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The stretcher-bearer on La Rambla

One picture stood out from yesterday’s photo gallery on ARA’s website, published shortly after the attack in Barcelona city. It showed first responders tending to one of the victims, who lay on the ground. A waiter (he wore a waiter’s uniform, with a white shirt and black trousers) was holding up a parasol to shade them from the sun. It was one of those white parasols that you would find on the terrace of a café, which now looked grotesquely out of place. They must have asked him to please help them out and he stiffly obliged.

One of the paramedics was standing and holding up what looked like a saline bag, while his other hand gripped a crutch. An IV line travelled from the saline bag all the way to the victim’s body, presumably. On the ground, a tense-looking team —a woman and two men— were trying to help and revive the victim. Scattered all over the ground was no end of medical equipment that had been hastily unloaded from the back of some vehicle, in a rush. The man holding the saline bag (assuming that’s what it was) did not look strained, like the others: he looked devastated. While holding the saline, he was staring into the horizon with a sorry grimace. His face showed just that: devastation. His was the expression of sheer hopelessness.

It was a moving face because it encapsulated the disaster. Anyone who chooses to go to medical school or work in health care does so because they have a vocation to cure. You cannot practise medicine unless you have a desire to cure. But when you train for that sort of job, it is life’s eventualities that are always on your mind. Disease, an accident, a reckless misstep. Someone who became ill, someone who fell over, someone who got burnt by accident. Here’s what you never contemplate: terrorism. Having to cure someone (or being unable to do so) after someone else willingly hurt them. Patching up people in haste, people whose life has been changed forever, not by chance or fatality, but by evil.

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