I climbed in the car and wished I had been kinder to both the cat and to myself. I should have taken it and left years ago, I might have saved its life. At least by driving away now, I might save my own.
I have never been back to the house. I bought new clothes and had my lawyer see to collecting my personal items. I gave notice at the hospital and signed on with Doctors Without Borders. It all happened fast. They were happy to have my surgical skills; short notice was no problem to them or to me, and it didn’t matter to me where they sent me – Chad, Iraq, Syria. For myself, I didn’t care how bad the conditions were or how long the shifts. Slowly I began to feel a little more like myself again as I did my best to make injured children whole. Day after day, I did all that I could as child after child was laid before me, the victim of an IED, collapsed buildings or shrapnel from bombing. They tell me I saved a lot of lives and limbs.
The words ‘a lot’ don’t seem important. Each child came in either unconscious or disoriented with their own pain and, fear. I tried to smile at each one and touch them for a second so they could sense I was not just another terror to be afraid of. Each time a broken child with shattered limbs was laid on my operating table and left it alive I knew one more child had a better chance of living a normal – or halfway normal - life. And while I felt some sense of satisfaction that my skills were useful, it was never enough to heal me.
Sometimes after a surgery, a black-robed mother or grandmother would take my arm and speak words only my soul understood while they nodded gratitude at me with tears in their eyes. I would nod back to them. Those brief connections with unknown women helped to bring me back into a world where kindness and gratitude mattered. But I could never get myself far enough back, or lose myself deep enough into reclaiming damaged bodies, to get away from her and the words she had kept using to damage me.
I told myself that I can’t be unintelligent because I eased through years of university and medical school. I can’t be insane because I’ve checked several times through the DSM and even discussed possible symptoms with a friendly psychiatrist. I truly am not insane.
Which leaves manhood. I have voluntarily put myself in bombing zones - which might be considered both unintelligent and insane. I’ve lifted chunks of concrete off mangled limbs. I’ve operated by candlelight when the electricity failed, I’ve comforted mothers of lifeless babies. Does any of this count?
Evidently not, because now I am retired. I didn’t want to retire, but I know what it means when they start hinting about making room for younger doctors. I decided to make the break myself rather than wait to be pushed out.
It was hard though, because I didn’t know what to do with myself when I wasn’t booked for surgery every day.