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February 17 , 2009

Blood on My Hands

A Surgeon at War


The year is 1999, and a fresh hell is being created before our eyes. It is hardly to be credited that the enlightened nations of Europe are allowing this nightmare to occur only sixty minutes by jet from Paris and London. The forces of Serbian strongman Slobodan Milosevic have swept into Kosovo on the Balkan Peninsula leaving a trail of death and heartbreak. Scenes of Milosevic's 'ethnic cleansing' play out on television screens all over the world; haunted figures huddled behind barbed wire fences, bodies heaped in ditches. Adelaide surgeon Craig Jurisevic recalls his grandfather's ordeal in a Nazi concentration camp and resolves to honour his memory by offering his skills as a surgeon to the victims of the conflict. Leaving behind a wife and son, Jurisevic flies to the Balkans under the auspices of the International Medical Corps. Struggling to maintain his moral bearings, Jurisevic's journey from Adelaide to the hell of Kosovo has become a descent into the heart of darkness. Blood on My Hands, co-written with award-winning author Robert Hillman, tells a story of terrible suffering, of extraordinary heroism, and of the savagery that lies coiled in the human heart. ... Columns of refugees, despair etched on their faces, shuffle along roads littered with burning vehicles; broken bodies lie in ditches, corpse stacked on corpse, mouths open in the rictus of the violently slain. In Adelaide, where I live, dinner with friends stalls while we wander into the living room to see the latest images from Kosovo on the seven o'clock news. Someone murmurs, 'Is this really happening?' and we shake our heads and experience that mixture of impotence and disgust that news journalism and the telephoto lens have made so familiar to middle-class folk like ourselves ever since the Vietnam war. A fresh hell is being created before our eyes, and it is hardly to be credited that the enlightened nations of Europe are allowing this new hell to grow and grow only sixty minutes by jet from Paris, from London... ... I sit in the cave with dead bodies rotting at the back, their reek growing riper in the awful heat. In Wilfred Owen's poem of 1918, 'Strange Meeting' he writes of escaping from the battlefield through a tunnel that leads to hell, where the dead of the Great War live as wraiths. My cave, with its stacked corpses from the battlefield, has come to resemble that tunnel. I wish I had Owen's poems with me. I wish a lot of things. I'm still gazing out over the valley when the other squad members return. I don't ask about the prisoner. Later, at dusk, I pen a note to Donna in my journal. I write about love and longing. It's as if I need to remind myself that I stand for more than the horror and depravity of a day like this day. I can also love. I can cherish. I'm not a butcher. But I should have saved that wretched man. I know it.I sign off my note with love, get into my sleeping bag beside the stack of corpses and wait for sleep to come...
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