The gauze was soaked in blood. Scratch that, it was drenched. The gangly teenager's last two fingers had been clipped by a bullet and had been partially amputated, leaving a gruesome wound that oozed the crimson liquid freely. Not a pretty sight. Still, by now Union field surgeon Captain Lewis Clowes was used to it.
The narrow shouldered man sitting across to the young soldier had been here for in all about three months, but that had been enough for him to learn the ropes of what was different here than in a civilian hospital. For one thing, He'd learned never to take things for granted. For another thing, he'd learned not to get nearly as attatched to your patients. Most didn't live.
However, he was mildly pleased with his own confidence that this one would be different. It was a minor gunshot wound to the boy's hand, which they would be able to repair easily. Not to mention, unlike most patients that recovered from surgery, he would be able to return to battle fully or almost entirely functional.
Not all of the soldiers always got wounded, though. Some of them somehow managed to avoid gunfire for their entire military careers, or at least their military careers so far--for example, the man that was sitting next to his patient was a new face, and from what he could see didn't have any major scars or battle deformities.
The man, Will, had explained earlier that it had been Charlie's first battle, and the soldier had tried to flee--he'd grabbed his arm and in the meantime he'd been shot. Had they not have misfired, it would have been a belly wound to his left side–something not even the best of doctors could fix. He had patched his hand up with a dirty piece of his own uniform, trying to stop the bleeding, but had been wise enough to leave the medical decision to the field hospital.
From the tone in William's voice as he told the doctor this, Lewis could tell that he felt quite guilty about it all. He seemed like a nice chap, as did his companion, but the doctor still believed that this was no place for a kid, and Charlie shouldn't have been there. Didn't take a genius to realize that Charlie was at least two years under the legal age for joining up, selling his soul.
He began to peel the wasted cloth from his patient's hand, noticing that the red-haired youth winced and bit his lip as the bloody strip was lifted from the entry wound. No matter how long he had been a doctor for the Union, he was never able to quite shake the disturbing sight of another teenager trying to put on a brave front through agony of a gunshot wound. He knew that the pain was intense, so he normally tried to get these things over as easily and painlessly as he could. However, this time it didn't look like there was an easy way to do that.
The nurses were already preparing table for the operation and setting out his tools, even though it wouldn't take very long to do this one. Both of the injured digits would have to be amputated; otherwise they would surely rot. Of all the procedures, this was one of the most painful ones that a doctor would be required to perform, and Lewis wished that there was some other way for them to repair the nearly severed digits.
No matter what they said about medicine advancing every day and whatnot, either it was all lies, or it hadn't reached scenic nowhere yet, he'd learned that from a veteran surgeon that he had come to replace. A lot of times the Union seemed to forget the doctors' little corner of the battlefield to save money for weaponry.
"Charlie, we're going to have to amputate both fingers." The new soldier nodded at the news, paling a bit. He'd probably known that from the start, but Doctor Clowes knew that knowing something and being told something by another person were two very different things. Often, soldiers weren't seeing reality until they had to call triage.
"Doctor, we've got the table ready for you." The nurse strode over to where he and the other two sat, gesturing mildly towards the table that was set up in one corner of the tarp draped over some poles that served as the field hospital.
Lewis nodded, gesturing for the two soldiers to follow him to the area that his scrub nurse had set up for him to work at. Neatly folded in the corner was a sheet to cover the rest of the arm that wasn't being operated on, and to his right were a few different scalpels, each with a unique use. Even though he had enough to work with in the military, the hospital that he had worked in before he'd been drafted had possessed much finer tools. Still, he had learned to settle for less these days...
Charlie sat down across from him, laying his arm out on the table. His companion, Will, strode over to an unnocupied table, grabbed a chair, and pulled it up next to them. Heh. Come to think of it, the field hospital was almost like one sick diner. Ironic.
He finished peeling off the bandage and then draped the cover cloth over Charlie's arm, and he saw the young soldier swallow nervously, clearly panicking. The quieter one laid a hand on his shoulder again, murmuring reassurances to him, and that seemed to calm him down a little bit, giving enough time to get his scalpel and mentally plan where to make the incision.
"We're going to begin now, Charlie. You can look away if you want to.", he said, lowering the tool so that it was almost perpendicular with the first torn finger. He nodded, turning his head and shutting his eyes in anticipation of the pain that was to follow.
The first incision. He gasped as the scalpel dug into his skin, the tears that had been welling in his eyes from the original bullet wound spilling over and running down his cheeks. Lewis tried his best to ignore the whimper coming from his patient as he brought the blade through the bone.
This was classified as a minor injury by a field doctor's standards. In the recovery room laid men who'd been shot in the lung or lost an arm. One had lost both legs. It was always this way. Sometimes patients wound up sleeping on makeshift cots on the floor because there weren't enough beds to support the towering numbers of wounded that came into the hospital. About half of them lived through the night. About a quarter were able to return to battle.
The second incision. The boy's eyes were red now, and he was clearly having a hard time not yelling out. Lewis had moved to the second finger, which was smaller and would take less time. The stitches on his finished finger were uneven, but they would hold it together while he healed. This one was lucky. He was part of the twenty five percent that would live.
This finger was in worse condition that the first one, but at the moment it didn't look like he had any other choice but to keep operating. So that was what he did.
Doctor! Help us! Don't leave me lying here! Please! Lewis shuddered slightly. The tortured cries of soldiers sometimes came back to haunt him as he worked, as was the case right now. It was never easy, this game of playing god. Sometimes you had to walk straight past fields of wounded soldiers to treat others. You had to tell the ones that cried out in agony to you that they didn't get to live because the ones three feet away from them were dying. Nothing was easy.
Final stitches. He finished the sutures, brining the wound to a close and lifting the cloth. He got up, putting his scalpel on the side of the table again; the nurses would get it. He strode out of the tent, walking through the tent despite the strange looks some gave him as he walked past them, hands coated with the blood of his last patient.
It was always disturbing for the man to see new recruits get shot, some more than others.
And so begins the tale of Lewis Clowes.