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Nobody at the ward knew where she came from, or if that was her real name. She appeared one hot May morning from nowhere, barely dragging her exhausted feet on the scorching asphalt, rib cage protruding in the air, tail hanging loosely between hind legs, brown fur - collection of dusty thorns and thistles. Nia carried a rich ancestry here, as the trained eye discerned the features of several distinct breeds.

Her eyes more than made it for her lackluster looks. Once you gazed at them, they would haunt you for life. They were deep brown, speckled with green dots and so much sadness and suffering enough to melt the weather beaten bronze statues in the Marine Garden, screaming with unspeakable torment and loss. As an emergency triage nurse in a busy urban hospital I have seen more than enough sadness and anguish in patients, relatives and acquaintances, never so profound.

Grabbing a sterile cleaning kit, and donning my gloves, I dashed through the cafeteria, scooping some leftovers and a short while later was in the parking lot. 

I extended my right hand with some food and at first she barked feebly, scaling her teeth, then slowly, cautiously grabbed a piece of meat and quickly backed off, chewing greedily, her eyes never leaving mine. The second chunk went down the same way, and on the third she was already steadily looking me in the eye. This is when I noticed her sad and sorrowful eyes, sadder than the eyes of any human being I have looked in during my twenty- eight years in the emergency room.

Soon she was licking my hand with the genuine, heartfelt gratitude that only our canine friends can bless us with. Having gained her trust, I quickly examined her. Nothing broken, no lacerations, just visible signs of starvation.  

Several other nurses joined me, bringing towels, cleaning supplies and a cage big enough to carry her. She tried to protest but another tasty piece of meat tossed inside the cage was a good enough bribe to convince her. An off-duty intern brought in a large plastic tub and after some indignation and splashing, Nia emerged squeaky clean and ready for the examination table. 

Other than severe malnutrition she was completely healthy and perfectly normal as far as dogs go. Obviously we could not keep her in the hospital so a makeshift cage in the inner yard solved it.

We took turns caring for her, feeding her, bathing her and soon she became a beloved member of our extended family of nurses, assistants, interns and doctors. Even trauma patients loved her and while she was around them, they seemed to recover more rapidly. Few weeks later she was frolicking around happily, chasing the occasional rabbit or squirrel. 

She managed to find a hole in the fence and when she disappeared for the first time, we all worried and she came the next morning tired and happy to see us.

The seasons rolled by. The busy summer that kept us occupied with cuts, scrapes, bruises and occasional stinging by sea animals and even the rare drowning of a drunk tourist, gradually gave way to the usual autumn allergies, flues and other typical ailments. 

We continued to enjoy Nia’s company as much as we could, when our hectic schedule allowed us. Somehow we missed her getting pregnant but we all enjoyed it, especially looking at her unforgettable eyes. The sadness, sorrow and suffering were gone, there was pure joy sparkling from these deep brown, very human eyes. 

They came unexpectedly, all five of them, cute little furry things, hopeless like all newborns and bursting with the promise of new life - hustling, bustling, fighting to get first to her nipples.

Soon the brutal November rains accompanied by fierce easterly winds were sweeping the city, washing away all traces of the jubilant summer bacchanal of merry crowds and scantily clad women partying all night. 

The usually lovely and calm sea became grumpy and menacing, thrashing mercilessly round the clock at the ancient Byzantine walls gracing the harbor and sending away fish, fishermen and seabirds. 

The real disaster struck fiercely on the last Friday of November. It had been pouring down for a week from the leaden skies, drenching everything with cold, freezing rain, bringing more misery. Around eight o’clock that night the city air raid sirens that had last seen action around World War II during the Allied bombing, woke up with a shrill, ear piercing wail, followed on the PA system, “Disaster at the harbor. Ship ran aground.  Hospitals stand by for mass casualties. All available vehicles report to Pier 7 and wait for further orders. I say again…”

Soon the wide parking and every available space around the hospital was jammed with trucks, cars, ambulances and everything else movable used to haul survivors and human wreckage. Volunteers, medical students and even priests donning white frocks under heavy raincoats were sorting, triaging, providing help that for some survivors came too late…

Responding to an urgent page, I looked at the window just as a fierce lightning broke and lit the skies. I saw Nia frantically grabbing her grown up, still baby puppies one at a time by their neck fur in her jaws and hurrying towards a remote corner of the backyard, away from the kennel. My beyond exhausted and strained brain registered the event, and a tiny voice crept trying to tell me there was something totally wrong, but the tasks at hand, each with more pressing urgency than the other quickly stifled the tiny voice.

Somehow I have dozed off - may have been a few minutes, may have been a few hours. One of the operating room nurses, hardened like a chunk of weather beaten granite rock, who has seen many patients never come to after an operation, or drift away for good, was shaking me violently. Tears large as grapes were rolling from her sad blue eyes  down her wrinkled cheeks that resembled land, gone dry and barren decades ago: “Hurry up, it is Nia!”

Grabbing my raincoat, I rushed after her to the wide marble steps of the backyard. Pretty much everyone was there, watching in silent grief and disbelief how Nia dragged her little puppies, one little drowned lifeless body at a time, from the corner hole, where she hid them last night, to the steps. She was laying them neatly, little feet wrinkled up in the air, furless skin tight and blue, bellies swollen with water, tiny eyes awfully rolled inwards. After she brought the last puppy she looked eagerly, expectantly at Doctor Ivan - the chief surgeon with golden hands, the man who has wrought many a comatose and just plain gone patient from the cold merciless, bony arms of the Big Reaper. You could hear a feather drop on the wet freezing steps… My words are simply failing me to describe the hopeless hope, the raw  emotions, coming beyond sad keen eyes. Even Doctor Ivan, the hardened warrior, the life giver and savior was weeping bitterly, overwhelmed by so much suffering, feeling utterly heartsick…

And then she disappeared, leaving just like she had come to us, arriving from nowhere and vanishing in the nowhere…


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