By Samantha Lisk
Swallowing the bile that always rose when he was forced to use the greeting, the doctor pasted on a smile as he pushed aside the tent flap separating the field hospital from the rest of the encampment and entered the small space currently serving as his exam room. His knee-high black boots, long having lost their shine, squelched in the mud—only mud, he told himself firmly, there was no reddish tint to the dark brown of churned-up soil and grass, or if there was, it was only clay—and in the back of his mind he noted the extra effort it took to pick up his feet again. “Good day. How can I help you?”
The pale pilot’s smile was wan. “I’m the one who needs healing today, not the Führer. I’ve been ill for several days.”
The doctor rummaged in his pockets, eventually pulling a small, bent notepad and a pencil stub out of his pocket. “What symptoms have you experienced?”
As the pilot began to list them, the doctor took notes, nodding and making encouraging noises whenever the soldier drew breath. Having made a mental diagnosis of the flu upon hearing the first few symptoms, the doctor’s mind began to wander as the pilot droned on. He needed to ensure that his clerk had typed his notes from his meetings with this week’s patients; the man really was becoming inexcusably lax. Perhaps if he dropped a hint about searching for another clerk it might startle him into minding his work.
Then there was the matter of the children—
He looked up. The pilot was looking at him inquiringly. “Hmm? I’m sorry, I was thinking over your symptoms. What did you say?”
“I asked what you thought the problem was. As you can see,” the pilot indicated his uniform, “I am a member of the Luftwaffe, so I don’t have much time to be sick. My Geschwader will be flying to London soon.”
The doctor’s eyes lingered for a moment on the medal hanging at the pilot’s neck. It was the Iron Cross, the body black and rimmed with silver, hanging from a ribbon with two thin stripes of black and white bordering a much thicker red stripe, bright as a bloodstain.
A tiny swastika was set in the center.
“Yes,” he murmured, then louder, as if waking up from a dream, “Yes, of course. Based on the symptoms you described, I believe that you have nothing more than a lingering case of influenza. To treat it, you must…”
He trailed off. He seemed to see the Cross again, as if the image had been burned into his retinas, an afterimage seared into his brain. But there were words written on this Cross, words written in bright white, so bright that they burned away the swastika. There were two words, only two, a simple Latin phrase he had learned long ago in his childhood.
Do no harm.
He heard a fellow doctor outside the tent greet someone with the usual required salute to the Führer. Distant explosions signaled the beginning of another battle.
“Excuse me a moment,” he muttered in the direction of the pilot. “I must look something up.”
Boots squelching, he hurried out of the tent. He strode along, unsure of his destination, unheeding of the salutes he received from the soldiers he passed. His mind whirled, his eyes seeing nothing but the Cross and his ears ringing with the incessant saluting phrase; he felt almost feverish. He could not possibly do this.
To make a mistake in treating a patient was one thing.
But to knowingly mislead a patient—to intentionally prescribe the wrong treatment?
This was criminal.
This was wrong.
He could not—
He stopped short. Another image was before him now. A woman walked out of his memory, holding a little girl’s hand as she ambled past. They were smiling and the little girl’s laughter seemed to ring in his ears as they walked down the hallway of the clinic he had run. (Was it three years ago now or four?) And this image was suddenly replaced by another, an image of the little girl transported to London, cowering as the Luftwaffe dropped bombs over her head, the woman who had held her hand nowhere to be seen. And beside her was the other young girl he had had to—
The doctor stopped walking. He slumped against the uneven remains of a wall, head bowed, breathing heavily. He stayed that way for some moments; then slowly, as if weighed down by a heavy burden, he straightened again, turned, and made his way back to his patient’s tent. Glancing down, he wondered how long he had been gone; the ground was now dry and the mud caked on his boots dropped off in dried reddish-brown flakes as he walked. He pushed the flap aside and walked in, greeting the waiting pilot.
Samantha Lisk lives in Cary, North Carolina, with one goofy black lab mix and an abundance of pollen. She has been published in The Lyricist and This Is London Magazine, and she enjoys reading, writing, and talking about historical fiction. She can usually be found on Twitter at @Smlisk, in various secondhand bookshops in the Raleigh area, or on the greenway near her house.