Portrait of a soldier, part 3: Days in hospitals

I hear a van coming…I stop the van to ask him to bring me to the first aid post in Domaljevac… I remember it like it was yesterday… A white Ford van, brand new, with German export plates on it… He stopped!

“Please, could you drop me off at the first aid station?”

“Yeah sure Ray… have a seat, but please don’t lean backwards so blood wont get on my seats.”

He drops me off and off he goes… never ever saw this man again…and no one seem to know who it was when I later asked around about him.

I got first aid in Domaljevac, and was sent off to Tolisa Army War Hospital, from where I would be sent to Croatia. My God what a mess that was there!

Dead, wounded, soldiers and civilians all mixed together, people lying on the floors…blood everywhere. My doctor gives me first aid, then is called away to a more seriously injured guy… I start coughing blood.

I call a nurse to tell her that I am wounded in my lung as well and she calls the doctor.

“No you’re not, you’re ok,” he says.

I put out my hand and spit in it to show him I am hit in my lung- saliva mixed with blood, it says it all!

He quickly starts the procedure to drain my lung… fuck does that hurt when they put in the draining system. I black out and then come back again but blackout soon after again.

I come back again…I stand up and start looking for a toilet and I stumble over dead bodies and wounded lying on the floors.

I slip and fall on my back due to the mass amount of blood on the floors as well…I pass-out again…and I wake up in a Mercedes ambulance with all kinds of equipment in it…must be a donation from Germany?

It proved for me to be my lifesaver, as whilst waiting at the river Sava to cross into Croatia…all went dead… no sound… no view…but peace and silence… real silence…and what a peace… like I am floating on clouds…it’s bright…like a tunnel or something, man that feels nice indeed after all this I went through just a few minutes before.

I hear voices in a distance, but cant understand them…the voices become clearer… now I can understand them… its Croatian they speak, thank God, I’m safe.

I wake up… still in shock… angry, pissed, never ever in my life was I so angry!

I ask a nurse for my uniform and my weapon…she replies that none of that is here and that for me the war is over.

I got pissed…what war is over for me, are you fucking nuts?

My wife arrives in Vinkovci…she is welcomed by the medical personnel and politely asked to calm me down, ” we can’t hold him…he is going berserk, he wants his uniform and weapon but for him the war is over.”

Tanja is in shock hearing. She tries to calm me down but cant, I’m to pissed!

I ask her, did you bring me my uniform and my weapon, how are my men doing?

“Ray, please calm down, all is well, no I did not bring you your uniform or your weapon, you’re in a hospital and you’re very badly wounded,” she said.

“You should have brought me my gear and in anger I stop talking to her, and I start talking to Jimmy who came with her, a Croatian-German volunteer from my unit that was with me as I was wounded, and ask him about the situation at base.

Hearing what I did, I write a note stating that from that moment Jimmy is my deputy and not Marko anymore, due to some things that happened after I got wounded.

The next day Tanja is still beside my bed, she says tomorrow you will go to Zagreb military hospital, for further treatment, I am a lot calmer then the day before, and can talk normally now with her, and she says that I have been talking all this time here in clear and clean Croatian…something I did not know then, and still don’t!

She says one of the nurses told her that, and so it was not clear to them where my foreign name came from, and then she explained it to them.

So, the next day… getting ready for transport to Zagreb… still in my underwear, I get a sheet to cover me and off I go into a Citroen ambulance… with no heating, no siren or blue-lights in working order…yeah its war all right!

We drive to Zagreb, its snowing, a lot of vehicles on the road, its a slow ride, traffic jams…and cold to boot.

My temperature is dropping fast, Tanja urges to driver to hurry up as my situation is deteriorating fast and I start slipping in and out of consciousness…

Finally we arrive at Zagreb hospital.

We were are dropped-off in the basement of Dubrava hospital where the doors were left wide open, no one to see and freezing cold still.

For two hours we wait until a nurse arrives to ask what we are doing here. Tanja explains to them and they tell me to go to the X-ray room to make photos of my wound.

I can’t stand on my own feet anymore, I need support and so they ask my wife to support me whilst they are taking X-rays of me.

Soon I worked find out they did not see me as a Croatian soldier, but as a U.N. soldier, who apparently would have got a totally different treatment as a Croatian one, just like the treatment I had got so far.

Anyway, finally, however I can’t remember how, I wake up in a nice and warm bed, a beautiful room I have for my self.

A lot of doctors come and go, with even more questions but I have no clue what they want from me, as there is no interpreter to assist me.

Soon I am back on my feet, and start investigating this beautiful hospital… I find the cafe-bar on the first floor…coffee…thank God they have coffee.

People don’t notice me, as I don’t look like a foreigner it seems, in my pyjamas and bandages, I blend in like a lizard.