As a kid, Seth loved watching MASH off a well-worn boxed set of VHS tapes. As soon as he got home from school, he’d head straight to that built-in shelf to the right of their understated tv in the corner of their living room. Since his parents both tended to be occupied right before supper time, he always was the first one home. He could catch an episode or two of MASH before his parents walked across the little compound of the language school to their small stone and timber home. Young Seth was not allowed to do this, but he soon realized that he was clever enough to get all his homework done in a much shorter amount of time than almost anyone else. He could do this because he was, well, clever. Not just smart (which he was) but also – unusually clever. Yes he was intelligent and got more work done in a shorter amount of time than most kids in his class, yet his cunningness, his ability to understand people, and play people really got him ahead. He figured out which insecure kids wanted to be liked and were willing to ‘help’ him complete his homework. Seth was adept enough to sort out who were the over-achieving, type-A students and somehow convince them they wanted him for group projects. He was crafty enough to determine which teachers could be pushed, to what extent, and how. That skill set, which would serve him well the rest of his life, allowed him to have more leisure time than a student in French public school should have, and allowed him to slide those tapes into the VCR with no one noticing. Those images of the Korean War surgeons originally inspired him to go into medicine. He often tried to convince others, and perhaps himself, that he wanted to help others and give them a better quality of life by helping children recover from deformities and trauma from injury and accident. But deep inside, it was the smarmy, womanizing, heavy-drinking, yet always correct and immeasurably talented character of Hawkeye Pierce that drew him in.
Those images of MASH were burnt deep in his memory and he often thought of them and would occasionally bring them up. Once he subconsciously referenced it while yelling at one of his surgical residents at Stanford University Hospital for dropping an instrument. “What is this – Korean War meatball surgery? Does this look like a canvas tent to you?”
Those who had never seen this side of Seth were shocked, and most in the room, including this young resident, had no idea what he was talking about. His physique, well-dressed demeanor and general attitude towards life gave him confidence that often betrayed the fact that he was in fact – over 40. No matter how you look at it, 43 is more than 40. No one ever wanted to remind him of this, and no soul would dare question such an obviously outdated pop-culture reference that would bring this fact to light.
Yet now, here he stood in this pathetic excuse for an operating theater that felt like it was about as close to the working conditions of those shows as he could imagine. And after ten hours, looking deeper into himself than perhaps he ever had before.
The ten hours had not been scheduled of course, they were supposed to just treat the young man with the facial trauma. While they were in the middle of that case, a series of people darted into the room, merely holding masks on their faces, speaking rapidly with Dr. Tom in Kirundi. After someone barged in a fourth time Seth finally demanded what was so important that justified interrupting his concentration and desecrating anything resembling a sterile work environment.
“There’s been an accident,” Dr Tom said in the tone doctors seem to reserve for that phrase.
“An entire church choir was riding in the back of a truck, the brakes failed and it rolled off the road down a pretty big hill. There were probably 40 in the truck, plus a few in the house it crushed over. Muguru says they are starting to triage them right now.”
Seth had seen something similar on his drive up the hill. A truck, not much bigger than a pickup with a cage that looked like it was intended to transport two cows, but instead was packed with people. They looked as if someone poured them in from the top, filling every available space, spilling out through the sides as arms, hands, and even faces protruded through, trying to get some fresh air. For a moment, he imagined what it would be like to be in that mass of humanity when it rolled off a hill – and then he yanked himself back.
Seth glanced at the windows though one section of glass with no white paint on it, to see wounded being carried in. They were simply being set on the ground under the tin roof that had just a moment ago had been a waiting area.
“It looks like at least 15 will need surgical treatment of some kind. Get ready – this will be a long night.”
“We aren’t seriously going to prep all those people for transport to a real hospital ourselves?” he asked.
“No son,” Dr. Tom looked at Seth with a shockingly calm demeanor, “we are the only real hospital for three hours in any direction. We’re going to operate on all those people.”