The everyday kindness of the back roads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines.
- Charles Kuralt
As we made our way to the home through one of the narrow alleys in shantytown a middle aged man flagged us down. We walked over to his shack, and after the traditional greetings he politely asked if we could provide medical care for his son. I grabbed our two medics, SPC Hart and SPC Night, and we followed the father into the dim hovel. As we stepped inside we passed through a closet sized kitchen thick with the sickly sweet scent of burned meat before passing into a small room adorned with thick sleeping mats. Inside the room doubled over on the floor, was a little boy whose face was creased with pain. Looking at the crumpled form in front of us I suddenly realized that I hadn’t smelled the burnt remains of breakfast… the source of the bitter stench was lying right in front of me. The back of the boys leg was a softly glistening ruin, raw muscle stripped of skin.
Without saying a word SPC Hart and SPC Night dropped their medical bags and started sifting through their contents. As they carefully arranged the tools they would need to clean the boys burns, I marveled at their cool detachment. Although these men were barely out of their teens they suddenly seemed far older, as if they were wizened doppelgangers of the soldiers I had worked besides all these long months. It was the first time I caught a glimmer of just how much combat has aged all of us.
As the medics set to work the father tried to soothe the little boy, but the sight of the two medics had him yelping in fright. While the medics were cleaning and dressing the wound my driver, SGT Bard, reached into his pocket and pulled out a stuffed animal. SGT Bard handed the little boy the stuffed tiger, and his crying stopped as quickly as if somebody had turned an invisible valve. A few minutes later the medics finished their work and they gave the boy’s parents extra dressings and antibiotics along with instructions on how to care for their son.
As they started to pack up their gear one of the soldiers providing security outside the house walked in and asked if we could see another sick child. I told him to send in the boy, and a moment later a ten year old boy sheepishly walked in. His right arm was wrapped in dirty white gauze. In the middle of the gauze bloomed an ugly brown splotch… the telltale sign of physical corruption. As the medics peeled back the filthy dressings the air filled with the fetid stench of infection. As the dressings finally peeled away they revealed a wretched volcano wreathed in skin stretched taut with pus. I had to fight to keep the wave of nausea rumbling in my stomach at bay, but our medics didn’t even flinch. Instead they deftly started treating the infected wound. As they treated the boy I stepped out to get a breath of fresh air, and by time I returned they had filled a small plastic bag with pus filled dressings. I stepped out once again, and when I returned the swollen limb had regained its normal proportions. With the wound clean our medics started putting on fresh dressings and in a few short minutes they were done. Once the terp explained how and when to take the antibiotics we set off to finish the rest of the patrol. There was still a lot of ground to cover.