could feel it, simmering under her skin, keeping her alive despite her injuries. She’d lain in the dust of the village square until two slightly elder cousins had gotten up the courage to pull her into a donkey cart and drive the forty kilometers to the district hospital at Gereshk, where the MSF held an aid mission. While he wasn’t strictly a gynecologist, Kai was the closest they had, so he had been given the task of putting the shattered bits back together.
He’d had to give up on saving her uterus but he did have hopes of keeping one of her kidneys intact. That thought, drifting into his awareness, only fuelled his rage against the animals who’d harmed her.
He continued swearing as more sweat trickled down the back of his scrub shirt, matting it to his body. He wouldn’t be able to do anything about the facial injuries, save to suture them and hope for the best. The meager facilities here weren’t equipped for any major surgeries. At last, when he’d done everything he could think of, Kai stepped back from the operating table. A uniformed orderly/security guard wheeled it away from the room, towards the small niche that held their intensive care patients. The women there would watch over her. They weren’t trained nurses, like Alice, but they were conscientious, and careful, and Kai would be on call until late tonight.
One of the women who’d come in with the girl came forward. She was older, with a severe limp and a withered arm. Kai wondered if they were due to some beating, or if she had endured an accident of some kind – but, really, did it matter? Not here. She spoke quickly, in the local dialect of Persian. Alice listened, then turned to Kai.
“She asks if Maryam will live.”
Kai’s hand went to the crucifix he wore under his scrubs. He gripped the metal so fiercely that it cut into his fingers even through the latex of his gloves and the material of his shirt. “She will,” Kai said, “if God wills it so. I have done what I could to aid Him.”