Essay entered for a competition which unfortunately yielded no results.
It has been a while since I slept. The thought of the patient I could not save is embedded in my mind. I lay awake at night, questioning myself and my profession, trying to justify his death before God’s eyes, and before my own.
They brought him to me, after the battle. Nineteen years of age. A stray blade had knocked him off his horse, and the terrified animal trod on him. Gangrene had set in, and he lost both his legs from the knee down. We grew closer and closer together, as time passed and his wounds began to heal. Or so I thought. When we talked, I would sometimes notice a rash around the stumps of his legs, which was normal for his condition. As time passed, it spread, reaching his thighs. I began to worry that the tissue was dying, and sure enough, after a few days, it began to stench as the tissue rotted and the necrosis spread. I tried everything to halt its progress. Herbs, salves, poultices, prayers. Nothing seemed to work. It was too late. The illness had gone too deep. He died a week later. I had failed. I was frustrated with myself; I should have been better than that. I should have saved him.
War is a despicable thing. It robs you of your humanity, makes you question your own existence and doubt your judgement as you become a number, a chess piece on a board, a weapon to be used and discarded. It frustrates you as you see your comrades fall around you, helpless to save them. Because that’s what war does, really. It robs you of the ability to act, to change the situation, and it is the most frustrating thing on the planet. You are helpless to act, just one man on the field of battle, one man against the collective swarm of human hatred and agony, with a heart of lead but fists of putty, unable to do anything to stem the tide. Not having the ability to do something, however, is not absolution, and even if you save a hundred people and lose one, that one will torment you until you come to terms with it.
Now, thinking back, I realise that whatever I could have done, I did. Death is inevitable, and it may decree that we pay our price now rather than later. My patient and I are both victims of war, tormented by our inadequacies and massacred by our fellow human beings, and though my patient died, and I will carry the guilt of his death to my grave, it is something I can deal with. A human failing. I turn over and close my eyes.