I've learned many things from my past, and many more from the mistakes of my past. When I look back on my youth and the things I've done (and more importantly, the things I should have done), I find that I can only think: What could I have done differently? Strangely enough, through all of my experiences and mistakes, and the things I've learned from them, I can only count the number of lessons that truly stuck with me on one hand.
Unlike most doctors of my time, I didn't grow up in a wealthy family. In fact, my parents were quite the opposite. Even more so after the crash of America's stock market in 1929, when I turned six years old. I can only consider myself lucky I was still able to start primary school that year.
In my second year of school I got to choose a second language. While most kids decided to study French or Italian, I was one of five kids in my year to choose English. To me, it was just like learning a different version of my own native German. Even from that age I was fascinated by the human body and how it worked, and I knew that all of the best hospitals were in America, so I wanted to be as prepared as possible for when I moved out of Germany to become a surgeon. Alongside my lessons in English I took a course in music, where I discovered my second passion: playing the violin.
I was able to learn English until my fifth year of school, when I turned ten years old. Just a week after the school year started, my father had told me that a lot of things were going to change, "hopefully for the better," he had told me. A few months later, he left "to help out the cause." I never saw him again.
When I started school again, I realized my father had been right. A lot of things had changed. For better or worse, I couldn't say, but things had changed. Among the usual mathematics, music and reading lessons, we also learned about a group of people called Juden, and how they were to blame for ruining our economy by hoarding every bit of money they could for themselves. We were told that these Juden shouldn't be considered true Germans, and that they didn't deserve to be treated as equals. The teachers also talked about what it meant to be a true German, and how we, even though we were still young, could help support our country's cause. Whatever that meant. Being an only child, I wasn't allowed to join the army, but the government trained me in combat anyway. I learned how to shoot handguns and rifles, and I even learned how to ride horseback. I was never a fan of horses, but I trusted the soldiers when they told me it would be a useful skill to have.
I was also told that English was the language of our enemy, and that speaking it would get me in big trouble. Confused, but scared, I promised to never speak English again. As I grew older I learned more and more about the progressing war my country was fighting, and how the Führer was trying his hardest to spread the message that the Juden were evil people who wanted nothing more than to destroy the prosperity of all countries. He tried to make other countries join our empire, but many of them were too fearful of us to do so.
The remaining seven years of my schooling revolved around science and music. I played the violin for many concertos and even wrote a few of my own pieces, but they were never published. I became very involved with learning about local colleges and medical schools, much to the delight of my teachers, who offered me plenty of help with my research.
My seventeenth birthday was one I'll never forget. I had gotten a letter from the government offering me a place at the best medical school in Stuttgart! Finally my passion for learning about the human body had been realized! I could fulfill my dreams of becoming a surgeon at last! A mere week after receiving the letter, I had made myself at home as one of the youngest Medical students in that school's history. I was recognized by my peers and superiors alike for my sheer enthusiasm for learning and exploring.
My first year of study was a crash-course, if you will, on human anatomy and physiology. Admittedly, that was my only year of any formal study. All of my schooling thereafter was strictly hands-on. In the beginning I had downright refused to take a scalpel to living, conscious flesh. My professor, Herr Heilburg, had assured me time and again that although these so-called "patients" shared every physical characteristic of a human, they were, in fact, Juden, the same species that had brought war and famine upon our great country. Each body used for medical study was a sacrifice, an offering for forgiveness. Every person to be put under our blade was a step closer to bringing the motherland peace of mind, assurance that her injuries would be avenged.
After my fifth vivisection I finally saw what Herr Heilburg was talking about. They may look, sound, and even act like us Germans at times, but the truth of the matter was that they would never truly be like us. By the end of 1940 I was able to remove, replace, and transplant every major organ and limb. During my studies I had very little time for music, but I managed to avoid getting too out of practice with my violin.
For my final exam I had to perform a double heart transplant and have both patients live for a minimum of one month. Finding two patients with the same blood and tissue type was hardly a problem; there were so many people on what we called "the waiting list" that we had plenty to pick from. The procedure itself was actually a group project, which took nearly an entire 24 hours to complete. Needless to say, all six of us nearly collapsed from exhaustion after we finished suturing the patients. The next month was nothing short of agonizing.
The day I got my license to practice medicine, I was overjoyed. Some of my classmates invited me to join them for some celebratory drinking the night before the ceremony, but I refused. Instead, I spent the night catching up on some much needed violin practice.
Before I was able to even look at my license, I had to recite the Hippocratic oath. Of course, they didn't expect an eighteen-year-old to remember and recite the entire oath, so they gave me a more concise version that said, "I hereby swear that I shall not intentionally inflict harm upon my patients, for that is not why I am being made a doctor. If harm does come to my patients, however, be it accidental or otherwise, may I find mercy and forgiveness in the eyes of my superiors."
When the ceremony ended, Herr Heilburg pulled me aside. I clearly remember that he was emotional that day. He was obviously proud of me. I had graduated top of my class, not because of my grades (which were, incidentally, perfect) but because of my tenacity and willingness to learn. We had embraced, and I recall trying my damndest to not let my own emotions overcome me. I'll never forget what he told me that day:
"Listen," he addressed me, with his hands on my shoulders. "Practicing medicine is an art. I don't want you to ever be afraid to express yourself through your medium, just like any other artist might. As a musician, you of all people should understand that. Harm will come to your patients at some point in your career; that is an unavoidable fact. It may be from a foolish mistake, or from the testing of a new medical breakthrough, but it will happen. Just remember that making mistakes is human, and you shall never be punished for being human."
In the following years, I took Herr Heilburg's advice to heart, and truly came out of my shell. I was hired by a so-called Medicinal Renaissance Facility ("Making new and great medical discoveries every day!") that was funded by the government. Although I was working under the National Socialist regime, I was never named an official member of the Party.
The hospital was large and extravagant, and comprised almost entirely of operation rooms. My first lesson upon arrival was that the human brain will automatically shut down after a certain degree of pain, making anesthesia a simple waste of money. My first few surgeries at the hospital were just as traumatizing as those during my training, but I eventually became deaf to what used to be blood-curdling screams. I turned away from their pleas for mercy and forgiveness; they always said the same things. I no longer had any sorrow for them. For every patient that would try to plead and reason with me, five others would fight literal tooth and nail to escape the binds of the surgical table.
Almost every doctor there was around my age. I had concluded that it was because of our seemingly endless creativity and willing acceptance of new lessons. We were encouraged to experiment and try new techniques and procedures, for the hospital thrived on trying new things. Xenotransplantation, or putting animal parts into humans, had fascinated me the most. How well could a pig's heart work when inside of a human? Would the stomach of a baboon function the same way depending on its host?
Herr Heilburg's prediction came true only a few months after I started my career at that hospital. I hadn't gotten any sleep that night; I had been too horrified with myself for ending the life of another human being, a child, no less! I tried to come to terms with it, but even today the face of that little girl, pale as the snow, staring with soulless, unblinking eyes still haunts me. They were brown. My colleagues tried to help me by saying that the deaths of the Juden were avenging all of the German Soldiers who were killed on the front lines. I wanted to believe them, I wanted to be okay with what I had done, but I knew that I could never forgive myself.
Surprisingly enough, Herr Heilburg was telling the truth about one other thing: throughout my career at that hospital I was never once reprimanded for making mistakes, even when those mistakes caused injury and even death to my patients. I suppose I did learn from those mistakes, but eventually it became rather easy to overlook my errors and simply continue with the procedure. So long as the patient survived, the procedure was deemed a success.
As the years went by I recall becoming one of the most proficient surgeons at that hospital. I had made many great discoveries about the human body and how it reacts to different parts of other animals. Many of my findings on Xenotransplantation are common knowledge today. It's a shame my research was never published as my own. The hospital felt that all work was to be divided equally among the surgeons, and therefore the credit for any discovery would be shared among the rest of the surgical team.
Unfortunately, my career at the hospital lasted only five years. It ended along with the German empire, when I turned 22. Luckily I was able to keep my job as a surgeon, but to heal the patients that were brought to me, not learn from them. Standard procedures, such as the removal of tonsils, appendixes, gall bladders and even cesarean sections all became rather dull and routine after the fourth implication. I could never try anything new. It seemed as though the Renaissance period had ended, and I, a once great painter, was reduced to painting nothing more than bowls of fruit.
My subdual lasted less than a year. I needed to continue to express myself with my medium, to show myself, the world, what I was capable of. At the time, I had considered it my crowning medical achievement. I had told the patient that when he woke up he would feel like a new man.
I wasn't lying.
Moments after I finished the surgery I gathered my prize and proof of the procedure's success and left the hospital without a trace. It was the first time in my life that I had ever faced the risk of punishment for what I had deemed a great success. I left Stuttgart the next morning and made my way to a nearby town called Rottenburg. It was a three-hour bicycle ride, and, needless to say I was truly exhausted by the end of it.
I spent the better part of nearly twenty years in that no-name town. I was so thankful that the residents were secluded from the rest of the country. Because of their ignorance I was able to establish a hospital of my own a little more than ten years after I moved in. Needless to say I had developed a… reputation… there, as well. The hospital stood for all of seven years before I was forced to take my leave.
Big news was circulating the area a few days after I was driven out of Rottenburg: The prime minister was holding his wedding in Stuttgart! A plan was quickly unfolding, and I had only a few short days to carry it out.
The caterer left the door wide open. The keys were still in the ignition. The poor bastard even left the damned thing running! It was far, far too easy! I was on the main road and out of sight in minutes! The drive to the northern shore was an agonizing six or seven hours but I, my duffel bag, violin, and the twenty or so doves that had been left in the van made it onto the refugee boat without anyone batting an eye. I developed a very strong bond with one bird in particular; he simply would not leave my side. I decided to name him Archimedes. He seemed to be the leader of his flock, and so the rest of the birds only stayed because he did.
When I arrived in New York City I quickly came to hate the American people. They constantly scoffed at my poor attempts at English, and kicked me out of many establishments. In a way it reminded me of the way we treated the Juden back home, but I had never done anything against America! They had no reason to treat me so poorly! At least we Germans had reason for our treatment of the Juden.
Thanks to my skills with the violin I was able to make enough money to feed myself and my doves. Whatever money I didn't put towards food I used to make my way across the country. It was a slow ten years of travel, but in the end I decided to give up my journey in a desert state called New Mexico. It seemed that the people of New Mexico didn't quite care for violin music, but I still managed to keep myself and the birds fed.
She found me in a run-down café. I was unshaven, hungry, and generally wary of people. When I first saw her I thought that the heat of the day was getting to me. She looked so eerily similar to my first casualty from when I was working at that hospital in Germany that I figured I had to have been hallucinating. If her appearance hadn't gotten my attention, then the things she told me certainly did.
From what I gathered, my entire medical career had been closely monitored for a very long time, and I was one of the top picks for a job as a mercenary, to fight in a private war over gravel, of all things. Should I accept the job, I would become a field medic for a group of eight other men. Before I could even express my most obvious concerns, I was given some rather interesting details about the job:
I would be given complete financial freedom to do whatever I wanted with my new patients, along with immunity from the law, should I ever be involved in anything illegal. Thanks to a revolutionary technology galled "Respawn," I and the rest of my patients wouldn't have to worry about getting killed, which was guaranteed to happen at some point in the war. My job as the Medic, however, was too keep my teammates from entering through the Respawn System too many times in a single battle.
Before I could even say anything in response to this ludicrous offer, she placed a check in front of me and left, telling me to take a couple of days to think it over.
Within twenty-four hours I had moved into my new laboratory and got the rest of the details of my employment at Mann Co. squared away. I then put my prize from my last great medical achievement on display right next to my desk, and finally let my doves make themselves at home within the laboratory.
When I met up with the rest of my team, I realized what beautifully diverse subjects they were! I knew as soon as I saw them that we would do great things together. In the years I fought in that war I learned many things about myself, my teammates, and medical technology. I developed many great medical tools, including the Über heart module, which made my patients temporarily invincible, and a fair number of Mediguns that healed just about any wound in a matter of seconds.
Although I became quite attached to my teammates, I never let them know much of anything about my life before the gravel wars. The ghosts of my past haunted me then and they still haunt me now, but even though there are still plenty of things I can learn from my past, I'm not one to dwell on mistakes. After all, making mistakes is human.