Everything was grey and everything that wasn’t grey was brown or a shade thereof. Except the blood and Dr John Watson had seen enough blood for a lifetime. He’d been assigned to a small town, very small, with the help of one medic and far too many soldiers for him to treat.
The locals were the dregs, what were left after those who could, packed up and moved away; what were left after the bombs had destroyed everything and killed most. There were, of course, the orphans who at the sight of a soldier would come out of hiding like cockroaches at nightfall. Most of them learnt four words in English, chocolate, food, friend, help. Some had learnt ‘you give me’. Luckily for them, the rations of a soldier on active duty in the field was over twice that of a soldier base in the safety of the base and not every soldier liked everything in a ration pack enough to eat or drink it.
They found an abandoned medical office. It wasn’t much, a reception/waiting room and a treatment room. But it was better than surgery in the field. A couple of the guys helped John clean it up a bit and found that some of the supplies were still in tact, things which the locals had no need of or just didn’t know how to use. John added these to his meager supplies. Either they would be pulled out of there soon enough or they would get reinforcements who would bring supplies.
The stainless steel treatment table was not ideal, but once John had cleaned it, it was better than the floor, so John slept there the night. Better to guard their supplies anyway.
“Captain Watson, you have patients,” his medic called from the other side of the locked door. John hadn’t heard any explosions and there had been no chatter on the radio so he didn’t know what to expect. He certainly didn’t expect the dozen or so locals who were in the waiting room. As soon as the door was opened a young boy dashed into the treatment room and hauled himself up onto the treatment table. He held out his hand and gave John one glass marble, then pointed to his foot. He had no shoes so it was easy to see what needed to be treated. There was a badly infected cut. John cleaned it, covered it in a antiseptic infused bandage and lifted the boy off the table. He had no sooner left when John’s next patient entered.
His medic made John tea while John was busy with this patient. Technically he wasn’t supposed to treat locals. But the aid workers who were supposed to treat them rarely made it into such devastated towns.
By late afternoon, John felt like he had treated every remaining local in the town. He’d been extra careful about what supplies he used in case he got injured soldiers. Most of his supplies did technically belong to the British government. But at lunch time his medic had disappeared to return with a bag full of food he had gathered from fellow soldiers and every patient had left with something to eat, even if it was just John’s daily ration of biscuits. In payment, John had received a marble, 3 rocks, a scarf, had one of his socks darned, had been promised that his pregnant patient had a boy it would be called John, and been given a chicken, a live chicken which looked like it was on its last legs. Most of its feathers had fallen out, a toe was missing and part of one wing, and it was the most nervous chicken John had ever encountered. For all that it had a good set of lungs because it wouldn’t shut up. It also wouldn’t stop pooping everywhere. To restrain the chicken they tied a piece of string to its good leg and to a chair in the waiting room.
The medic burst excitedly into the treatment room.
“More patients?” John asked.
“No, the American’s have arrived and they have camped down near us. The major wants to know if we want to come have dinner with them all and trade stuff from our ration packs.”
John smiled. He wondered if one of the Americans wanted the chicken from hell. “Lead the way.”
They locked up the clinic and headed to the pick up point at the end of the block. It had gotten dark but the area was supposedly secure.
When John woke, semiconscious, on a stretcher in the back of a helicopter and in a great deal of pain, all he remembered was the medic being brought down by a massive wolf and then a mountain of muscle covered in grey fur hit him. He had a vague picture of the chicken becoming dinner for one of the grey wolves. Of course they were grey. Everything was grey and everything that wasn’t grey was brown or a shade thereof. Except the blood, his own blood.