Friday, June 5, 2009

A Doctor's War Memoir

In 1962 when India was waging war with China I was one of the doctors who were sent to the warfront. During the last leg of our journey to the battlefield in the truck, we group of doctors bid goodbye as one by one got down from the truck to their camps. We knew that we were seeing some ppl for the last time!
During the initial days of war, we had at least 2 doctors in a camp and our hospital was a make shift tent. Nepali Sherpa will bring us the injured soldiers in a stretcher and we give the soldiers first aids and other medical services as best as we could. Initial days were very tensed, We’ve to keep this man alive! We’ve to treat him as best we could so that he is battle fit soon! But you know whatever may be the situation, how stressful it is. You get used to it as time progresses. It becomes your routine. I initially came here b’coz I believed that I could make a difference, but as months go by I was just ‘in motion’ The amount of empathy that you’ve in your heart will be washed by the bloods you see and you remain dry in heart. You will be unmoved.
As you know in the Indo-Sino war India never had an upper hand, so the army slowly retreated and so did we the doctors. My fellow doctor died during a bomb explosion. During the next few weeks I was in many situations where I’ve to do a lot of mathematics. Should I save 3 mortally wounded soldiers or 7 soldiers with less severe wounds? Many a times I had to take the mortally wounded patients off the bed and place them in the sand and treat the other patients. Anyways the probability of a severely wounded patient surviving in that condition was minimal.
The days of tent had long gone away. Now my clinic was a shade of a tree. I would patiently wait for the Sherpas to come with the patients in stretchers and I would nurse the soldiers as best I could with the available resources. These Sherpas were paid some money by the military, they had to go to the warfront and collect the injured soldiers. We had just 4 Sherpas and they work in a pair. We knew that the Sherpas were dodging us. Sometimes they come once in the morning and only come back again late in the evening. But we had to ignore it, they are not part of the military and we’d many big problems to worry about. Sometimes I myself go to the warfront and with some help from the army men bring back the injured to the shades.
One day the 2 Sherpas came with an injured soldier’s body and placed the stretcher near me and started walking away from the warfront! As they walked they looked at me and giggled. This was too much! I don’t care if they cheat me in the back, but now they are just running away from the battlefield in front of my eyes. I shouted, “Come Back!” They dint! I got agitated. Its not patriotism, when you are in a battlefield where your country is beaten black and blue, and you just retreat and retreat and retreat you will not be patriotic. Its not about somebody stopping you from doing your job effectively. When you are seeing blood and blood and blood for such a long time and the number of soldiers surviving after treatment getting less, you will not be anxious about doing your job. But I felt let down. It’s been long time I showed any emotions. I got dehydrated in my heart, but now this small act of cheating triggered a lot of anguish in me. I took out my pistol, yes the army gave me one. I shouted, “Stop else I shoot you”. The Sherpas continued walking; they might’ve thought that a doctor can never kill anyone. I aimed at one of the Sherpa and pulled the trigger! What are you thinking? I did something wrong? May be I’d overreacted; you see I was not in a normal mental condition. Fortunately or unfortunately, that Sherpa got wounded in his left hand. I shouted, “Now come back I will save you!” The Sherpas looked at me with bewilderment. It was very strange that the wounded Sherpa was not screaming, may be he was dumb folded by the shock. They now started running away from me. I dono whether that guy survived.
As our battalion retreated and I went to many camps I realized that many doctors died! I was the one of the few doctors who were still surviving! I worked round the clock as the Indian army tumbled. One day when I was going to warfront for collecting the injured ones ..Yes I continued to go to the warfront every day I was literally summoning death but it was very elusive. I at least want to get hurt so I had a legal reason to get out of this mess. Ok lemme comeback to what I was narrating…. I treated a Chinese soldier! Just a first aid. He was crying with pain I gave a pain killer and did some bandages and said, “Now go to your place”. He dint understand my language but understood that he was not a prisoner and he could go back. Why I did that? I dono you see I see a patient as a patient that’s all. So you are thinking whether this is the same guy who allegedly killed a Sherpa for just cheating him. You see humans are irrational a prey for emotions.
Soon after that little act of sympathy the war ended and we returned home. Looking back to the many incidents that happened in those months in frontline. I was proud of what I did. If I can rewind back my life then if possible I would not have gone to the warfront. But if I did go then I would’ve done the same exact things. I would’ve stopped treating mortally wounded soldiers so I can treat more soldiers, I would’ve killed that Sherpa I would’ve treated that Chinese Soldier.