By Grigor Nosi
I would not choose to write on dark, communist, times, as long as the architects of the Red Holocaust are not yet punished. Moreover, they arrogantly run the country’s politics today. But, as I was reading an article on the life of dissident Klement Islami, the lamenting voice of a young lady from Durres came from deep inside my soul and woke me up from this mindset. She was pleading, “Doctor, will you have to amputate my leg? Please doctor, heal me! I am still young!”
It was 1977, and I was assigned to work at the General Surgery Hospital in Elbasan, Albania as a medical practitioner. The hospital was recently built, and it neighbored the Elbasan Psychiatric Hospital. A shallow ditch and a partially collapsed fence divided the two, huge, buildings. People spoke of the hospital with a secretive undertone and referred to it as a place of isolation for selected individuals, enemies of the regime. The word was out that the State Security had cherry-picked doctors to intentionally abuse the patients who were incarcerated in that Hell against their will.
“What is your name?” I asked the young lady who was uncontrollably crying in pain. In a broken voice, she somberly said, “Zana, Zana Dhroso.” “Stretch out your leg,” I told her, and I began to probe her red, swollen, and infected knee. Each time I touched it, she bit her lips, dry and split down the middle due to the various medications she was taking. “Stay strong,” I said. After I injected a local anesthesia, I opened the wound and pressed gauze onto it to drain the massive infection, which had spread all over her knee. Just as I finished cleaning the huge wound, a weak voice pleaded, “Doctor, are you going to amputate my leg? Please, do not cut it off! I am young! It’s the second time I have had abscessed wounds.” “No,” I told her. “Your leg will heal.” Her fragile, long, elegant, fingers tightened around my hands as a sign of gratitude.
The senior doctors knew what caused those huge abscessed wounds. I heard that patients brought to the hospital on court order, were injected with pine resin. The injection aimed to paralyze them and ensure they were unable to flee from the prison hospital. I had not previously received the chance to see a case up close or to treat it. I was then, deeply troubled, and I told my father Doctor Stiliano Nosi. He sadly confirmed the practice. He was also an acquaintance of Zana’s father, Doctor Dhroso. My father advised me to especially care for her, and I did. I treated her even after she was sent back to the Psychiatric Hospital.
One day on my hospital rounds, I crossed the path separating the two hospitals, and I saw Zana and her father sitting on the only bench facing the street. Doctor Dhroso, a nobleman worn down by age and agony for his daughter, addressed me in a soft, pleading voice. He showered me with blessings to show his gratitude for his daughter’s medical treatment. His eyes frequently welled up while he patted Zana’s hands that were shaking uncontrollably. Moved by the image the two, poor creatures left on me, I searched to find out why the young lady from Durres was incarcerated in a psychiatric hospital.
At a high school in the city of Durres, a brave act occurred that was never heard before. A female student took down the portrait of the monstrous, communist, dictator Enver Hoxha, and she threw it onto the cement floor. The picture broke into pieces in front of all students. The heroic, young, lady, forgotten by the Post-Communist era, was Zana Dhroso.
Translated from The Albanian by Hilda Xhepa
Edited by Rebekah Roberts