War, Hospitals, and Having Some Skills

Anna looked up from the soldier she was tending at the makeshift hospital and knew immediately that the man the two young boys were carrying was her Sasha. They put him on a clean cot and she rushed over as soon as she finished the man she had been bathing. When she saw Sasha up close, she inhaled softly and bit her lip. She bent down and stroked his cheek while looking at his wound. He was cut on the leg. A bayonet. The blood oozed out and formed a puddle underneath his cot.

“Anna,” he said.

“Sasha, I will do what I can.” She looked him in the eye and smiled. The surgeon was gone, off tending to others with more serious injuries. His safety was up to her skills. It was a clean wound. Anna got fresh water, her embroidery case, and a tiny amount of vodka that she swiped from Father Peter’s stash to wash the wound. She gingerly cut away the clothing around the area. Tears rolled down her cheeks as she washed the man she loved. If she could not think of a way to close the wound, it would get infected and he would die. She’d seen it before.

night dawns
Sofia, where Anna and Sasha married many years before the war.

He screamed when she applied some of the vodka.

“I’m so sorry, Sasha,” she said as she kissed his forehead. “It will get worse. I will try to close the wound. Try to think about our marriage day at Sofia.” She pulled out the needle and the thinnest piece of thread she had from her embroidery case. Sasha clamped his teeth and held the sides of his cot as she used her sewing skills to bring the skin together. Sweat beads streamed down his face. Anna quickly finished, poured what was left of the vodka on it and placed a dressing over the wound.

“Sasha, don’t let anyone else change this dressing or look at the wound. I will come back as soon as my shift is over.” He nodded and closed his eyes. Anna moved down the rows and rows of hurt men, praying that she had done the right thing by listening to her gut.

 

Many, many moons before this time of war, Anna was already no ordinary girl.

Many say this is because of her father. It is true that at first, he was disappointed to have a daughter; but, after many months of watching the child grow and form, he came to believe that she would be as capable as a son. She would be free to live her own life. This proved to be a very difficult task, for while he was king of his house, he was not king of the land, and people reacted negatively to his parenting.

Anna loved nothing more than to go on a hunt with her father and, as a master of both a gun and bow, she always came back with enough to feed the household. As Anna grew and began her transformation into womanhood, the nursemaid was worried. One evening, she gathered her courage and, despite the fear of being cast out, she spoke.

“Sir, it is not her place to be running around shooting things. She needs to learn the proper way to be a lady,” the nursemaid said one evening at dinner. He looked thoughtfully from the nursemaid to Anna.

“Anna,” he father said. “What is it that makes you happy?” Anna sat quietly for a moment.

“Riding my horse, feeling the wind in my hair, and going on a hunt with you,” she replied.

anna's horse
After a hard day riding Anna’s horse and his friend, Bob, loved eating at the furthest section of their land where there were two hills.

 

“What else makes you happy?” He said.

“Nothing else makes me happy,” she said. The table was silent as they waited for her father to respond. Anna knew she was a good hunter and that her father needed her. She felt sure that he would not force her to do anything else.

“Anna,” her father finally said. “While it is very important to me that you be happy, you must also learn new things. You must be challenged to grow as a person.” Anna felt confused. There was nothing else she thought she needed to learn.

“Starting tomorrow,” her father continued, “you will enroll in a sewing class at the monastery. “

“But…”

“No debate,” her father said.

 

The next day, her father brought her to the monastery to begin her lessons.

She hated every minute. Anna would dream of being outside on her horse chasing after an animal. A smack on her knuckles from a nun would bring her back to the reality of the pattern she was stitching. Four days out of the week she went to the monastery. Three days out of the week she was free to hunt and ride with her father.

One day, after a year of sewing torture, she was late leaving the monastery. The sun was setting in the sky and she stopped at the gate to admire the beauty of the pink, yellow and orange colors juxtaposed against the white lantern and candlelight radiating from the entrance to the monastery grounds. Her father waited for her outside, talking with a young man about her age. He turned towards her as she approached and his piercing eyes made her breath catch in her throat. This was Sasha. Soon after this meeting they married at the church of the monastery as the sun set. For months afterwards, all the local ladies spoke of nothing but how beautiful the sunset made the church and wedding party look.

 

sofia at sunset
The St. Sofia complex (Собор Святої Софії) in Kyiv that inspired the story. Basically, after passing this baby on my way home, I had another 45 minutes of walking and a very active imagination.

And now, he might die. Anna looked at him from across the room. She had heard the doctors speak about this sewing process in surgery, but they didn’t all believe in it. Mostly, they amputated the leg and 90 percent of their patients died. Anna worked and waited, borrowing vodka from Father Peter as much as she dared to wash the wound. Slowly, Sasha made progress and the wound healed. Luckily, the fighting ended soon after and he was not called back into service.

When Anna and Sasha returned from the frontline they went straight to visit Anna’s father and then, the three of them rode together to the monastery to watch the sunset celebrating life, love, and the importance of having more than one skill.

 

*The artist has taken total artistic liberty with the story and the St. Sophia complex and the fact that there are no hills that look anything like the mountains pictured. None of the elements portrayed are true.

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