Thursday, October 23, 2008

October Prompt 002: Terror/ Artistic License

How do I begin to describe what it was like? We had all been through so much already, we'd lost families, friends, we'd seen everything we'd worked for taken from us until all we had left were the clothes on our back and still they demanded more. We all knew now that anytime we ventured out onto the streets we very likely risked it being the last thing we did, but, what choice did we have? We couldn't stay sequestered in the hospital forever, someone had to make the runs out for water and food, not just for ourselves, but, for those patients we were trying to provide care for.

Trying to provide care...that says so much about those final days in the Vukovar hospital. I can't remember when we'd last had electricity or running water, the supplies we had were so limited and we struggled to provide the best care we could, and still the patients kept coming. For too many of us the hospital had become our home, a safe haven amid the death and destruction that made up the insanity of the world outside it's doors. We should have known that it couldn't last, that the time would come when the little safety that it provided would crumble away, leaving one more pile of debris amidst the ruin of what had once been such a beautiful city.

There'd been no warning on that last day, out of nowhere word reached us that the City had fallen and as the Serbian soldiers made their way through the streets, chaos took over. Those who were mobile were encouraged to flee, if they were lucky they might be able to get out of the City...if they were lucky. Did luck even exist anymore? As a doctor we swear an oath to care for our patients, how could we think about leaving them, but, the youngest of us were told to do just that, someone had to make sure that people knew what had happened, what was still happening.

Even as we were fleeing out of the back of the hospital we could hear the gunfire, we could only guess at what was happening, the truth would come later and it would prove to be far worse then any of us could have imagined. The only hope for survival in those first hours
was in looking out for yourself and my first thought was that I had to find somewhere to hide, at least until dark. The fear left me shaking, I knew that at any moment a soldier could spot me from a window or I could become a target for some sniper's bullet, but, I had no choice, I had to keep going.

I'd no sooner left the hospital then I took shelter in the ruins of a bombed out apartment house nearby, with some digging I'd discovered a pocket of space under some fallen wallboards and plaster. While it wouldn't give me much room to move, it would hide me until the soldiers were gone, I had no other choice, already I could hear the trucks on the street, and behind it all, the sound of gunfire. I crawled into the space and had barely pulled the boards back over the opening when I heard the soldiers voices as they entered the building.

How do I begin to describe the terror I felt as I listened to the sounds of the debris and broken glass crunching under their boots? I could smell the smoke from their cigarettes, hear their laughter as they joked of those they had killed, and I knew it would only take one cough from me and I would be next. When the boards over my head creaked, and the dust rained down on me I felt my breath threaten to choke me, I was sure my time had come. I'd almost resigned myself to my fate when from somewhere in the distance came the sound of fresh gunfire, and just as quickly they were gone. A scream soon after announced the success of their pursuit, but, I, at least for now, seemed to be safe, they didn't come back.

I lost track of how many hours I lay under the rubble. I could hear them in the streets, the Serbian soldiers, but even worse, I was sure that I could hear gunfire from the hospital, and screams, so many screams. I hated myself in those moments for leaving my patients, hated myself for not having the courage to stand up to my mentor and stay for the sake of my patients. Listening to those sounds, I wondered if I would ever be able to forget them, and then I knew I couldn't, I had to remember, I had to be the voice for those who no longer had one, I owed them that much, and somehow with those thoughts circling my thoughts, I slept.

Note: This is based off an actual event, read more on The Vukovar Massacre here:

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