Lines of sand blew across the helipad beside the evacuation hospital. Beyond the helipad was a wide beach and beyond that, in darkness, the South China Sea, lit with white caps and foaming surf.
Alex was the surgeon on call. Only a few weeks remained for him in Vietnam. He had orders for Fort Ord, and thought about playing golf, lounging around a calm blue swimming pool and sleeping late in the cool mornings. Dressed in faded cutoff fatigues, a Dodgers T–shirt and flip-flops, he slumped in his chair beside Becky, the nurse who was in charge of the shortwave radio. They were sitting together in a corner of the hospital’s admission ward, as they had done so many late nights. She was cute even in full fatigues and canvas boots. Her shirt’s blacked–out insignias matched the color of her hair kept carefully tucked under an army cap. They listened to the radio chatter from medical helicopters. It was midnight, cloudy and quiet except for the radio and the crashing surf.
The afternoon sun blazed down on the hospital’s metal roof. Soaked in sweat, I sat in a rusted chair in the examining room, writing notes about patients seen earlier in the day. An ancient fan stirred humid air across the ceiling. I dried my forehead, and looked up when a Haitian nurse, Odette, left the room to choose the sickest people from a line of patients extending through the hospital, out the front door, and into the courtyard where bony horses and donkeys stood motionless in the unshaded gravel beside several Mapou trees.
A Leg to Stand On: a Surgeon’s Tale
Clouds of shattered concrete rose above Port-au-Prince after the earthquake.
Twisted buildings rested on the ground and swollen bodies lay alongside roads awaiting mass burial.
Injured people fled the city in ancient buses, on donkeys, or being helped along miles of broken roads toward the still intact rural hospital, where I met my friend Dr. Exe.
The reverend’s blue eyes riveted Nick Cardinas as he explained the importance of following the Ten Commandments to the congregation. “God is watching. He sees what you do and hears what you say. He even knows your innermost thoughts.”
Forehead wrinkled, Nick frowned. He looked down at the worn sanctuary carpet and smelled the musty, yellowed hymnals. Then he looked at ancient friends of his parents sitting nearby, who had so far escaped detection and punishment; perhaps he also would be overlooked at least for a while. Maybe God just took pity on such a small town. But if God even knew people’s thoughts, Nick realized there was little hope for his own eternal life. And what chance would any of his teenage friends have? Fuck it. He wanted a cigarette.
Ethan lay in the hotel bed, uncomfortably hot despite the cold Dakota air streaming through the window. He stared at the dark ceiling. I just don’t know how it could have happened, he thought. He walked to the window, stumbling over hunting gear strewn about after returning from the pheasant hunt in darkness. His gun fell to the floor, waking Martin in the other bed. Now the window was opened wide, and he could see other hunters exercising their dogs far below.
Da Nang Gospel
They sat on a hallway bench, waiting while the operating rooms were cleaned. Both surgeons had been operating the entire night in hospital tents pitched between Vietnamese fishing villages on a beach of the South China Sea.
Nick was six foot three, heavily muscled and tough. He had killed many times, but not yet murdered. Ranger training taught him how to do it: Be quiet, be stealthy, do it quickly then escape. He had earned a sharpshooter badge for pistols and automatic rifles. Back then, in Iraq, it had been survival, them or us.
When I was a young boy, grownups would ask me: “Are you going to be a surgeon like your dad? He saves so many lives, what a great man. Don’t you want to be like him when you grow up?”
Head down, white fedora ribbon swaying, his eyes veiled behind dark glasses, Carlos Santana played “Black Magic Woman,” his guitar flashing beside a nimble, red-bloused woman dancing on the darkened stage. Diego sat well back in the audience, eyes closed, head nodding, thinking that a man could do worse than live in Vegas, play the guitar, and love beautiful women.
The small examination room collapses around us in a shattering roar, so suddenly that the patient’s last words are forced from her mouth in a constricting scream. “Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu!” Her cries to God changed to a few moans, then complete silence after shifting support beams and falling plaster encloses us more tightly, as a predator closing its jaws.
A Small Thing
A Dark And Scary Night