Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Ghosts 13/37

Chapter  13

An ER Fanfic set following the "Bishop Stewart" arc

They drove for close to half an hour before either man spoke, their self imposed silence broken only by the tempo set by the windshield wipers and the coughs and wheezing breaths of their new companion.   "How is he doing?"  Andre Renou asked the question over his shoulder as he narrowly missed a water filled pothole in the road.   "Not good." Rene raised the young man slightly as a particularly intense onslaught of coughing left him struggling for breath.   "Easy..."  Rene Vachon let his eyes drift over the dark haired man even as he fought the sense of revulsion to the smell of him.  It was hard to ignore the blood and gore that mingled with the mud that coated him, but there was nothing they could do for that here...and he forced the bile back down with that thought. In his time with the UN he had witnessed all manner of atrocities and though he hadn't been in Croatia long, he was learning that even this place was not immune. Some of those with longer stays then he had said he would get used to it...he hoped they were wrong, he didn't want to ever think he would see what he had seen as routine.  

He wiped some of the filth from the young man's face and coaxed him through a few sips of water after his coughing had eased, though he doubted the man was even aware of his presence.  The man was thin, his cheekbones prominent and his eyes, shadowed by deep, dark circles, were mirrors to the horror he had come through.   "It's all right, you're safe now..."  He spoke the words slowly, some of the few he knew in Croatian and ones he had spoke too often of late, they must have registered though for the man relaxed and closed his eyes again as they were spoke.  

He would have like to have examined him more but his one brief attempt to peel the blood encrusted bandage away from his leg had elicited a strangled cry that had persuaded him to wait until they reached the camp.  Best to leave it to the doctors...the dressing was makeshift, torn from his shirt, and was as filthy as the rest of his clothing. It was impossible not to help noticing the heat coming off the leg and knew that meant that the wound was probably already long had it been left to fester, and would they be in time to save it?  The effects of it were already manifesting themselves...he was burning with fever and chills had begun to overtake him.  "Andre, can you get anything more from that heater?"  He pulled the emergency blanket out and draped it over the young man, hoping to ease the now convulsive shivering that was working their way through him.  

Luka found himself drifting in and out of consciousness...he was burning up...but if he was burning up why couldn't he stop his teeth from chattering?  He groaned as the bumps and jolts of the truck jarred his leg and sent rivers of pain through the numbness.  He had known death was coming...but if he was dead why did he hurt so much?  He felt someone lifting him as he fought for breath...when they held something to his lips he weakly pushed it away, thinking it some kind of poison.  When they moved his hand away he reluctantly swallowed and instead of poison found welcoming water, the cool liquid soothing his parched throat. When the man spoke he barely registered the words that were whispered to him, save one.  Safe...he clung to the word as if it were a lifeline as he slid back into unconsciousness.

Condition on arrival: Untreated bullet wound, right thigh, entry and exit...infected.  Probable rotary muscle tear right knee, indicative of a fall injury.  Probable pneumonia both lungs.  Fever of 103.  Malnourished. Numerous cuts and abrasions.  Lice.

Father Joe looked up from the file, were they all like this, clinical notes intertwined by eyewitness accounts?  All of the years he had worked alongside the Bishop and he had never thought to ask him about his work...about the lives the files touched.  How had the Bishop been able to read listen to them speak of all they had endured and not been personally touched by each?  He rubbed his hand across his face as a thought struck him, maybe he had been touched...had they been what had allowed him to continue when others might have quit?  Almost unbidden another question nagged at had he justified God's will to those people he had counseled?  How has he spoke of God's mercy and goodness in light of all they had been forced to endure?  He pushed the questions aside as he dropped his eyes back to the file, picking up where he had left off.

The tent that served as the hospital was packed, days of rain had filled it with those whose resistance was so low that unable to fight off the cold and damp they now fought pneumonia.  They were close enough to the fighting that the medical team daily had to treat those escaping the battles...bullet wounds, victims of bombings and landmines... and even worse, the women and young girls who'd been subjected to rapes. For many of those working here it was their first exposure to the horrors of war and for many it would be their last.  They were doing their part to ease their conscience, they were paying back old debts, they were looking for a way to justify what they did, the reasons varied as much as the individuals.  Some though, like Angelique Forquet would return, time and time again...needing to help, and unable to turn away.

"Doctor Forquet, we have a patient for you.."  The woman looked up from the notes she was working on as the tent flap was pulled aside and the two men stepped inside with a third, seemingly unconscious, supported between them.   "How bad?"  She moved to a nearby cot, sweeping some used bedding off of it as she did.  "Nevermind, I can see... lay him down here."  He ran her eyes over the man as they settled him onto the cot, whatever color his face had once held was gone, replaced by an almost deathlike pallor. Despite her experience she found herself unable to fully stop the recoil of her stomach as she got a whiff of the stench clinging to the man.   "Before I can do anything these have to come off..."  Reaching for a pair of scissors she swallowed deeply then clamped her mouth closed as she began to cut his clothing away.  As she finished with each piece she tossed them on the floor at her feet.  "Get these out of here and bring me boiling water and some rags."  Her tone was clipped as she worked, if she was going to help him she had to get past the filth, and she had never been one to delegate to avoid the more distasteful aspects of things.  "Thanks..."She grabbed one of the rags as the water arrived and began to wash him...aware that her nurses were doing the same.  "Lot's of scratches and bruising..."  One of them commented idly..."Looks like he wrenched his knee's blown up like a balloon.." 

Once they had washed him, started an IV, and cataloged his injuries they had begun to treat them, saving the leg for last.  She'd decided against removing the bandage until they were ready to start on it and now came the moment of truth.   "You may have tohold him." She reminded the two nurses who had helped her treat him even though she knew it was unnecessary.  The young man's injuries were mild compared to some, luckily, the fever had left him drifting in and out of consciousness as they worked, she could only hope he would stay that way as she finished.   "Ready?"  She waited until the two had taken positions at his leg and shoulders then she poured warm water over the dressing to soak it loose. Sliding her scissors under the fabric she cut it loose before pulling it free of the wound.  The muscles in his leg went taut as the cloth pulled the skin and a groan escaped before he twisted to try and free himself from the pain.   "Hold him still." She tightened her own hold on his thigh then poured more water over the wound to loosen the scraps of cloth he had packed into it to staunch the bleeding, then bit her lip as she pulled those away as well.   "Good, now, roll him onto his side so I can get the other one."  

When both wounds had been rinsed and debreeded she rolled him onto his back and began to access the extent of the damage itself.  Applying pressure resulted in a release of the pus pocket that had built up under the bandaging.  "Shh....."She silenced his moans with a reassuring hand before reaching for a syringe that would numb her work area.  While she waited for it to take affect she dipped a cloth in clean water and lay it across his forehead...watching his face soften as he eased to a deeper drugged sleep.  As her fingers moved across the wounds again, tracing the path the bullet had traveled, she released a sigh of relief.  He'd been had missed the bone, if they could clear up the infection and get him active he might not have any limp from it at all. 

Several hours later found her sitting at her desk, a small light illuminating the work surface.  "Doc, you busy?"  Angelique looked up from the young man's chart...then glanced to where he lay before fully shifting her attention to the nurse as she reentered.   "Sure, what is it?" I was just catching up on my notes for the new patient."  She lay the pen down, then as if sensing an impending need she rose and moved to his side. She'd sedated him when she'd begun to work on him, hoping it would give him a brief respite from the pain, but supplies were limited and it was a luxury she wouldn't be able to repeat for him.  It would betouch and go for a while and the fact that his pneumonia seemed to be worsening and every breath he drew rattled his chest, would not make things easier.

"I checked his pockets before I threw his clothes out..."  The nurse crossed the distance that separated them, "there wasn't much there besides these."  She handed a small packet of papers to the doctor with the revelation.   "Thanks Michelle, any form of identification in there?"  The woman shook her head, "None that I found, just a photograph and a half used ration card."  She swept her eyes over the older woman as she glanced at the photo, noticing for the first time how tired she looked.  Her face seemed older then her 55 years and stands of hair had fallen free of the bun that usually held them back.  "I can stay with him for a while if you want to get some sleep." Angelique shook her head at the offer, "Thanks, Michelle, I have some work still to do, and I want to be here when he wakes up, the first time is always the worst."  She dropped the papers on his chart then returned to adjust his IV before finally tucking the blanket more securely around him.   "Not much to show for a life is it?"  The nurse offered as she watched her.   "No, it isn't, but he's alive, and that's what's important."  She found herself brushing a damp lock of hair from his forehead as she spoke.  "Question is, will he think so?"  The nurse voiced the very thought that Angelique had left unspoken would be his will that would give him the strength to live...time would tell if he had it.

to be continued...

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