“I have an offer for you. The Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz is desperate for nursing personnel. Would you volunteer to go up there?”
“Where is it?” she asked, a wave of unfamiliar fear skipping through her body.
“Northern Afghanistan. You don’t have to tell me now. Go get something to eat and rest up. There’s a transport leaving tonight if you decide to go.”
It was safer to travel at night. She saw a way out of grieving for the absence of her family, the busyness of a new environment, new people.
“I don’t need to think about it. I’ll go.”
The Doctors Without Borders hospital was unlike anything she’d ever experienced. The OR worked twenty-four seven, and according to the OR manager, at least one injured terrorist came through the doors every day. Doctors Without Borders policy was that it did not ask the allegiance of its patients. A combatant on the OR table at first seemed counterproductive to Bridget. They didn’t have weapons and weren’t a threat to her or her colleagues and after the first day, she strived to give the same respect and care to all her patients because she didn’t know one from another.
At midnight every night, she did a Facetime call with Luke and baby Emily, who after three months thrived under Luke and Margaret’s care.
“Look at her! She’s actually chubby,” Bridget exclaimed, delighted.
“She sleeps through the night,” Luke said proudly.
“How’d you manage that?”
“The battery in her monitor died night before last and I must have slept through her crying.”
“Luke, poor baby!”
“I know. She was famished the next morning, but Margaret said she was fine all day. Last night she went to sleep after midnight and slept until six again, two nights in a row.”
“Two nights in a row! That’s wonderful, Luke.”
He asked about her day and she told him, sparing the more gruesome details before yawning.
“Aw, babe, you’d better get some sleep.”
Just then a rocket blast hit close by and Luke could see her look around her room, wide-eyed.
“Jesus Christ! What was that?”
“We’ll probably get cut off, anyway. I’d better say good night and get to a bunker. I miss you.”
“Wait, Bridget! I love you.”
The call ended. Luke was frantic, quickly grabbing the remote to switch on the news. The media had gotten lax about reporting fighting, rather focusing on the troops that were coming home. They’d forgotten about the nurses and corpsmen left behind. But tonight, one minor detail caught his eye. At the bottom of the screen, the news ticker stated,There has been an airstrike in the city of Kunduz to defend U.S. forces on the ground. There may have beencollateral damageto a nearby medical facility.
Sitting in the makeshift sandbag bunker, Bridget was sorry Luke heard the blast. Keeping him in the dark about her apparent lack of safety had taken a lot of energy, filtering what she told him about the fighting in the area that got worse each day.
The next morning, they received orders to evacuate. Bridget called Luke but he didn’t pick up so she left a message.
“I’m so sorry about last night. We are getting sporadic cell service now so I wonder if the tower was hit. The hospital received orders to evacuate so I’m going to be a busy beaver for the unforeseeable future. I’ll call you as soon as I know what’s going on. Love you and baby girl!”
Blanching, she shook her head. It had just slipped out. She supposed she loved Luke in some ways and anyway, it was too late now to take it back. She had to get to work.
The last patient to go in the evacuation was a young woman who lost a foot in a mine explosion that had killed her husband. Her toddler daughter had come in with her and although it wasn’t ideal, there were no other family members available to care for the child. Bridget had taken milk and graham crackers from the lounge and fed them to the child before starting an IV and getting fluids going in her mother. She needed surgery, but it would have to wait. Right now, the mother and child were going to be transported out of Kunduz with the rest of the hospital population to a neighboring hospital. After attaching a bracelet to the child’s ankle with the mother’s information, Bridget packed a care package of whatever food items she could find, tucking them into the blanket.
“Lieutenant, you’d better get out of here now,” a Marine corpsman said, concerned. “There’s a transport with room for your patient if you’re finished.”
“We’re ready,” Bridget said, unlocking the stretcher.
He helped her push the patient and her child out into the heat of day, the sun overhead blasting down on them where the transport waited, its engine running. The lineup of vehicles waited for the go-ahead to move forward. They maneuvered the stretcher into the back of the transport vehicle when they heard planes overhead.
“Get moving!” someone shouted with a megaphone, and the engines revved up as the drivers put them into gear and slowly inched forward.