Two things scare me the most: early morning phone calls at the wee hours when nothing good is going on, and late night knocks at the door. And their opposites. I had turned in my night watch at 2:30am, and had gone to bed. I was fighting mosquitoes in my sleep when I heard a loud knock on my door that woke me from my slumber. At first I was hoping that it was the students getting their revenge on me, for all the morning I came to wake them with pans. But then the knock came again.
I jumped up dazed, and with pants half on, I answered the door. It was Bashdar Major, a group leader from Sulimaniyah. He said something about “blade” or “blood” and I got worried my kids had been having a Middle East Side Story knife fight (“Midya, I met a girl named Midya”). I quickly finished getting dressed and ran down the hall towards the sounds of commotion.
I turned the corner, and there were a group of students huddled around their compatriot. I immediately waved them back, as I hate nothing more than a crowd gathered. I ascertained that the kid in question named Ranj had a bloody nose. Ok, no big deal. But then, someone explained that this was his second bloody nose in as many days, and he had to get some sort of clotting shot to help it prior. Then I got worried that I had a hemophiliac on my hands.
Bashdar and Ranj made their way down the stairs and I came chasing after but lost them at the ground floor. The front door was locked, and I couldn’t figure out where they went. I ran back up a floor to see where they had gone, and doubled back downstairs. Someone appeared from the basement and beckoned me down to the dorm labyrinth’s escape.
I was off bounding across the quad, and was called over by Jhigar- a volunteer student who has been of huge help. He led me over to the gate where Ranj and his twin brother were standing. Because of the proximity of the last bloody nose, and the questionable situation, we thought it best to go to the hospital. I rang my boss John and he groggily gave an ok.
We left the college compound and made our way to the main road under the assumption that from the direction the ambulance would be coming, the only way they could get to us was from the junction outside the gates. I had Ranj sit down and tilt his head back. As we waited, Bashdar pointe out two bright parallel stars (Bashdar Major and Bashdar Minor) that signaled to villagers of old when it was tie to start a day’s journey.
As we were waiting, I was a little worried because I hadn’t brought my passport or much cash since I had been running dazed. I asked Bashdar how much the ambulance cost, and he looked at me like I was crazy. “It is free, of course,” he said, “is it not in America?” I just laughed and said no. “What if people have no money, how do they get to the hospital and get care?” he asked. I told him we are presently having that discussion.
We waited for a few minutes until we heard the blaring ambulance come speeding up the bend.
And then to our shock, it turned down the wrong way on a street, and left us behind as it went towards the campus. Bashdar went off running after the flashing bolt. We just shook our heads and laughed. About 10 minutes later, the ambulance came speeding back up to our junction. It stopped in front of us, with a heaving Bashdar in the front seat. Between heavy breaths, he said he was going to get in the back of the ambulance.
He climbed out, and Ranj, his twin brother, Jhigar and I climbed in. And we were off. We were like a screaming banshee burning through the naked and empty streets of Duhok. Poor Ranj was lying on the stretcher with one hand on his nose and the other holding on tight to the stretcher. I propped myself so that I could see out the front of the blue bolt as we tore through the streets at what had to have been close to 100 mph. We tore around turns, and sped over city streets as we held on for dear life.
As we were arriving to the hospital, all I could think of was John’s last trip to the emergency room in Kurdistan. He had been bitten by something on a beach in Thailand, and had to visit an ER while in Kurdistan. He spoke about how the doctor didn’t have a scalpel but rather was using a razor to make incisions. There were no partitions in the emergency room, and a doctor was working on a wounded man in the next bed over with the family hovering about. Unfortunately, the man a bed over died, and suddenly the family started attacking the doctor who had been working on him! The doctor who was working on John quickly got him up and got himself and John out of the ER.
With such thoughts weighing in my head, we walked into the ER. It was surreal. I wearily eyed the crowds of families. A guard had Ranj sit down on a cot. Again, no dividers. The cot had no paper on it, except maybe a little left over from the previous person there. The guard told everyone but Ranj to leave, but I had the students explain that I was in-charge of Ranj and I needed to wait with him. The guard said it was fine. Just about that point, Ranj’s nose clotted.
We waited a few minutes, and a young doctor came over to look at him. He didn’t have a medical light, but rather used the flashlight on his phone to look down his throat and up his nose. They exchanged some words in Kurdish, and I ran out of the ER to bring Jhigar back to translate. In short, with his nose now clotted, the doc said for Ranj to visit another doctor in a few weeks and wrote a prescription, I think (or at least a note). Then we had to vacate the bed for another person with a bleeding head wound. We played musical cots, and he moved back one bed. No changing of paper on the dilapidated cots.
I just kept staring in disbelief at the surreal situation around us. The room seemed to be filled with people with bleeding head wounds. The bin to dispose of needles was simply a bandage box with a hole in the top. There were patients being wheeled in and out, and they were in bad shape. Another doctor in a lab coat came over and put a piece of gauze up Ranj’s nose.
We played another round of musical cots, and I watched a fellow get stitched up over his eye. Adrenaline kept me cool (since anyone who know me knows I am a wuss when it comes to blood, unless it is in an emerg/accident situation). I stole a nursing pad and x-ray request form, both in Kurdish, and began scribbling notes on the night in the one pen I could find in the ER- I took it from the guard until he required it back.
I went out to sit outside and find a pen among the men waiting. I sat next to Jhigar, furiously scribbling notes as the sun was rising above. A few minutes later, Ranj and his brother came out. It was about 5am. We hopped in a cab and sped back through the sleeping streets. The sun was rising burning peach over the ragged mountaintops that ring the city.
We arrived back to the dorm, and saw at least half a dozen kids outside. They were pulling all-nighters, and were out playing various instruments. I was ready to crash. I rolled up and into bed, and was finally asleep at 5:30am for an unforgettable night.