(Editor’s note: reader discretion advised)
Recently I was involved in a discussion with a guy that was explaining how we should understand criminals. The emphasis was on farm murders but we touched on murderers in general, rapists and child molesters. My point of view was that I did not understand them and felt that he was justifying their actions. In the end I was informed that I was smug. Apparently that is the word for people that couldn’t see the point of view of the poor misunderstood murderers and rapists and molesters.
So smug is what I am, it seems. You see the fact is I can’t understand his beloved murderers. I just can’t. I also in my smugness wonder how he can, but I think I know.
It has to do with not being in the trenches. It has to do with not being faced with the blood and the tears and the guts and the screams … mostly the screams. It is probably easy to be nice and philosophical sitting snugly (not smugly apparently) in a nice air-conditioned office, philosophizing on the reasons people point a gun at people and pull the trigger. or worse…
The thing is I can’t forget. I am scarred. I remember the patient lying in a pool of his own blood, looking up at me and asking, beseeching even to tell him he is going to be ok. I remember wanting to tell him that it would all turn out just fine. I even remember wanting to hold his hand because his mother wasn’t there to take care of the emotional side of things. In the end I remember not telling him he would be ok because I wasn’t sure he would. I also remember not being the mother he needed in the last moments of his life because that is what it turned out to be.
After we had plowed through the blood and feces floating around in his abdomen, violated by the bullet fired from the gun of someone my friend feels I must understand, the patient died. He did not die well with his mother or wife holding his hand in love. He died alone in some ICU ward with adrenaline being pumped into his veins and oxygen being pumped into his lungs with a scarred doctor who felt that his time may have been better spent holding the patient’s hand rather than pouring time and energy into a futile attempt to save his life. You see the reason I can’t see the side of the killer is that the killer is still alive and has the sentiments of my learned friend to feel for him. My patient is dead and there was no one next to his bed when he died. There is no one to state his case now.
I remember the baby violated by her uncle. I was just a house doctor, but I had to examine her. The pediatrician couldn’t face it. It is quite a thing to see the perineum of a four month old after it has been ripped apart by the penis of one of the people my friend understands so well. Feces runs out of the vagina. It leaves a mark on the soul. But worse than that is the cry. The child did not scream anymore. I think it used up all its scream for its entire life during the deed. All that was left was a quiet constant moan. It is the ghostly moan of someone who has learned in her four month existence that there is no one who will come to her aid. There is no one to understand her. It will never leave me. My friend who is quick to understand the violator will call me smug, but may I suggest I might just be jaded?
The women raped is difficult to examine. Somehow you feel you are violating her again. You feel you are making the whole ordeal worse. They don’t resist. They are already broken. Anyway, rape in our country is so commonplace, it may be the one area where I understand that my friend may have sympathy with the perpetrator, but, sorry, I cannot. For me to examine those women tears me apart. It leaves me with a feeling that my own soul has been violated. That I am forced to do something because someone else destroyed a life. I refuse to see the point of that someone else. If that makes me smug, then smug I must be, but again I suspect I might be jaded.
A bullet can do a lot of damage. Physically I think I might have been a witness to pretty much all of it, but there is another side to the story. I remember an old man, shot in his home when he tried to defend his wife from the killers that broke into their house in the early hours, people that my friend chooses to understand. We did pull him through, but not without a massive operation and the obligatory ICU time. I remember when he came to me for follow up some time later. I was so proud that he had made it. But somehow he was the shell of the man he used to be. He was alive, but broken. His confidence was gone. He lived in fear. He felt helpless because he knew he could do nothing against the lead of the people who I hear from my friend I must understand and sympathize with. But who sympathizes with my patient whose peace has been stolen from him? The smug or the jaded?
Recently I enjoyed my Christmas Eve over the open abdomen of a woman shot in her bed by strangers, strangers whom my friend has endless sympathy for. I did not enjoy my holiday period, but more than that, my patients didn’t either. Hopefully my friend, while maybe enjoying a beer with the killers he understands so well had a really festive time. I do not understand him.
“bongi” is a general surgeon in South Africa who blogs at other things amanzi.
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