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Kindred Spirits, Distant Hearts. Chapter 25

"He stopped when Katarina put her hand up. “I can't hear you,” she said..."
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Tripoli. February 03rd 1942


Since having heard the conversation about the counter-offensive, Katarina was once more hopeful that all was not lost. She hadn't heard a single word about Benghazi since Christmas eve, however, more than a month ago and as she considered all the possibilities, her heart once again became heavy with fear. Not even a year had passed since she and her sister had fallen into British hands and the scar on her abdomen bore testament to the fact that her sister may not be safe.

She shook her head. No, she was not going to think about the endless possibilities. She would keep her mind focussed and open.


As she walked, deep in thought, she was oblivious to the activities going on around her, and suddenly, she was brought from her reverie by the sudden jolt of a khaki-clad soldier who was running past her.

“Hey!” she shouted after him and he abruptly stopped in his tracks and turned back to face her. “What do you think you are doing?”

“I'm sorry, Ma'am. I'm going to get a doctor, there's been an accident outside!”

“He's in theatre. Where is the accident?”

“Out on the road, Ma'am.”

“All right. Try the canteen, there maybe someone there.”

The soldier saluted and hurried away whilst Katarina turned and ran back in the direction from which the soldier had appeared.


Outside she found that a truck carrying fuel drums from the port had crashed into a bomb damaged building, the remains of which had collapsed onto it. The driver and his mate were trapped beneath tons of rubble. What made the situation worse was that the cab had only a canvas roof.

Already soldiers and local civilians were trying to extricate the two men, but they were seriously injured.


Katarina was the first medic to arrive, and immediately she stopped the men from working so she could assess the extent of the injuries.

Both men were in a bad way with the driver appearing to be in the worst condition. A length of timber beam was pinning him in his seat, resting across his upper thighs, both of which appeared to be broken. She also noticed a small trickle of thin, watery blood oozing from his ear.

The driver's mate was little better, having been thrown from the cab by the force of the impact. He was lying in the rubble, unmoving.

“Matron, I think you had better see to this one first.”

One of the soldiers called her attention to the fact that he was impaled on a piece of splintered wooden joist embedded in his chest.


By now she had been joined by two nurses and several orderlies whom she quickly organised to assist with the first aid of the two casualties whilst the other men carefully removed debris from around them.

Katarina knelt beside the driver's mate and sighed. There was nothing more she could do for him, and as she tried to work out how to extricate the timber without causing further distress, his eyes flickered open, just for a moment, and his lips began to move, but no sound was forthcoming.

She lowered her head so that her ear was close to his mouth, but there was no more, and when she looked again, she saw that the unfortunate man had taken his final breath.


Without losing a moment, she scrabbled through the rubble and climbed up into the cab of the lorry. Completely oblivious to the warnings about the loose debris and the precarious condition of the building, she pulled herself as close as she could.

This man too was close to death, the soft cap he was wearing having given him no protection from the falling masonry.

“Water, quickly!” she shouted to no-one in particular and almost immediately was handed a canteen of fresh water.

With great care, Katarina gently used the water to wipe the blood and dust from the man's face, trying to assess where the blood was coming from. Her fingers worked deftly to search every part of his head and neck when, to her surprise she discovered that, on the left side of his head, where there should have been the solid bone of his skull was a large indentation which was soft and wet. She deduced that the side of his head had taken the full impact from the beam which was now pinning him to his seat!

As she worked she had been joined by the two nurses. Turning to one she said,

“Go and warn the theatre that we have an urgent head injury case here and they need to be ready to operate immediately... If we can get him out,” she added as an afterthought.

An almost imperceptible voice drew her attention just then.

“Where... where is...?”

“Shhh, don't worry. We'll get you out. You'll be fine.”

The stricken soldier tried to turn his head, but Katarina held him firmly.

“Where is...?”

“Don't try to move, you have a serious injury. Please, stay calm and let us help you.”

Even with her gentle reassurances, the driver was becoming agitated.

“Where... is... sh... she?” The words came slowly and took every last ounce of strength that he possessed.

“F...find... her... p... please find... her...”

Katarina was puzzled.

“Find who?” she asked him.

“The g... girl,” he said.

“There is no girl here,” she replied. “You had a...”

He didn't let her finish.

“In the... the road. She... find... please...”

Without warning his eyes suddenly opened wide and his body tensed and almost immediately he began to shake violently, blood frothing from his mouth.

Katarina tried to calm him but there was nothing she could do that would help him, he was having a fit.


Almost as immediately as it had started so it was over, and the soldier's limp body fell lifeless in her arms.

She shook her head, telling those around her he was gone and closed his eyelids with her fingers.

Sadly she climbed down over the rubble. She always hated when she couldn't save a life but something was gnawing at her. Find her he had said but find who? There was no girl that she had seen and upon asking those around her who also had not see a girl she concluded that it was the head injury that had probably confused him.

Even though that was the most likely explanation, the nagging doubt just would not leave her alone and as she crossed the road on the way back to the hospital entrance she suddenly stopped.

“Damn it!” she said aloud and spun around to look back at the scene of carnage.

“Come on!” she shouted to the other nurse and ran back to the scene of the accident.

“Stop, stop,” she yelled at the men who were already working to extricate the bodies from the wreckage. “I think there may be a child under there!”


It took a little time to achieve something close to quiet but even then they could hear nothing, not even the steady drip,drip of petrol from a ruptured fuel drum

Piece by piece they worked around the wrecked truck, stopping often to listen for any sounds that could indicate an injured child.

Suddenly, a voice called out.

“Over here, quickly!”

Katarina scrambled over the rubble to where one of the soldiers was pointing.

“She's under the truck!”

Peering into the gloomy space she could just about make the shape of a small figure lying beneath the front of the vehicle. The height and strength of the chassis had protected her from being crushed by the falling building.

The only light available was from that of a small battery powered hand torch that one of the soldiers had passed her, and against the bright sunlight it was of little use, but it provided just enough illumination for Katarina to see that the child was possibly about seven years old. What she couldn't see though was the extent of her injuries.


Work resumed with new vigour, and the wailing of the womenfolk resumed until there was a space just big enough for Katarina to squeeze into.

Now she was out of the bright sunlight her eyes adjusted quickly, and she could see that the child's clothing was snagged on the lorry.

“Can you hear me?” she asked softly but received no response, so she dragged herself further in.

There was no room at all for Katarina to work in and all she could was reach out and try to free the girl from her restraints.

“I need a knife,” she called out, and within seconds one was passed through a tiny space to her.

With such limited space, Katarina stretched out and carefully began to cut the fabric from around the axle and wheel. It was a laborious task, all she could do was make small cuts and tear at it until the girl was released.

She relaxed for a moment to allow the feeling to return to her hands and as she did so she felt something move beneath her outstretched palm. It was the little girl's hand. Katarina squeezed it gently, reassuring her that all would be well.

Then she realised that there was one other, small problem. She couldn't get out!

“There isn't enough room to move down here,” she called out. “You will have to pull us out.”

“All right,” a voice replied. “What do you want us to do?”

“Just give me moment to get a good grip on her and then pull my legs. Be very careful though, I don't know how bad she is. I'll tell you when.”

Katarina made one last check that the girl was completely unhooked and then called out.

“Alright, gently now...”

It was the strangest feeling as two strong hands gripped her ankles and began to pull firmly but slowly. She held the child to her, protecting her from the rocks and stones as they began to slide out from underneath the truck.


They had moved no more than a few centimetres when they were suddenly dragged backwards and out with the force of a horse. It was as much as Katarina could do to maintain a grip on the tiny body in her arms but grip she did and they flew out into the bright sunlight.

The sudden heat of the sun was like a searing flame on her back, and it took her a few seconds to realise that it wasn't the sun at all that was burning her back but the sudden explosion as the leaking fuel ignited.

The two soldiers had reacted instantly when they saw a small, tell-tale blue flame appear on the other side of the truck. They had dragged her out as hard as they could and thrown her and the child bodily to the floor then dived down beside them as the whole truck erupted in a huge orange and black fireball.

In that second the pressure wave passed over them, and Katarina felt as though her lungs would burst as all the air around them was suddenly taken away by the blast.


When she regained consciousness, she lay in silent confusion, her ears hissing loudly. It was the only sound she could hear and for a moment she wondered where she was. She tried to get up but it was as though a heavy weight was pressing her down and with a final effort put all her strength into get to her feet but it was no good, she didn't have the strength. She took several deep breaths and was about to try again when the she felt the weight being lifted form her shoulders and strong hands grasping her.

Katarina opened her eyes to find that she was surrounded by people, one, in particular, was talking to her but she couldn't hear what he was saying.

“What happened?” she asked him and as soon as the words left her lips she knew something was wrong, her voice sounded odd. She could feel the vibrations in her throat, but she couldn't hear it above the ringing in her ears.

One of the nurses who had been helping her appeared and looked very concerned. Katarina could see her lips moving, but she could hear nothing.

“I can't hear you!” she said and then remembered. “The girl! Where's the girl?”

She tried to get up, to find the child she had pulled from the wreckage but strong hands held her firmly.

Suddenly, she felt a sharp pain in her forearm, just for a moment and then it was gone, and she began to feel light headed and distant.


The next thing Katarina remembered was opening her eyes and finding herself in bed. For a split second she thought the whole thing had been a dream but this wasn't her bed and why was she wearing men's pyjamas?

A nurse appeared, the same nurse whom she had seen when she was out in the street. She seemed to be speaking, but even in the quiet of her surrounds Katarina still could not hear what she was saying.

“Ilsa, what is going on? What happened to me? I can't hear anything.”

The young nurse was concerned and put her finger up to indicate 'one moment' and disappeared.

No more than a few seconds had passed before she was back with a notebook and pencil.

She scribbled something and then turned the little book to face her.

Can you hear anything? was written on the page.

Katarina shook her head, suddenly afraid. The nurse wrote some more.

Do you have any pain?

Again she shook her head. More writing...

I will get the doctor.

“Wait!” she said. “What about the girl?”

Ilsa smiled as she scribbled in the book.

She is fine. Just a few cuts and bruises. You saved her.

“Why couldn't I get up, out there?” she asked.

It took a little longer to write the response.

The soldier was on top of you. He was unconscious, but he is all right, now.

Before Katarina had a chance to reply, Ilsa pointed to a previous sentence.

I will get the doctor, then closed the little book.


Katarina relaxed and little whilst she was gone and tried desperately to hear anything, anything at all but the hissing was so loud that nothing else was audible.

Only a few minutes passed before Ilsa returned with the doctor. Katarina watched their mouths intently as they spoke between themselves, the doctor looking a little concerned. It was no good though, whilst she could pick out one or two words they were not enough for figure out the gist of the conversation.


Eventually, the doctor turned to her, and his mouth moved as he spoke.

“I can't hear anything,” Katarina interrupted him. “Just a loud ringing!”

Although she didn't realise it, she must have been shouting the words because the doctor put his finger to his lips which were stretched wide in a big grin.

Ilsa handed him her little notebook and pencil. He took it gratefully and began to write.

Katarina waited patiently, but it seemed, to her, that he was writing an essay.

I shall examine your ears as I think the explosion has perforated your eardrums. Don't worry; I'm sure it will only be temporary.

She nodded. She had seen many such cases, but they had never been with her long enough to know whether they recovered or not.


Without further ado, the surgeon took the Otoscope, which Ilsa was holding in a kidney bowl then gently brushed Katarina's hair to one side and hooked it over her ear.

Very carefully he inserted the small tip into her ear canal and examined her thoroughly. Without a word he then repeated the process in her other ear.

“Hmm... Ahh, yes, I see, Hmm...” he muttered as he peered at her eardrum.

Eventually, he appeared satisfied and handed the Otoscope back to Ilsa who switched it off and returned it to the kidney dish.

Katarina waited patiently, but with every second that passed, she became more and more nervous until the doctor finally spoke.

“As far as I can tell,” he began. “There is no permanent damage. Your left eardrum has a tiny perforation...”

He stopped when Katarina put her hand up.

“I can't hear you,” she said.

“Oh yes, of course, you can't,” he replied with a chuckle. He took the notebook and pencil that Ilsa was holding out to him and began to write.

She watched him eagerly, trying to work out what he as writing but, of course, she couldn't, and when he finally turned the notebook to face her, she was more than a little relieved.

I don't think your deafness is permanent. Your left eardrum has a tiny perforation but your right one appears undamaged but inflamed. You should get partial hearing back within a few hours but the perforation may take several days to heal itself.

“That is such a relief,” she told him with a huge sigh. “I couldn't bear to be deaf for the rest of my life.”

“You will be fine,” he smiled. “I will also get some new uniform for you...” Katarina pointed at her ears. “Oh, yes...”

Again he wrote in the notebook.

Your uniform was ruined, hence pyjamas. New one ordered.

She nodded and raised her thumb

Rest and get well again he wrote and again, Katarina nodded her accession.


Once the doctor had left she lay back and found she was able to relax for a while. She closed her eyes and listened to the noise in her ears. She was disturbed when Ilsa came to cover her ears with fresh, clean pads.

“Prevent infection,” she said with exaggerated lip movements. Katarina nodded and smiled.

“We will watch you today and tomorrow... your own bed.”

The expression on Ilsa's face showed that she was waiting to see if Katarina understood.

“All right, thank you,” she affirmed that she had.

“Erm... Ilsa, where are my brooch and watch?” she asked suddenly.

Ilsa pointed to the floor beside her bed, and when Katarina looked down, she saw her shoes there with her treasured items tucked inside them.


That night she barely slept. The ringing in her ears kept her awake although it was nowhere near as bad as it had been. Ilsa had put some drops inside her right ear to help ease the inflammation before she covered it.

She must have drifted off to sleep at some point in the early hours because she awoke with a start when one of the wounded patients suddenly cried out in pain.

Seeing her stir, Ilsa came over to her.

“Are you still here?” Katarina asked her.

She laughed, took out the little notebook and pencil and began to write.

Katarina stopped her.

“It's all right, Ilsa. I heard you laugh. Talk to me.”

“Oh, Matron! That is good news!” she beamed and suddenly leaned over and hugged Katarina.

“Oh gosh, I'm sorry!” she said as she suddenly stepped back.

Katarina laughed.

“Ilsa, you don't have to apologise. You know I don't mind.”

Ilsa relaxed.

“You can hear properly again, then?” she asked.

“Hmm, no, not yet. It is very muffled, and I still can't hear anything in my left ear, but it is a good sign that I can hear anything at all.”


As they talked, they were joined by the doctor.

“Ah, Matron. Things looking, erm, sounding better this morning then?” he asked and winked as he spoke.

“Very much thank you, Doctor,” she replied. “Some hearing is better than no hearing.”

“Most certainly,” he agreed.

Without further ado, he examined Katarina's ears thoroughly.

“Any pain?” he asked as he peered through the Otoscope.

“A little aching in my right ear but nothing serious,” she answered truthfully.

“Good, good.” He stood up. “All appears well. The inflammation is much reduced and there is no sign of infection so I think we can have our bed back now.”

“Good, I can get back to work then?”

“Whoa, slow down!” the doctor laughed. “Walk before you run! Take a few days rest to allow things to settle. You can't work if you can't hear properly!”

Katarina reluctantly agreed.

The doctor crouched beside her and spoke directly into her right ear.

“Can you hear me?” he asked, speaking quietly.

“Only just,” she replied.

“All right. I have some news from Benghazi.”

At this, Katarina tried to block out every other sound and concentrated hard to hear him.

“We regained Benghazi three days ago, but the wounded prisoners had all been evacuated aboard a British Hospital Ship. It sailed on the twenty-ninth.”

“The nurses were taken as well?”

“It would seem so,” he said.





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