Medicine Amongst War

The Oath: A Surgeon Under Fire
by Khassan Baiev

with Ruth and Nicholas Daniloff


I read this book back in 2004, not knowing what I was in for. I live in Newton, Massachusetts, with a large enough Russian population that the local weekly paper prints a section in Russian once a month. But most of the Russians I meet here are Russian Jews. Newton also has a large Jewish population, so that makes sense.

Though I hear of Russia, and Russian accents fairly often, I do not hear about Chechnya, except on the news. And that is a rare event, even back when The events of this book were taking place, you rarely heard anything about Chechnya, except mentions of Chechyn separatists, and violence. I didn’t even know why they wanted to separate, the religious or political reasons or any other reason being the war, I knew nothing. And if you had told me there were Russian Muslims, I would have believed you, but assumed they were a tiny minority – Russia is a huge place, there’s probably some of every religion in there somewhere. And I couldn’t have told you where Chechnya was on a map – you only see Russia as one big piece, no states or zone within it.

The book taught me a lot about Chechnya, but that wasn’t hard to do, as ignorant as I was. But its main goal was to tell the story of a doctor caught in the middle of a war, and the danger he faced every day. A moral person, he takes his oath as a doctor seriously, and was determined to treat all the injured, regardless of their ethnicity or religion. Just that decision nearly cost him his life, many time. The horrors are compounded by his compassion, his love for his family and his grief at the injustice and oppression that was tearing apart his homeland.

Can you even imagine having your life in danger daily, being told you are a traitor for saving lives just because the person you are helping is of a different religion than your own? Can you imagine your family being in danger, but knowing you have to keep doing your job, as lives are at stake? How hard, when we just take life, and the access to medical care, pretty much for granted.
I know I am spoiled, being an American, living in a major metropolitan area – I could expect to receive care at any number of facilities a short distance from my house, and no one
is going to check my religious affiliation before deciding whether to save my life.

You still don’t hear much about Chechnya on Western news, nothing much has changed. But this book will teach you far more than you think, and I recommend it to anyone who cares about his or her fellow human beings. It’s amazing, heartbreaking, horrifying, informative and absorbing all at once. And it was so burned into my brain that I have just written this without even opening the cover, having read in over four years ago.

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