Light Cruiser Frauenlob
A Letterstime Side-Story
---- Frauenlob May 31, 7:36 p.m. onward, "the surgery"
No one was screaming now, which meant he could work in peace - or what he'd decided was the nearest thing. Korvettenkapitan Edmund Constans, doctor of medicine, worked steadily on the sudden influx of patients that had been delivered to the mess hall for treatment; casualties of their encounter with the Grand Fleet. That area had been cleared prior to the onset of battle, becoming an impromptu operating theater and clinic for the man the crew of Frauenlob called "Herr Doktor".
It's typical, he thought as his hands moved automatically to place precise stitches, only yesterday I was thinking I should scream if I had to treat one more case of boils, blisters, or seasickness, and now I would gladly have that time of boredom return. He smiled wryly. Frauenlob steamed on, while outside the sounds of shooting and destruction gradually faded. Busy with his patients, the doctor did not notice.
A seaman hovered near Constans' right elbow, waiting to hand the doctor any requested implements or supplies, or to turn a patient. The man was no krankenhaus-trained nurse, but he was willing to help, and so far the sight of the injuries of war had not caused the sailor to lose his lunch. One other seaman, not as strong in his stomach, helped to clean, bandage, and attend those who were not so badly off.
Constans worked at a fast but steady pace; the same pace he'd learned to use when dealing with the victims of natural disasters or farming accidents. There was a certain rhythm to it, after all. Give morphine to stop the pain, assess the damage, let the orderlies clean up the lightly injured, set aside the hopeless, and get to work on those who could be saved with some effort.
God has been kind to us, he thought as he finished stitching the flap of skin over the stump of a leg severed mid-thigh by a piece of flying metal. We only lost five men so far, but none have been brought here alive that I cannot treat in good faith and have hope that they will live. For that, he was grateful. A quick wash of the hands in carbolic solution, then, "pass me that forceps," he asked Seaman Genscher, holding out his hand and pointing at the desired implement. He knelt by the next patient, a sailor with a long sliver of metal protruding three inches from his shoulder. Carefully, he half-lifted him to see if the point of the spear protruded from the back. It did, and the shape of it and of the wound told him that it had been driven in from back to front.
Long disciplined not to give vent to his feelings in front of a patient, he frowned to hear Genscher utter an oath. "Na, none of that!" he chided softly. "Even unconscious, they can hear what you say. It may be difficult, kind, but say nothing bad in front of them."
Genscher drew in a deep breath and collected himself with an effort. The doctor nodded in approval. He was young. no older than Constans' own son, he realized with a start. A young man - on a ship-full of young men. Even the captain was younger than the doctor. Constans, at age 44, suddenly felt like an elder among this collection of youth, all of whom had been so keenly looking forward to this contest against the British lion. Well, the good Baron had given them what they wanted, hadn't he?
Constans sighed and returned his attention to the work at hand. "Now then. I'm going to have to extract this - this spear, and we must be ready to clamp off the bleeding quickly so I can close any severed veins. Then we can apply a pressure bandage. We must be fast, you understand?"
"Yes, Herr Doktor." Genscher nodded soberly and stood ready with compresses and surgical clamps to hand, while they waited for the ether to put the injured man to sleep.
A few minutes later Constans checked the patient then said, "Very good. Let us begin." Grasping the metal, he pulled straight back, removing the spear in one swift motion. For some time after he did not really think, as he performed the ticklish process of racing the clock to get the severed veins safely clamped off before the man could bleed to death. Once that was done, the work became routine and the doctor found himself mentally comparing his current situation with his earlier civilian life.
I really do want to talk to Otto at earliest opportunity, about his advice to join the Navy last year. I remember well what he told me:
"A complete change of scene is what you need. Get away from these mountains, find work that will hold your attention! That will help you to feel better and to forget. And your Kaiser needs your service, Edmund. Join the Navy - the great High Seas Fleet! I have a friend there, let me make the arrangements. Soon, all your worries and sorrow will be lost in the excitement of the seafaring life!"
Constans snorted at that. Oh yes, I certainly couldn't wallow in self-pity when I was vomiting my insides out over the rail alongside the newest recruits. or now that I'm up to my elbows in blood. I have much more practical things to worry about, such as do I have enough morphine and catgut. and will my patients die of sepsis or will they drown first? He snorted again.
Seaman Genscher looked at him with concern. "Am I doing this wrong, Herr Doktor?"
"Eh? Oh, not at all my boy. I was only thinking of something else. You are doing just fine." Genscher relaxed with a small smile, winding the bandage around the sailor's chest with more confidence.
Constans allowed himself to smile at the lad, encouraging him, as he would have his own son. He wondered then about his children, his daughter, just married and settled in Dresden, and his son, conscripted by the Army while in his second year of college. He'd wanted to do what he could to get his child placed somewhere safe, but his boy had had other ideas about where he wanted to serve. Maria would have been out of her head with worry, he thought, moving automatically to the next patient. His heart clenched momentarily with the memory of loss. I wonder if she worries from heaven? Ach, I should have better faith than that! If nothing else, she watches over us, I am sure. Somewhat comforted by that thought, he looked up to see that he and his orderly were at the last patient in the room.
"We're almost done, Herr Doktor," Genscher smiled in relief.
"Hmm. So we are." As they bent to their work, he couldn't help but think, let us hope Baron Letters does not send us more patients before this day is over.
---Frauenlob May 31 7:53 pm (approx.)
Constans came out on deck on the port side of the ship, looked first one way, then the other. The relatively quick bit of work on the worst of the injured completed, he had emerged to check with the Captain and crew to see if there were any more men needing treatment.
The rumble of heavy guns had just faded away. No wounded were in his line of sight at that moment, which was good. To Frauenlob's stern trooped what looked like a solid line of HSF battleships, one after the other. That was also good, however two of the ships behind spouted bright flame, illuminating the seas. Ahead and to his left, another line of large ships loomed . His eyes widened. After a year in the navy, he was still no expert on foreign ships, but the look of these was anything but promising. Frauenlob seemed to be angling awfully close to them.
"Are those our ships, Seaman?" He asked of Seaman Genscher, who had followed to assist with any wounded not already in their "sickbay". His assistant was staring at the ships ahead with a blank expression. In the fading light the young man's short blond hair looked almost white, giving him the appearance of age.
"No, sir, they aren't." Genscher nodded at the line of battleships slightly to port before them. "Those belong to the British." His head turned to look behind them, and he gestured at the ships astern. "Those are ours. We're now in the van - the front of the line, sir."
"I... see they have been keeping themselves busy while we were occupied inside." The slight hope that they were done with medical adventures for the day faded. A wrecked gun mount nearby gave mute witness to what could happen when warships started hurling shells at each other. He did not need to contemplate the stains on the deck to know what had happened to the gun crew. Resolutely he turned his attention away and moved quickly to the bridge.
Captain Ehrhart was there, along with his officers, staring at the British battleships with a calm expression. Only his eyes gave some indication of the level of worry he was feeling. He glanced at the doctor and smiled briefly, grateful for the momentary distraction. "Herr Doktor, welcome! You are just in time to admire the Grand Fleet." His tone was light. The captain took in Constans' stained white overcoat. "I see you have been working hard."
"I'm caught up for now. Have we more work ahead, then? I came out to see if there was anyone else needing treatment." The doctor nodded at the battleships, frowning at the roar of their heavy guns as they fired upon Konig, Grosser Kurfurst, and the others.
"There's a good chance of it." Ehrhart managed not to look upward as the heavy missiles arced over his old cruiser. "We are unhurt up here, and I believe the men have gotten all the injured they could find to you."
He frowned slightly. He had grown to like and trust the doctor, who had proven to have a calm head during disasters as well as excellent medical skills. Frauenlob would need both today. The good doctor, however, was no career navy man and as such did not have all of the survival instincts an experienced officer or crewman would have. "Herr Doktor, go below and stay with your patients. I'll have my men carry any wounded to you. I'd rather you not risk yourself unduly." He looked at Genscher, who had been waiting patiently while the officers conversed. "Seaman."
"Guide Herr Doktor back to his surgery." a quick glance toward the Grand Fleet, ".and take him by way of the starboard side." Little enough shelter, that, but it was the best he could do given the circumstances.
"Aye, sir." The two of them left to the sound of heavy shells crashing into the sea somewhere astern. Burning ships gave them plenty of light as they returned to the makeshift hospital below.
Ehrhart listened to the doctor leave; nodded to himself when the footfalls of the two men had faded into the pervasive backwash of sound that was Frauenlob's engines. The damage the ship had taken had not harmed them and they drove her steadily through the dark ocean. He raised his glasses to scan the British fleet ahead. The view had not improved in the few moments he'd spent with Dr. Constans. They had their choice of battleships. and where was the rest of the British light that he'd expected to greet his little combined flotilla?
At the head of the line, Frauenlob plowed on, burning Konig and Superb providing a most uneasy illumination behind them. Do we join them soon? The captain silently wondered. His jaw set. We do understand our duty.
By Colleen Winters firstname.lastname@example.org
to Chapter 2 of Frauenlob