Dum Spiro, Spero
Dum Spiro, Spero14 mins 21.2K 14 mins 21.2K
Dum spiro, spero.
Dum spiro, spero.
The words reverberated throughout my ear canal, like the constant din of an ancient ceiling fan. For people who aren’t familiar with latin I should explain, the saying simply means "While I breathe, I hope." To me hollower words are yet to be uttered, you see as a practitioner of medicine I have come across umpteen cases wherein the patient has simply lost all sense and sensibility, all the vitality of his limbs yet of course is still breathing; medically alive- if you will, and yet should they still have some strength left to verbalise their anguish it is almost a universal observation that they are all devoid of hope.
Perhaps it doesn’t do a man of medicine justice to speak with such profound cynicism, however such is the nature of this profession, you see more disasters than miracles. I myself cease to believe in miracles. Make no mistake- the profession of a healer may seem a noble one and perhaps to some degree it is but when you are confronted with the brute reality that you will never save every soul that comes pleading out to you. When their screams of apathy start haunting you, preventing you from sleeping, question your own sanity; you will realise that this profession much like many others is simply glorified rubbish. During the war I had served my country with the abilities and knowledge which I had acquired through much tedium and the whole endeavour had left me deflated.
I had managed to save four people. Paltry.
Amidst the overwhelming sea of bodies (yes I prefer to call them bodies as they were so horribly mutilated by shell damage and burn marks that I could never truly see them as people) that would enter my care nearly every day during that time for nearly 2 years at a stretch I had only managed to save 4 people. Dismal.
Out of the four one happened to be an old butcher who had sustained severe burns from when his small shop caught fire. Quite unfortunate that he lived only to die 2 months later of pneumonia. Two of my patients were orphaned siblings, Markus and Stania, who were on the run for stealing food grains and had managed to get shot by some light artillery fire from an enemy surprise attack.
In war there is no victor only us filthy peasants,
whose faiths are bound together by the misunderstandings of more powerful people
I had managed to patch them of course and set them off on their way. I still remember their beaming faces as they left me, full of dreams and aspirations. War was yet to deter their spirits, yet to dim their fire. These ‘flesh wounds’ as the kids would call them were of little consequence, they had no one in this world and yet they had an entire universe in their little heads, the details of which they would often share with me. Ambitions of fleeing this country and opening up a small shop like their Mami and Papi had before the war had broken out. The bond between brother and sister was unassailable. A few days later after their discharge the two received a fate more cruel than death alone. The girl was publicly raped in the public square by the troops while her brother was made to watch. I am told that the screams of the brother were so intense that they could drown out the horrible hubbub of a Panzer. When they were done with her they shot them both. I wished I had left them to die.
And of course the fourth patient I saved was sitting right here in front of me uttering the latin proverb which I had come to detest so. A small, fair young child, barely 12 years of age named Mishka. A rather pale looking child with short messy hair and eyes the exact color which could get you into a lot of trouble in this part of Fatherland. Mishka had been in my care for the past 2 days, she had come in with a leg injury. Although the wound wasn’t severe in nature it had taken me a while to dislodge small pieces of shrapnel which were caught on the sole of her feet. She was lively, as is befitting of people her age, during her relatively short time here she had spared nearly every waking moment telling me about her life. Patients generally tend to open up quite often regarding their lives around me, I come across as a patient listener, frankly I couldn’t care much for their stories but such is the nature of my profession I’m often bound to. Mishka told me many stories, stories of her family and her current foster family.
For the uninitiated I believe a brief background is in order. During the war numerous families in the main land faced numerous losses to both wealth and sanity. Many deemed themselves incapable of looking after their offspring and preferred to shove them off over to foster parents so that their future may be in safer hands while they returned. Mishka was an example of this practice.
“Dr. Humel” she called out to me.
Her soft beckoning call startled me ever so slightly, I had spaced out for a while. “Yes Mishka?”
“How long until I can walk again?”
“I would say you should at least rest a day more. Say Mishka aren’t your foster parents worried about you? It has been two days” Suddenly the thought occurred to me. How callous of me I reprimanded myself mentally. Mishka looked outside the small window which looked over the by lanes of Himmel Street. She smiled.
Besser allein als in schlechter Gesellschaft
“It is better to be alone than in bad company.”
I preferred not to broach the topic any further, clearly her foster parents weren’t going to win any parenting awards. Our silence coloured the air in my small dingy clinic, I’d imagine a sepia undertone. We stayed quiet for a while and she was the one to shatter the silence.
“Do you think this will be over?”
The pain? Yes of course a day at best.
No I mean..this.
This..war. With an almost alluring innocence she asked me a question which I had been evading for a while now. The scope of the events around me, the war, the suffering; were far beyond my mortal comprehension. I had learnt to shut it all out. Put up a metaphorical wall if you will. To suddenly have a young child question me about this caught me off guard. I didn’t respond. She continued looking outside with a certain serenity in her face.
Tranquillity in times of calamity,
For heaven’s sake I know not
I know only the cries of mothers and spouse
Desperate, pleading, shivering in a feeble house
Mishka do you know how to read? I found myself asking this feeble child sitting in front of me. She turned towards me and her eyes, ocean blue, looked at me almost searchingly. Inquisitively.
No I can’t doctor. I can only write a few letters. Why do you ask?
Would you like to learn?
She looked down at the floor. ‘It’ll be really hard won’t it?’ She asked in a dismal tone.
‘Aller Anfang ist schwer. All beginnings are hard.’
She climbed down from the stool and gingerly put her foot down on the floor. She could barely reach my stomach.
‘What will we read?’
This may seem like a pretty ordinary exchange however in my head I was second guessing my sanity. I’m usually not the type who goes around trying to be amicable or even initiate a conversation on my own (Often I’m called an introvert, I prefer not interested) and here I was offering reading lessons to a small girl.
‘We could read some medicine books?’ I offered and pointed to a few volumes on the adjacent shelf.
She walked over and looked over the large dusty volumes. She swiped her finger over one of them almost horrified by the amount of dust accumulated on them. I was frankly slightly offended after all there was no reason that books of academia be treated with a shred of disgust no matter how much dust they may gather. Suddenly Mishka’s eyes focused on a particular book high up on one of the shelves. She tried to reach it but couldn’t.
I held my breath as I reached out towards the book. Never have I been more disappointed after looking at the cover of a book. Mein Kampf. Miska perhaps read my disapproval yet still ventured to ask timidly, ‘Can we read this one?’
‘No. You won’t like it Mishka.’
‘Trust me you won’t.’
I looked at the book and yet I didn’t see it. I was lost in thought. Owning this book symbolized your unrequited respect, admiration and support for the Fuhrer. Schwein. While his ideals had hardly bothered me personally I could never respect them. Mishka however had probably faced the brunt of his ‘propaganda’ all without even the slightest hint of its true meaning. She was too young. If Mishka indeed was in the care of foster parents then it is almost certain that her real parents were perhaps dead or in a state far worse than death by now. She was probably sent over so that she can have a life. Her parents too must have realised that by having her with them it was only a matter of time before she too would be labelled a—
I turned to look at Mishka who had just uttered those words.
‘Tell me what does it mean doctor?’ She held my leg.
I felt a bead of sweat build up in my brow. ‘Where did you learn that word Mishka?’
‘I’m not sure doctor, is it a bad word?’
‘In this country yes it is.’
She looked at me puzzled.
I bent down on one knee to match her height. I held her by her shoulders. ‘Mishka do you remember your parents? Your real parents?’
Mishka shifted uneasily. ‘Yes’, she said in a whisper.
‘Let’s just say they wouldn’t be happy if they saw you using this word. It is better that you forget about it.’ She was too young.
She looked down for minute I thought her eyes would well up but they didn’t. She instead looked at me and asked solemnly, ‘Why is this so painful?’
‘Gott lässt uns wohl sinken, Aber nicht ertrinken’.
I swallowed hard as I uttered the statement which loosely translates to “Bitter pills may have blessed effects.” As if I believed that myself and apparently Mishka didn’t either. She turned and found her way back up on the stool and continued to look out the tiny window.
I decided to leave her alone for a while. I wandered into the small kitchen and rummaged through the larder. Alas I couldn’t find any tea leaves, which was of course hardly any surprise I hadn’t been outside for the last two weeks. I found myself reassuring my ego that I was only too lazy to go outside. I was fearful of what might become of me, fearful of inopportune timing and in the process I feared my own mortality. Everyone will die soon- A reality as true as our existence on this domain. As harsh as it sounds there really is no reason to fear it and yet I did. How vile! A supposed protector of life is petrified by the reality of death. I was confronted by my own humanity this time. Despite understanding death I still feared it. Pathetic.
What a story it would be though if I were to die of starvation in my own clinic because I was too afraid to go outside lest I meet a miserable fate there. Perhaps an even more grandiose tale would be if I were to start nibbling on my leatherwear in an attempt to satiate my hunger pangs. Hah! The townsfolk would enjoy that one, a doctor goes mad in his own clinic. Those dummkopfs of course would be oblivious to the differences between a surgeon and a psychologist but they’d go raving mad anyway.
A gift- ignorance; is what I need
to level out disdain of all degrees
I splashed my face with cold water from the kitchen sink. The water cooled my skin which I had now noticed had been warm for a while now. A fever? Perhaps. It’s not like there is a dearth of any ailments in this country. Maybe it was just my conversation my Mishka. I somehow just couldn’t get her out of my head. Her questions worried me. They made me confront a reality which I wanted to forget. She made me see how weak I truly was.
I stood over the kitchen sink for a while structuring my thoughts before I headed back into the room where Mishka was. I found her half asleep using her arm for support on the tiny stool. From a distance she could’ve been mistaken for a statuette of an angel. I gently picked her up and put her on the adjoining bed. She was so young.
I stretched out on the floor near the window sill and lit a cigarette. I rarely smoked as I found the fumes quite unpalatable, on this occasion however I couldn’t resist the urge. The taste of burnt tobacco calmed me, although this time I didn’t know from what. I closed my eyes, thought I could rest for a few minutes, those few minutes turned out to be a few hours.
When I woke up it was well past daybreak, the now unpleasant taste of tobacco lingered on my lips. I looked up at the stool and slowly my eyes focused on to the bed nearby. I seemed to be in a complete daze with memories of last night slowly seeping into my consciousness. My eyes tried to focus against the few rays of the sun penetrating through the curtain fabric. The reaction to what I saw next could only be described as pure shock and terror.
I could feel the taste of vomit build up in my mouth as I stood over the lifeless body of Mishka, her wrists slashed, her small, frail body absolutely pale and her ocean blue eyes completely lifeless. The wooden floor beneath resembled a canvas with her blood sprayed over resembling an abstract art piece. A gruesome art piece. Nearby lay one of my scalpels. Soaked. How on earth did she find one? Why hadn’t I awoken? Surely the ruckus would’ve stirred me from my rest?
‘No it couldn’t be.’ I muttered to myself.
I tried to tell myself otherwise but I realized that she had planned this all along. The mere thought of her contemplating taking her own life sent shivers down my spine. She was too young. Upon closer inspection of the floor I could vaguely make out the word Kommunisten chiselled into the floor board.
She knew. My mind raced back to when she had first come under my care and the few days that had passed since, she seemed so lively and cheerful. Schmerzen in Lachen. Pain in laughter. How could I have ever known?
I do not know her story; I can only imagine a plethora of situations; perhaps she had uncovered the true story about her real parents which had probably sent her into grief. Her child like sensibilities must’ve pushed her to run away from home. She probably thought she’d be next. Maybe they came for her at her foster parent’s residents which had forced her to escape. What if her own foster parents had tried to..
I shut out all these permutations. I was weak.
I gently shut her eyes. She now looked to be in a deep slumber. I looked at her face, trying to capture all her lovely features. I felt I could see a faint smile on her face. I slid down once more on the floor, my body trembling and my eyes watery. I closed my eyes and tried to regain my composure, I simply couldn’t. With my eyes closed I tried to imagine what kind of dream she must be seeing right now in her endless slumber perhaps an endless nightmare. I thought about this for a while until my brain jerked uncomfortably.
Free from eternal slumber we thought
Unchained by nightmares and morbidity we thought
Harrowing it was then when we could see,
Not us she was the one free
I struggled to open my eyes once more. With this new notion in mind I felt uneasy. I looked at her once more, her smile seeming more real now. Had she escaped? All I knew was for the next few days I woke up each day praying, begging that all that was transpiring was just a dream. Fantasy. Alas my pleas were unheard. My nightmare was my reality. I could never escape it. Every night before I slept however I could faintly hear Mishka speaking into my ear the words ‘Dum spiro spero.’
I still hoped for a better tomorrow.
A ruggedly handsome writer puts down his pen in distaste. His mind cursing his recent creation. Perhaps I could’ve written a better ending he thought to himself I mean the story was going so well. Maybe if I could tweak the ending a bit? Mishka probably shouldn’t have died so suddenly. Her dying just seems so sudden now. Forget short it’s an abrupt story now. Great just great. Oh forget it I have to submit it tomorrow or else my editor will give me hell.
He takes one long look at his completed manuscript. ‘As long as I breathe, I hope eh?’ He smiles to himself. He begins work on his next story.