“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

In the dead of Sarajevo winter, my mother’s hands shook as she waded through the Miljacka River, carrying a four-year-old above her head. That child, terrified and gray, was me.

The medical clinic was five blocks from our apartment building and the river was unforgiving, but provided cover from the surrounding snipers. The situation demanded action: I was suffering from pneumonia and dehydration, and the war was raging. That day, my hero carried me to recovery.

Sixteen years later, I returned to Bosnia as an intern at Nakas General Hospital. As I walked through sunlit halls, sickness hung in the air. Room by room, I surveyed the wards with my supervisor.

Some housed patients like Marko*, whose skin infection would resolve in a few days. He perked up, grinning as we entered. Others were home to patients like Sukrija*, whose limp body was now rendered wordless by an unyielding neurological illness.

I wrestled with the unfair, merciless nature of disease. As I got older, I found meaning in trying to heal others.

Through windows in patients’ rooms, I can still see the Miljacka River flowing in the distance. I will carry them as my mother carried me.

*Pseudonyms used

— Damir Ljuboja