Posts Tagged ‘oppression’

This is Part 6 of my fictional series “Stories of the ER”. In this story, the event really did happen. Everything before, during and after it is 100% fictionalized.

emergency

**WARNING** GRAPHIC CONTENT!!

I am generally not a religious man. Even though I was raised in a very Protestant home, my folks never really made us attend regular church services. Sure, mom and dad would force my sister and me to dress in our best “church going clothes” and they would pack us into their little brown station wagon and make the twice-yearly trek to church for Christmas and Easter — usually sunrise service or midnight mass (which always started at 10:30 at night, ironically).

But for the remaining Sundays, we’d spend the mornings doing whatever we wanted: sis and I would get up at 6:30 to watch the Bugs Bunny cartoon show, while dad enjoyed his only day of the week to sleep in. Mom, who was a stay-at-home mom, occasionally would get up around 8 am and spend the next two hours making huge, carb-loaded, coma inducing breakfasts from scratch. At least that was what we always thought they were. But, her little secret was exposed one day when I wandered into the kitchen because the smell of cooking bacon overpowered me. I found her pouring boxed pancake mix into her favorite mixing bowl. She was horrified I had caught her “cheating” – but personally, I didn’t give a shit because the end result was a feast made for a king and I was her little prince.

That was pretty much the extent of my religious upbringing. When I moved out after college and took this job at GW, I didn’t give religion a second thought. Sure, I respect a person’s right to believe, but after seeing a lot of what I’ve seen here in this job, I’m fairly convinced there is no god. How could there be when there is so much pain and suffering in this world.

This story, as you might have figured out, focuses on the topic of religion and how it can and does destroy lives. As I’ve mentioned before, I worked the day the ragheads blew up the towers and the Pentagon with airplanes. I know what happens when flames meet flesh, all done in the name of religion. And honestly, it’s pretty fucking disgusting. “My god, your god, his god, her god” Does it really make a fucking difference whose god is who’s when there’s no evidence of any god? I guess that makes me sound like an atheist. Oh well, call me that. When I tell you about Dharia and how she came to my ER, maybe you’ll understand why I detest religious zealots.

This is Dharia’s story. I’ve had to fill in a lot of the details, unfortunately. You see, Dharia was one of the women who didn’t make it out of my ER alive. In fact, she barely made it into my ER alive. Perhaps I should start at the beginning.

Living in DC, we have a lot of  foreign nationalists come here and take up temporary residence while they represent their countries’ political and diplomatic interests. And of course, they’re just as vulnerable to accidents and injuries as anyone else. However, being foreigners, they aren’t entitled to US healthcare benefits. Well, change that a little. The recent ADA has, to the upset and outrage of many, allowed foreign diplomats to enroll for healthcare coverage if they’re here on an A or G Visa, whatever the hell that means. We were just told to treat them like any other sick or injured person and the government will foot the bill. However, years ago that wasn’t the case. They were required to have their own international health plan before they arrived, should they need medical care while in Washington on official international business.

Regardless of their visa status, we did have a few foreign diplomats come through our doors over the last few years. We’ve had, if I can remember, a couple heart attack patients, several traffic accidents because they weren’t used to driving on the opposite of the road, and one or two drunk driving accidents. One guy from South Korea on an economic visit was struck while walking across the street to the federal building by a Russian diplomat, who had just returned from a lunch heavy with vodka and was driving erratically back to his rented apartment. This in and of itself nearly caused an international scandal of epic proportions. They resolved the sticky mess by just declaring themselves diplomatically immune from prosecution and, despite our best efforts  to try for prosecution and criminal charges, nothing ever happened in that case. I guess power does have its privileges.

Unfortunately, the wives and children of these spouses don’t have that same level of protection afforded the diplomats. Is this unfair? Absolutely, which is why the wives and children are seldom seen out and about, enjoying the same types of privileges their husbands and fathers get. Welcome to politics.

But as I’ve said, with power comes privilege. And while privilege certainly played an integral role in Dharia’s story, it wasn’t through her, but through her husband’s abusive behavior that Dharia came to us, only moments before I witnessed her pointless death right before my eyes, while I stood there – unable to do anything to help her or even comfort her. You see, Dharia was a suicide victim. The how and why of her suicide is what needs to be told.

When she came through our hospital doors, seconds from death, all she could do was stare at us in wild-eyed terror — eyes screaming what her charred lips couldn’t — “Help me, oh please–help me!”  Her arms were stretched outwards from her body – sticks of bone, fingers burned off completely. She walked in on two wooden planks – what used to be her legs. Her clothing had melted onto her skin, then into the skin itself. The smell of charred flesh and burnt hair trailed in still smoking ringlets all the way up from the nubs of what once were her feet to the very top of her exposed and peeling scalp. Her earlobes were bubbling as the cartilage melted into human fat globules, dripping onto the floor below. There was nothing left of her to save, and we all knew it.

We were frozen in place until, of course, the screaming began. Fortunately, it was still pretty early in the evening, so the waiting room was almost empty. Unfortunately, there was a family with small children ages nine and four, who were right in the sight line and witnessed Dharia’s dramatic entrance as she hobbled through the automatic door, moving in a herky-jerky way that reminded me of the walk made by Peter Boyle as Frankenstein in Mel Brook’s “Young Frankenstein.” Only much, much more terrifying to a four-year old, who raised his little hand and pointed directly to Dharia, while stating, “Mommy – That scawy monster is coming to get me! Scawy monster!” When mom looked up from her cell phone and caught sight of what her little boy was pointing at, she became hysterical and started screaming at the top of her lungs, temporarily dragging the attention of the rest of the people waiting from Dharia and right onto her. The intake nurse lunged out from behind her cubicle to see what all the commotion was and was just about to ask the woman to calm down when her eyes locked with Dharia’s, and she froze in her spot, wobbled a bit, then promptly fainted onto the tiled floor. At that point, several of us from inside the ER rushed out to see what was going on, and that’s when I caught Dharia as she started to tumble, face first (or what was left of it, anyways) directly on top of the unconscious intake nurse. The lobby was in total chaos by this time as people rushed about not knowing what to do or where to go. The mother of the small children picked up both her kids at the same time, buried their faces into her chest, and ran out the doors – apparently their visit wasn’t much of an emergency any longer.

With Dharia in my arms, I half-carried, half-dragged her nearly lifeless body through the double doors as quickly as possible to get her out of the sight of others. She looked truly terrifying. I know I had never seen anything like that in my career – even in the worst of traumas we’ve had come through our hospital. I also recognized the sounds of a dying person – the throat gurgling as the person takes his or her last breaths. This was what I heard as I laid Dharia down on the gurney. Her body made this awful thunking sound, like the sound you hear when you throw a fresh, dried log onto a fire pit. This sound haunted me for days afterward, and it was that sound echoing over and over in my mind that led me to do what I did next: call the police. If someone had done this to her, I wanted them caught and put on trial. I couldn’t and wouldn’t let her death go unnoticed. I just needed some answers.

Dharia died moments after she was put on the gurney. Her eyelids had been burned off, so even though she was dead her eyes appeared to still be opened. And, screaming. I draped a towel across her face, cut off what remained of her melted clothing and flesh, and prepared her for the hospital morgue and autopsy. I wanted to know why she had been burned so badly, and how she had managed to get here, in the last few minutes of her life, considering the physical state she was in.

When the police arrived, Dharia had already been taken to the morgue. I explained everything  to the officers as best I could, and begged them to come back and tell me whatever they found out – I wanted to know more about this poor, brave soul who had made one last, desperate measure to save herself. The will to live is one of the most powerful survival mechanisms we have. She definitely demonstrated that will when she defied all odds and walked through our doors,  seconds before both her will and her heart gave out.

The police investigation into her death only took a week or so. What they told me shattered my heart into a million pieces and confirmed my belief: there truly is no god, or couldn’t even be a god if he/she/it allowed someone to set herself on fire in sacrifice to that god. You see, Dharia was Hindu. She was the wife of an Indian diplomat who had brought her to the US with him when he was transferred from Mumbai to Washington, DC. She had been struggling with adjusting to DC – she didn’t have anyone here to support her or talk to her. Her husband was away often – leaving her alone and lonely. She was near her emotional breaking point so one night she decided to go for a drink without him – a very taboo idea for a Hindu woman, but she was desperate for conversation and human interaction.

While at the bar, she met another foreign diplomat – a Pakistani man, who had been at the bar for hours already and had several martinis under his belt when she walked in and sat down on the stool at the other end of the bar, minding her own business. The diplomat noticed her immediately and began making the moves on her. Despite her numerous protestations and flashing of her wedding band, the Pakistani refused to leave her alone. In fact, he got more and more aggressive with her. She had finally decided she had enough of his bullshit and headed back to her car to go home, only to see him following closely behind. When she opened her car door, he pushed her in and raped her right there in her car while she screamed and screamed for help. Nobody came to help her. Once the man was finished, he just hopped into his fancy government-issued Mercedes and drove off into the night. He was never caught.

Although the man was never caught, Dharia’s “infidelity” quickly became apparent when she started to show due to the resulting pregnancy. Of course her husband – who had been away on business for an extended period of time, put the math together in his head and quickly figured out the baby wasn’t his. And because of their religious and cultural beliefs, she had just disgraced him, her, his entire family as well as put his political career and  reputation at grave risk. After a harsh beating at home, behind closed doors, and a vicious threat not to go to the police for fear she would get them both kicked out of the country because of the trouble she brought upon herself (instead of blaming the rapist, where it belonged), she felt she had nowhere else to turn.

To make things right again in her mind, Dharia resorted to the Hindu practice of self-immolation. She waited until her husband was at work then took the full gas can out of their rented garage, a stick lighter for the grill, and a blanket and walked to the park directly across from the hospital’s ER entrance doors. She set out the blanket, took a few moments to work up the courage, then splashed the entire can’s contents over her head, chest, legs and, even the blanket. Then, after the gas  had soaked her and the blanket entirely, clicked the lighter and touched it to her chest. As she sat there, flames building and creeping everywhere, her survival instinct kicked in and in one last desperate act of futility, changed her mind and tried to beat the flames out with her hands. By that time, the fire had grown too big and had consumed too much of her cotton clothing that she wasn’t able to stop the burning. That was when she stood up and began the several  hundred yards walk to our ER department. Sadly, it was too little, too late for her. There wasn’t anything we could have been able to do anyways, except maybe give her morphine to help with the pain. But it turned out she didn’t even need that.

If there is a lesson to learn from Dharia’s story it is this: women continue to suffer religious and social persecution at a higher rate than men. In some countries, they can be beaten and stoned to death for many different reasons, without a trial or other formal inquiry.This just isn’t right.

The female police officer who investigated Dharia’s suicide showed me one last thing before we parted ways. She pulled a picture out of her wallet and handed it to me. The woman in the picture was stunning–long, beautiful, jet-black hair. Big, brown eyes against caramel-colored, flawless skin. An electrifying smile. She took my breath away and I was instantly attracted to her. I asked, “Who’s this?” The officer paused a moment, then in a hushed tone said, “Your patient. The suicide victim. I thought you’d want to see what she really gave to the world.” I saw in the picture she was surrounded by little kids. The police officer added, “She had been a kindergarten teacher over in India before her husband was transferred here.”

Her name was Dharia P. She was only twenty-four, she was a beautiful, a shining star, and had the whole world in front of her.

Author’s Note: The story above is entirely fictional. Any similarities to any person, living or dead, is strictly coincidental.

 

 

 

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