The Benghu Tank War I (29.3)

This story segment contains descriptions of wounds and medical procedures, as well as a death.


53-AG-30 Dbagbo — Chanda General School

Moaning, gasping men and women in stretchers choked the halls of Chanda’s main building. Hundreds of soldiers returning from the front lay freshly wounded across the converted offices, on the staircase landings, in the connecting hallways. Covered in red streaks and blotches on their bandages and on their cloth slings and soft splints, bloodstream weakly pumping with penicillin and morphine, many laid alone for hours, having been patched up quickly by frantic medics and Chanda’s few doctors as they leaped from stretcher to stretcher; as more men and women arrived and more stretchers and beds did not.

After being rushed through an initial checkup the patients had to be treated in order of severity. Or at least, in a perfect world they would have been. In reality patients continued to appear with severe emergencies that demanded the immediate attention of several medics. Trucks came and went with a dozen men and women in dreadful states. They wouldn’t be getting any sick folk or flesh wounds. In a fight those people got put in tents near the front. Chanda was almost exclusively seeing people who could die.

Nobody could handle this. Medical personnel were as frantic as the most fearful of their patients. There was such a cacophony and of so disturbing a character that all of the children were moved out of the vicinity of the main building and out to the supporting buildings facing the meadow. Leander hoped none of them had hear or seen any of this.

For a moment he had been fixated on a wall, because it was the only respite he could get. He felt distant, as if he could watch the mayhem around him from over his own shoulder.

Dr. Agrawal then shouted, “Leander! He’s losing blood, suck it up from the wounds!”

Leander looked down at the medical tray and found his hand pump. It was an immediate reaction, done without thinking. He barely knew what he was doing intellectually. He started sucking up the pool of blood that had been running since they removed the man’s first-aid bandages and found the extent of the wounds the field medics had to cover up with bandages. There was not a lot left of his back to sew closed together. He had been grievously wounded by shrapnel. Medics gave him first-aid then brought him behind the lines for surgery. They said that he had been hit by a new kind of shrapnel out there.

“Leander, please stabilize the patient on the table, he is thrashing!” Dr. Agrawal said.

There was a dawning of recognition that the wounded in the halls were not the problem of an abstraction of “frantic medics.” He was a frantic medic. He was here in real life. They were his problem. He almost felt like had snapped back into his own body then.

Was that really how he had dealt with the past few hours? By vanishing from himself?

Leander looked down at the wounds, really looked at them, forced himself to look at them while he worked. He didn’t want to turn away from then, no matter how much it scared him or turned his stomach. He thought, this was what a man had to do before wounds. He set his hands on the writhing man and tried gingerly to push him farther inward–

“Hey, hey man. Listen, man, listen to me. You gotta listen man, listen to me.”

He had been babbling a little ever since they brought him in and pulled open his eyes, checking them by shining an electric torch into them. Leander thought he heard him call for his attention. But that couldn’t be — he had not been so lucid before. Then the man raised his arm and grabbed hold of Leander. Dr. Agrawal jumped back a little, startled, as if a corpse had moved. Slowly the man turned his head, over the protestations of the doctor.

“Listen, man, my man,” he moaned. His lips were curled into an awkward smile, an uncomprehending smile. “You gotta listen.” A little chuckle escaped his lips. He had been shaved smooth, even his head, because there were a few stitches yet to be sewn on his cheek and across his skull. Dr. Agrawal and Leander stared in confusion. He kept talking, more lucidly than they could have ever imagined. “You gotta shoot them in the right-hand side. Those grey tanks; right-hand side, when they’re facing you. Ammo goes up sky high. Everyone inside goes out in the fire. Works on the big ones and the small ones.”

“You have to save your strength.” Dr. Agrawal said. She was pleading of her patient as though powerless to have any effect upon him. She stood uncomprehending of what was happening. She had stopped sewing his wounds. She stood, perhaps shocked by the sudden intrusion of reality. They were not working on an inert object. Leander knew this. He looked between the man’s face and her own face, hoping for an intervention, but this was a moment where all of their authority over life and death had been stripped.

Perhaps they never had it to begin with, not when faced with such grievous wounds.

Suddenly the wounded man gripped Leander harder, painfully hard, with more strength than Leander had ever felt, and he pulled Leander closer. Blood splashed on Leander’s robe.

“Tell my son, man.” He wept. Blood and spit trickled from the side of his mouth as he spoke through heavy, pained, choking sobs. “Tell my son how to kill them, my man.”

Leander found himself weeping too. He raised his own hand and he held the man’s stiff , gruesomely bloody arm that was gripping his own so harshly. “Right-hand side, facing you.”

“Ammo goes up, works on the big ones and the small ones, works with a BKV or a grenade or a forty-five,” said the wounded man, “tell my son; tell him so he can win this someday.”

His grip grew so strong that Leander thought he would tear his arm off.

In an instant all that strength vanished. His fingers unwound. His arm fell limp.

Leander fell back onto the floor, a hand over his mouth, weeping profusely.

Dr. Agrawal ran a hand over her lips too. Her eyes were glistening in the hall light.

“We have more patients, Leander,” she said through a sob. “We have more. There’ll be more coming. We just have to continue. We see things like this. We can’t let it stop us.”

Her words started to become a little slurred.

She sat on the medical tray with her head down and wept to herself.

There was a flurry of activity behind them.

“I’m back! We got six more from the front but they look stable–”

Elena reappeared from around the corner and froze at the sight of them.

Without word she seemed to join them in the isolation and defeat of that dire instant.

* * *

Everyone in Chanda had braced for casualties when the school received word of Battlegroup Rhino’s offensive along the Sandari. There was a sense of urgency, but the fighting came and went seemingly with little stress. From the 47th to the 51st Leander braced for a surge in the wounded and dead, but the actual numbers bore out little to no increase in the intensity of the fighting. He worked with haste and dedication, trying to perform his tasks to the letter while saving the doctor time wherever he could. It was hardly needed then.

“Because we were the ones attacking we also controlled the rhythm and potential of retreat. This minimized the number of casualties our hospital would see.” Dr. Agrawal said. She crossed her arms. “Nocht controls the rhythm of battle now. They have massed all their forces and they are moving relentlessly. That is the stark difference a day has made.”

Leander sat behind her desk, cooling off with her mechanical fan, while Dr. Agrawal sat atop the desk, kicking her legs. Elena stood by the door. Despite the cool air brought in by the storm, Leander was sweating terribly. His chest in particular felt hot, pressed down by his new binder. Even retreating to the office and taking a break didn’t seem to help. They still heard the commotion. They still knew in their minds, or at least Leander knew, that there was more work to be done. Under the clap of thunder and the pattering of the rain they heard wheel stretchers running, the stamping of boots as medics dashed across the crowded halls, and the lamentations of the wounded and the delirium of those patched up.

“I heard that we might get some volunteers from the town coming in.” Elena said.

“Still, this volume is just too much. We can’t handle it.” Agrawal said. Elena nodded grimly. “It’s not about hands, not anymore. It’s about space. With infinite space we could work our way through each patient as best we could. But they’re lining the halls now, it’s inhumane!”

Chanda was once a school. Its three buildings were all long halls lined with either small offices or 400 square meter classrooms. There were only two big, broad spaces: the lunchroom and the auditorium on the southern building, and the playing field to the north. They had already filled the auditorium, which wasn’t that big to begin with — and they couldn’t put the wounded near the food, which everyone needed, nor out in the elements.

There were also still children in Chanda. Not that many, but enough to raise concern.

“With the Nochtish troops advancing, we can’t count on much help with relocation.” Dr. Agrawal said. “We’re lucky they’ve got a truck to bring us the wounded here.”

“Have you been in combat medicine before ma’am?” Elena asked suddenly.

“Let’s just say I know how these things tend to shake out.” Dr. Agrawal replied.

Dr. Agrawal was the only full-fledged doctor in Chanda, but there were several competent medical students. There were at least 12 medics in total, counting Leander and Elena. But like she said, it was not about hands. Twenty-four hands could have worked themselves raw and tended to everyone sooner or later. It was about space. Bullet wounds and surface shrapnel could be cared for in the field, and a hospital in Benghu town was taking patients too — but this did not even put a dent in the number of people ending up in Chanda.

In a day they went from a few dozen active patients to well over a hundred.

All of them had bad wounds. Deep shrapnel wounds and bullet penetrations necessitated careful incisions to remove the offending metal. In five hours they saw everything from shattered limbs requiring amputation to terrible hernias caused by explosive shocks, vehicle impacts or even close quarter beatings by advancing enemy infantry. They spent the morning and much of the afternoon performing quick surgeries.

There were a few deaths; but Leander still heard the voice of the man from before.

Perhaps Elena could see it in his face. She was always concerned for him.

“Leander, you can switch with me and perform triage.” Elena offered. “It’s easier.”

Dr. Agrawal shook her head. “Leander can’t do that as efficiently as you. It’d be better if he remained at my side handing me tools and doing the tasks I have trained him in.”

“He’s exhausted.” Elena said. “All he has to do is follow the lead of the other medics.”

“I’m not exhausted.” Leander said. His voice sounded miserable — in part childish and irritated and also very forced. He wanted to stop worrying Elena with his weakness.

He thought to himself, was he not a man? What did a man do in this situation? But he didn’t really know. He didn’t really like the answers when he thought of what a Zigan man from his caravan would do in a situation — and he felt unsatisfied with his own answer.

Elena nodded silently to him. She didn’t seem to catch his tone nor was she privy to his contemplation or the reality of his situation; but she took him at his word, gently and kindly.

“How are we doing on medical supplies? Do you know?” Dr. Agrawal asked Elena.

“Last I checked we’re covered on bandages, disinfectant, replacement tools, and that sort of thing; but we’re low on drugs. We had enough for the volume before, in moderation.”

“I figured that would be the case. We’ve been ground down badly today.” Dr. Agrawal shook her head. “As long as we can cut, pinch, pull and sew, we can save lives. It’ll be awful on the patients without morphine to help cope, but they won’t be left to die.”

Elena nodded. “I should go downstairs. I feel skittish just standing around here.”

Leander bolted upright from behind the desk. “I’m ready to go back to work as well!”

Dr. Agrawal turned her head over her shoulder to stare; Elena looked at him dead-on and blinking. He was still sweating and judging by the mirror on Agrawal’s desk he really was a little pale. Standing so quickly unsettled his vulnerable stomach too. But he didn’t want to look lazy or like he was not doing his utmost. Not in the face of this chaos.

“And here I was planning to vegetate a few more minutes.” Dr. Agrawal said.

With a whimsical smile on her face she stood up from her desk and stretched her arms. She bent one arm around her back, arching herself a few degrees and groaning.

“Had to set my back again. Let us move before I become a patient myself.” She said.

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