Fragments from a War Diary, Part #168
Today has not been a good day. At the time of writing there are raid sirens screaming across Lviv and I understand from a colleague that the same is true in Kyiv. This has been happening all day. However today it is more serious than most days and my mobile telephone has been pinging with Ukrainian government text messages announcing air raid alerts which is typically a suggestion that something more serious is going on. Also I have heard a military tannoy system outside my apartment window in Lviv and I think what the man on the tannoy is saying is that this air raid siren is serious and everyone actually has to go down into bomb shelters. Most of the time the air raid sirens are ignored because we hear them so much but on this occasion the government really does want us to descend into bomb shelters. The best information I can ascertain is that both Lviv and Kyiv are currently under attack. Presumably this is the beginning of the Russian aerial bombardment campaign to disrupt civilian infrastructure, terrorise civilians and disrupt electricity networks to try to freeze the Ukrainian population to death. They tried it last winter, and they’re trying it again this winter too. The streets outside are suddenly deathly quiet.
Unfortunately I cannot get to the window of my apartment to check the streets and I cannot descend into the air raid shelters, because I can hardly walk. I have become injured in the silliest possible way you can imagine but silly things become routine in wartime and it hurts like hell and now I may have a lot of my plans mucked up. We’re just going to have to see. I struggle to get out of bed - it took me 15 minutes to make it to my laptop computer. Sitting down in front of my laptop computer now causes several seconds of intense pain which isn’t really very good. The idea of going down the stairs and into the street and to the air raid shelter is absolutely impossible so I guess I am just stick here while the missiles rain down until the attack warning is over.
So let me tell you how I was injured. Yes, it was when I was sitting on the toilet. You would be surprised how many people are injured in wartime sitting on the toilet. It would be funny but for the fact that it is incredibly painful. I was in the squat toilet of my military kitchen and, even when using a squat toilet, you tend to relax for a moment and forget all the duties and troubles of the day. Then there was a huge bang outside and an air raid siren, and I stood up and I slipped on the wet hard cold granite stairs up to the squat toilet because my trench boots that I wear to stay dry from the icy cold rain and dirt and slops all over the kitchen floor were also wet and I slipped and my back rammed hard into the crooked stair. The agony was overwhelming and I let out a huge shout using a rude word and you can probably guess what that rude word was. I could not get off the floor of the squat toilet! I smile now but it was incredibly painful and it still is even as I write these words which are being bashed out at less than a third of the usual speed I write at. Some old Ukrainian ladies came running but they realised they could not help get me up so they summoned the formidable Y———-, a huge farmer somewhat older than me but twice my strength, to pick me up from the floor in this unfortunate and compromising position. With his strength and assistance we got me back to a plastic chair outside (most of the kitchen is outside, expoed to the elements). By reason of my paramedic training I knew immediately the two things to be checked for: broken ribs and bruising to the major organs. The rest is just tissue damage and it will swell up and then go away in a few days.
However it is very difficult to undertake a paramedical assessment of yourself when you are in excruciating pain and impossible when the part of the body you need to check is actually your rear. Someone else needs to do it for you. I noted with some wry humour the horror on the faces of my fellow international volunteers when I asked for a volunteer to check me for broken ribs under my instructions. Nobody would volunteer; they were scared stiff. None of them have been to the front line! When you are on or close to a front line and you have the right training you know to help an injured person immediately. In the overly regulated “health and safety” culture we have inculcated in the West, everyone is scared of intervening in a situation they know nothing about and I knew the thoughts that were going through their heads: “what if I get sued”.
One refreshing feature of Ukrainians is that they don’t (yet) have this sort of “I won’t get involved because the lawyers might be after me” mentality and two elderly ladies knew exactly what to do. They stripped me off at my waist (in the nice cold weather, with the air raid sirens in the background) and pummelled and pushed my skin where I had fallen and where the extensive bruising was already emerging and they tested to see whether I screamed. This was exactly the right thing to do and they knew how to do it without my explaining it to them. I fear that these old ladies are far better paramedics than me, even though they probably haven’t had any training at all. They’ve seen all these things and they’ve learned it the hard way, by trial and error. I didn’t scream - I just shouted. This is a good sign. If a patient shouts, they’re alright. Really seriously injured people don’t get pissed off with a little pain. They either scream if they are in agony, or they are silent because they are going to die.
Various sprays and creams and pills were applied, none of which did any good of course. After another half an hour’s work, I realised that standing up was something no longer possible. I had to get home and go to bed and lie down and have some sleep because I was seriously suffering. All over falling off a squat toilet amidst a big bang. How incredibly silly. I’m not 25 anymore and these things bloody well hurt. Getting home was a toil because I live in the pedestrianised Old Town in Lviv and there is no traffic. So a taxi was out of the question. I crawled - almost literally - back to my apartment building and each step on the single flight of stairs took an age. I fell asleep for a few hours and woke up to find that I could get out of bed but only with massive discomfort.
Now I am sitting here staring blankly at my screen and wondering about a list of mundane things. The fridge is empty. How can I get some food up here? I can find a friendly colleague to bring me something to eat, but how will they get in the giant front door downstairs? Can I persuade a doctor to visit me and confirm that I will be alright? For how many days will I be bedridden? I hate being bedridden. I get intensely bored and irritated and I want to do things and keep myself busy. And, most importantly, is the bar right opposite me still open in the middle of this air raid alert? If I could get to the window then I could probably take a look. If I can get down those stairs. A real Englishman in this situation would of course go to the pub. I’m not even sure I can do that.
The situation is pathetic. I’m pathetic. I need to keep a stiff upper lip. This is a war, and there are people who are having their legs blown off out there on the front line. Nevertheless, until I get better, I can going to be stuck and that has the potential to muck up a lot of plans. Falling off a squat toilet. I never thought such a thing was possible. How ridiculous. But as you can probably tell, I’m still smiling, just a little, but it hurts when I do so I mustn’t let myself laugh.