Da (Mother) 73

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni
Translated from the Persian with an Introduction by Paul Sprachman


Da (Mother) 73

The Memoirs of Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

Seyyedeh Zahra Hoseyni

Translated from the Persian with an Introduction by Paul Sprachman

Persian Version (2008)

Sooreh Mehr Publishing House

English Version (2014)

Mazda Publishers




Leila looked at me with a hurt and questioning expression, as if to say, “Aren’t I part of the family, too?” I went but I didn’t stay long. I had a good cry, said my peace, and got up. I knew we had to move to the new clinic. Even though I had hurried back, when I got to the Congregational Mosque there was no one at the infirmary. They had gathered up the curtains and equipment and took them to the new place. The mosque seemed deserted to me. They had also moved the kitchen to another location. Most of the people had been evacuated. No one could deny things were becoming more ordered. I went to the clinic where the work really began. They had brought empty boxes and with some boys began to clear the metal shelves of books and put them in the boxes. I thumbed through some of the books as we packed them. They were thick, large volumes written in English. Although I had left school early, I wouldn’t allow any newspaper, magazine, or book to slip through my fingers. Aunt Salimeh would buy me many newspapers and magazines, and I was her most faithful customer. This was why I was so well informed about many things. I would solve the crossword puzzles in record time and would wait impatiently for aunt to buy the next editions of the magazines. When I saw Dr. Sheybani’s English language books, the reading bug got me again; unfortunately I didn’t know the western alphabet.

We were about to finish the work when they brought in the first wounded person, a young man of some bulk with a piece of shrapnel lodged in his left soldier. His friends were very worried about him, because of the shrapnel near his heart. They brought him into the examination room and took his clothes off. Mr. Najjar called me. I entered the room. As he looked at the wound, Mr. Najjar said, “We can’t touch the shrapnel here. As soon as we remove it, there will be severe bleeding. If he is moved the shrapnel will cut through his arteries. All we can do here is stabilize his arm and chest.”

Then he said to me, “Bring the bandages and splints.” Unlike his friends who were upset, the young man was laughing and said, “It’s nothing. Don’t worry. Don’t be afraid.” But when we started to work on him, he got woozy and, because of the bleeding, he fainted. Mr. Najjar lined the wood planks with cotton and wrapped gauze around them. Then he put them around the shrapnel. He put one of the splints under the wounded man’s side so that his arm stood at an angle from his body. Then he tightened the splints with pressure bandages. He hung the bandaged arm around the wounded man’s neck, warning him, “Don’t let yourself get jostled in the ambulance. Sit up straight.” He told the driver, “Get him right to Mahshahr.”

Almost immediately afterwards, they brought in another wounded man who had been hit by a lot of shrapnel. Mr. Najjar furiously cleaned the man’s wounds. He inserted a pair of tweezers into them and asked us, “Hear that sound?” as the tweezers made contact with the pieces of metal. He extracted a piece of shrapnel and immediately stitched the wound. He didn’t touch the shrapnel lodged in the man’s side, saying, “These have to be seen to at a hospital. They may have reached his intestines.” To get me involved, he asked me to help with the work. Not desiring to be found wanting, I madly tried to follow his instructions. The wounded man’s bleeding wouldn’t stop. Mr. Najjar continued to stitch the wound while I cleaned around it so he could see its dimensions. Mr. Najjar’s face was covered in perspiration, which would occasionally drip into the wound. Although, out of modesty, I didn’t want to do it, I wiped his face with gauze. The boy was writhing in pain and trying will all his might not to scream. When the strain got too much, his features told me what he was really feeling. My fears increased. Dead on his feet, Mr. Najjar kept asking the man, “Are you okay?” He would always answer, “Thank God.” At one point during the treatment, Mr. Najjar gruffly demanded, “Sister Hoseyni, inject him with a sedative.”

I wanted to ask him, “Why didn’t you put it in his drip?” Instead I only said, “You want me to give him an injection?”

His tone said I couldn’t refuse. I was afraid he would throw me out of the clinic. For my part I was afraid I would make a mess of it, and he’d get so angry he’d tell me that I had no talent for that kind of work.

I stepped forward and swabbed the man’s arm with disinfectant. Then I inserted the needle halfway into his muscle. Mr. Najjar, who had his eyes on me, came near as I nervously put the rest of the needle in and injected the sedative. I extracted the syringe and said, “I did it.”

When it came time to deal with the shrapnel in his leg, I was feeling queasy. The suture needle was not going in easily. I held my breath each time Mr. Najjar inserted it. It was as if he was putting it into my heart. As he extracted the needle, I found it hard to breathe and my heart felt like it was being pierced instead of the boy.

With all the mangled bodies and amputated limbs I had seen at Jannatabad, I didn’t know why this scene had such an effect on me. I tried to keep myself under control, not wanting the slightest sign of weakness or distress to show. In the last several days, people had been pointing me out saying, “That’s the Hoseyni girl whose father and brother were martyred.” Then some would approach me and ask, “Where do you get the will to go on? We’re amazed; it’s almost like you haven’t lost your father and brother. Like your heart hasn’t been seared. The way you go around with a smile on your face!”

I put on such a brave face no one would guess the horrible effect the deaths of father and Ali had on me. I forced myself to show people I had the strength and will to go on. Even though I was dying inside, I said nothing. The pressure of keeping up a brave face was ruining my health. My hands started to tremble. When I had lost track of what Mr. Najjar wanted, he shouted, “Stop daydreaming, Sister Hoseyni! You can’t do that in here if you want to stay. This place is all work; no one’s going to coddle you. You won’t get away with feeling faint. Anybody who wants to stay has to have the guts of a lion.” Fear of Mr. Najjar made me keep my emotions in check. The suturing finished, I heard him say, “Come and bandage him.”

My eyes went blank. I felt very weak in the chest, and then the feeling spread to the rest of my body. I was spinning in a dark hole, spinning and spinning, then everything went blank.

When I came to, my face was burning. The girls were standing around me. I heard them say, “We were worried about you. What happened all of a sudden?”

I made out Zohreh Farhadi kindly saying, “She had the right to faint. Who could stand up to all that pressure?”

Ra’na also sympathized, “Poor thing.”

I opened my eyes, still not knowing where I was. “Where am I?”

“In Sheybani’s office,” they said. “You weren’t feeling too well.”

I slowly became more alert and tried to get up. “Lie there,” they said. “It’s still too soon for you to get up.”

“The wounded man. Mr. Najjar said to bandage him.”

“We did that. He’s gone. Don’t worry.”

“Where’s Mr. Najjar?” I asked apprehensively. “Did he say anything?”

“Don’t worry. He was also very worried about you. He blamed himself for shouting at you.”

I stretched out and looked around. There was a drip in my arm. They put curtains around my bed. The toll that working at Jannatabad took on my nerves, hunger, lack of sleep, the deaths of father and Ali, and, finally, the scenes of open wounds, all of it put me in this state. Of course I had sensed from the second day at the body washers’ that I wasn’t feeling well. It felt like all the veins in my body were dry, emptied of blood. My joints creaked when I worked. My eyes lost their brightness, and I always felt dizzy. But now with the drip, I felt much better. I got out of bed. “Should we bring you something to eat?” they asked. “No,” I said. “I don’t feel like eating anything.” Mr. Najjar’s words really offended me. I left the clinic and told myself I would prove to him I wasn’t spoiled.

That same day a team of five doctors from Tehran and Isfahan arrived at the clinic. The poor men were not used to the sounds of explosions and bombardment. They cowered in a corner with every whine of a mortar shell. During those initial hours when talk turned to the Komala Groups and the Demokrats, the new arrivals defended them. By doing so they passed themselves off as progressives. Despite all their pretensions to equality, the way they acted toward Mr. Najjar was not at all appropriate. They couldn’t believe an ordinary health care worker was capable of doing things on the level of a specialist physician. They made it obvious that they didn’t respect what he did, but Mr. Najjar ignored them and went about his business.

The next morning I was shocked to see that there was no sign of the team sent from Tehran. Late the night before, when the shelling got intense, they decided that flight was the better part of valor. But very soon another team came to the clinic. They were specialists from Tehran, ranging in age from thirty to forty-five. Their names, as I recall, were Dr. Sadeqi, Dr. Habibollah, Dr. Torabi, and another doctor Habibi or Habib Nezhad. They also disappeared after the first day, but they returned a few days later with their heads covered in dust, which told me that they had been to the front lines. It was clear they hadn’t slept in the last few days. Their pale faces were drawn, and they didn’t have the strength to talk. Despite this, after a few hours rest they gathered their possessions and equipment and went back to the front. I remember Dr. Sadeqi best, because whenever he saw us at work he would thank us. He was a man of sympathy and energy. Although exhausted each time he got back from the front, he’d take a turn working in the clinic.


End of Chapter Twelve


To be continued …



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