Dr. Tom by Elina Petrova

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Skype session was short. They brought two

truckloads of villagers wounded in a tanker

explosion. “More amputations tonight.”

Tom takes off his thin-rim glasses,

rubs his eyelids. Sunken unshaved cheeks.

Dark circles under his brown Italian eyes.

Beds in verandas, beds in quarters, beds

in tents outside: four hundred thirty to attend

with two local nurses permanently on call.

At 6 a.m., Tom strains his ears. Is it a truck approaching

or an Antonov to drop barrel bombs from 20,000 feet?

Is it a supersonic Sukhoi-24, or a gust of wind?

Subsistence farmers pushed off the land to the Nuba

Mountains to be starved, maimed by shrapnel, wiped off

the earth — “the least of these” who should be cared for.

One million people remain with the single surgeon who

won’t leave them. Some faint with drug-resistant malaria.

Some bring children writhing with chemical burns.

Some, with leprosy, need the doctor’s hand, a human

touch. Some, stopping at strangers’ huts, walked for

a week from the camp to the Mother of Mercy Hospital.

Choosing which patient to give the last of the medicine,

dealing with death of another … Pain builds

in the former football player’s chest that became lean.

Ten years in the operating room, the doctor learns

as he operates. Off the electrical grid. No X-ray.

No room for mistakes. No room for himself. *


* – After completing his Navy commitment for the U.S., Tom Catena from upstate New York began his medical work in Africa. Since 2007, he has been the only doctor permanently based in Sudan’s Nuba Mountains with a population of 800,000 people. He has performed thousands of surgeries for the wounded victims of Omar al-Bashir’s jihadist war against the Nubans. Due to the way he heals the sick 24/7, civilians often call him “Jesus Christ.” Instructed to evacuate, Dr. Catena refused to leave: “What they were in a sense saying was, ‘Tom, your life is worth more than these people here.’ Their lives are as equal as my life is.”

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