CHAPTER 17 - THE SOLDIER IN WHITE
(AnyBooksFree) CHAPTER 17 - THE SOLDIER IN WHITE
Yossarian ran right into the hospital, determined to remain there forever rather
than fly one mission more than the thirty-two missions he had. Ten days after he
changed his mind and came out, the colonel raised the missions to forty-five and
Yossarian ran right back in, determined to remain in the hospital forever rather than
fly one mission more than the six missions more he had just flown.
Yossarian could run into the hospital whenever he wanted to because of his liver and
because of his eyes; the doctors couldn't fix his liver condition and couldn't meet his
eyes each time he told them he had a liver condition. He could enjoy himself in the
hospital, just as long as there was no one really very sick in the same ward. His
system was sturdy enough to survive a case of someone else's malaria or influenza
with scarcely any discomfort at all. He could come through other people's
tonsillectomies without suffering any postoperative distress, and even endure their
hernias and hemorrhoids with only mild nausea and revulsion. But that was just about
as much as he could go through without getting sick. After that he was ready to bolt.
He could relax in the hospital, since no one there expected him to do anything. All he
was expected to do in the hospital was die or get better, and since he was perfectly
all right to begin with, getting better was easy.
Being in the hospital was better than being over Bologna or flying over Avignon with
Huple and Dobbs at the controls and Snowden dying in back.
There were usually not nearly as many sick people inside the hospital as Yossarian saw
outside the hospital, and there were generally fewer people inside the hospital who
were seriously sick. There was a much lower death rate inside the hospital than
outside the hospital, and a much healthier death rate. Few people died unnecessarily.
People knew a lot more about dying inside the hospital and made a much neater, more
orderly job of it. They couldn't dominate Death inside the hospital, but they
certainly made her behave. They had taught her manners. They couldn't keep Death
out, but while she was in she had to act like a lady. People gave up the ghost with
delicacy and taste inside the hospital. There was none of that crude, ugly ostentation
about dying that was so common outside the hospital. They did not blow up in mid-air
like Kraft or the dead man in Yossarian's tent, or freeze to death in the blazing
summertime the way Snowden had frozen to death after spilling his secret to
Yossarian in the back of the plane.
'I'm cold,' Snowden had whimpered. 'I'm cold.'
'There, there,' Yossarian had tried to comfort him. 'There, there.'
They didn't take it on the lam weirdly inside a cloud the way Clevinger had done.
They didn't explode into blood and clotted matter. They didn't drown or get struck
by lightning, mangled by machinery or crushed in landslides. They didn't get shot to
death in hold-ups, strangled to death in rapes, stabbed to death in saloons,
bludgeoned to death with axes by parents or children or die summarily by some other
act of God. Nobody choked to death. People bled to death like gentlemen in an
operating room or expired without comment in an oxygen tent. There was none of
that tricky now-you-see-me-now-you-don't business so much in vogue outside the
hospital, none of that now-I-am-and-now-I-ain't. There were no famines or floods.
Children didn't suffocate in cradles or iceboxes or fall under trucks. No one was
beaten to death. People didn't stick their heads into ovens with the gas on, jump in
front of subway trains or come plummeting like dead weights out of hotel windows
with a *whoosh!*, accelerating at the rate of sixteen feet per second to land with a
hideous *plop!* on the sidewalk and die disgustingly there in public like an alpaca sack
full of hairy strawberry ice cream, bleeding, pink toes awry.
All things considered, Yossarian often preferred the hospital, even though it had its
faults. The help tended to be officious, the rules, if heeded, restrictive, and the
management meddlesome. Since sick people were apt to be present, he could not
always depend on a lively young crowd in the same ward with him, and the
entertainment was not always good. He was forced to admit that the hospitals had
altered steadily for the worse as the war continued and one moved closer to the
battlefront, the deterioration in the quality of the guests becoming most marked
within the combat zone itself where the effects of booming wartime conditions were
apt to make themselves conspicuous immediately. The people got sicker and sicker
the deeper he moved into combat, until finally in the hospital that last time there
had been the soldier in white, who could not have been any sicker without being dead,
and he soon was.
The soldier in white was constructed entirely of gauze, plaster and a thermometer,
and the thermometer was merely an adornment left balanced in the empty dark hole
in the bandages over his mouth early each morning and late each afternoon by Nurse
Cramer and Nurse Duckett right up to the afternoon Nurse Cramer read the
thermometer and discovered he was dead. Now that Yossarian looked back, it seemed
that Nurse Cramer, rather than the talkative Texan, had murdered the soldier in
white; if she had not read the thermometer and reported what she had found, the
soldier in white might still be lying there alive exactly as he had been lying there all
along, encased from head to toe in plaster and gauze with both strange, rigid legs
elevated from the hips and both strange arms strung up perpendicularly, all four
bulky limbs in casts, all four strange, useless limbs hoisted up in the air by taut wire
cables and fantastically long lead weights suspended darkly above him. Lying there
that way might not have been much of a life, but it was all the life he had, and the
decision to terminate it, Yossarian felt, should hardly have been Nurse Cramer's.
The soldier in white was like an unrolled bandage with a hole in it or like a broken
block of stone in a harbor with a crooked zinc pipe jutting out. The other patients in
the ward, all but the Texan, shrank from him with a tenderhearted aversion from the
moment they set eyes on him the morning after the night he had been sneaked in.
They gathered soberly in the farthest recess of the ward and gossiped about him in
malicious, offended undertones, rebelling against his presence as a ghastly imposition
and resenting him malevolently for the nauseating truth of which he was bright
reminder. They shared a common dread that he would begin moaning.
'I don't know what I'll do if he does begin moaning,' the dashing young fighter pilot
with the golden mustache had grieved forlornly. 'It means he'll moan during the
night, too, because he won't be able to tell time.'
No sound at all came from the soldier in white all the time he was there. The ragged
round hole over his mouth was deep and jet black and showed no sign of lip, teeth,
palate or tongue. The only one who ever came close enough to look was the affable
Texan, who came close enough several times a day to chat with him about more votes
for the decent folk, opening each conversation with the same unvarying greeting:
'What do you say, fella? How you coming along?' The rest of the men avoided them
both in their regulation maroon corduroy bathrobes and unraveling flannel pajamas,
wondering gloomily who the soldier in white was, why he was there and what he was
really like inside.
'He's all right, I tell you,' the Texan would report back to them encouragingly after
each of his social visits.
'Deep down inside he's really a regular guy. He's feeling a little shy and insecure now
because he doesn't know anybody here and can't talk. Why don't you all just step
right up to him and introduce yourselves? He won't hurt you.'
'What the goddamn hell are you talking about?' Dunbar demanded.
'Does he even know what you're talking about?'
'Sure he knows what I'm talking about. He's not stupid.
There ain't nothing wrong with him.'
'Can he hear you?'
'Well, I don't know if he can hear me or not, but I'm sure he knows
what I'm talking about.'
'Does that hole over his mouth ever move?'
'Now, what kind of a crazy question is that?' the Texan asked uneasily.
'How can you tell if he's breathing if it never moves?'
'How can you tell it's a he?'
'Does he have pads over his eyes underneath that bandage over his face?'
'Does he ever wiggle his toes or move the tips of his fingers?'
The Texan backed away in mounting confusion. 'Now, what kind of a crazy question is
that? You fellas must all be crazy or something. Why don't you just walk right up to
him and get acquainted? He's a real nice guy, I tell you.'
The soldier in white was more like a stuffed and sterilized mummy than a real nice
guy. Nurse Duckett and Nurse Cramer kept him spick-and-span. They brushed his
bandages often with a whiskbroom and scrubbed the plaster casts on his arms, legs,
shoulders, chest and pelvis with soapy water. Working with a round tin of metal
polish, they waxed a dim gloss on the dull zinc pipe rising from the cement on his
groin. With damp dish towels they wiped the dust several times a day from the slim
black rubber tubes leading in and out of him to the two large stoppered jars, one of
them, hanging on a post beside his bed, dripping fluid into his arm constantly through
a slit in the bandages while the other, almost out of sight on the floor, drained the
fluid away through the zinc pipe rising from his groin. Both young nurses polished the
glass jars unceasingly. They were proud of their housework. The more solicitous of
the two was Nurse Cramer, a shapely, pretty, sexless girl with a wholesome
unattractive face. Nurse Cramer had a cute nose and a radiant, blooming complexion
dotted with fetching sprays of adorable freckles that Yossarian detested. She was
touched very deeply by the soldier in white. Her virtuous, pale-blue, saucerlike eyes
flooded with leviathan tears on unexpected occasions and made Yossarian mad.
'How the hell do you know he's even in there?' he asked her.
'Don't you dare talk to me that way!' she replied indignantly.
'Well, how do you? You don't even know if it's really him.'
'Whoever's supposed to be in all those bandages. You might really be weeping for
somebody else. How do you know he's even alive?'
'What a terrible thing to say!' Nurse Cramer exclaimed. 'Now, you get right into bed
and stop making jokes about him.'
'I'm not making jokes. Anybody might be in there. For all we know,
it might even be Mudd.'
'What are you talking about?' Nurse Cramer pleaded with him in a quavering voice.
'Maybe that's where the dead man is.'
'What dead man?'
'I've got a dead man in my tent that nobody can throw out. His name is Mudd.'
Nurse Cramer's face blanched and she turned to Dunbar desperately for aid. 'Make
him stop saying things like that,' she begged.
'Maybe there's no one inside,' Dunbar suggested helpfully. 'Maybe they just sent the
bandages here for a joke.'
She stepped away from Dunbar in alarm. 'You're crazy,' she cried, glancing about
imploringly. 'You're both crazy.'
Nurse Duckett showed up then and chased them all back to their own beds while
Nurse Cramer changed the stoppered jars for the soldier in white. Changing the jars
for the soldier in white was no trouble at all, since the same clear fluid was dripped
back inside him over and over again with no apparent loss. When the jar feeding the
inside of his elbow was just about empty, the jar on the floor was just about full, and
the two were simply uncoupled from their respective hoses and reversed quickly so
that the liquid could be dripped right back into him. Changing the jars was no trouble
to anyone but the men who watched them changed every hour or so and were baffled
by the procedure.
'Why can't they hook the two jars up to each other and eliminate the middleman?'
the artillery captain with whom Yossarian had stopped playing chess inquired. 'What
the hell do they need him for?'
'I wonder what he did to deserve it,' the warrant officer with malaria and a mosquito
bite on his ass lamented after Nurse Cramer had read her thermometer and
discovered that the soldier in white was dead.
'He went to war,' the fighter pilot with the golden mustache surmised.
'We all went to war,' Dunbar countered.
'That's what I mean,' the warrant officer with malaria continued. 'Why him? There
just doesn't seem to be any logic to this system of rewards and punishment. Look
what happened to me. If I had gotten syphilis or a dose of clap for my five minutes
of passion on the beach instead of this damned mosquito bite, I could see justice
malaria? *Malaria*? Who can explain malaria as a consequence of fornication?' The
warrant officer shook his head in numb astonishment.
'What about me?' Yossarian said. 'I stepped out of my tent in Marrakech one night
to get a bar of candy and caught your dose of clap when that Wac I never even saw
before kissed me into the bushes. All I really wanted was a bar of candy, but who
could turn it down?'
'That sounds like my dose of clap, all right,' the warrant officer agreed. 'But I've
still got somebody else's malaria. Just for once I'd like to see all these things sort
of straightened out, with each person getting exactly what he deserves.
It might give me some confidence in this universe.'
'I've got somebody else's three hundred thousand dollars,' the dashing young
fighter captain with the golden mustache admitted. 'I've been goofing off since the
day I was born. I cheated my way through prep school and college, and just about all
I've been doing ever since is shacking up with pretty girls who think I'd make a good
husband. I've got no ambition at all. The only thing I want to do after the war is
marry some girl who's got more money than I have and shack up with lots more
pretty girls. The three hundred thousand bucks was left to me before I was born by
a grandfather who made a fortune selling on an international scale. I know I don't
deserve it, but I'll be damned if I give it back. I wonder who it really belongs to.'
'Maybe it belongs to my father,' Dunbar conjectured. 'He spent a lifetime at hard
work and never could make enough money to even send my sister and me through
college. He's dead now, so you might as well keep it.'
'Now, if we can just find out who my malaria belongs to we'd be all set. It's not that
I've got anything against malaria. I'd just as soon goldbrick with malaria as with
anything else. It's only that I feel an injustice has been committed. Why should I
have somebody else's malaria and you have my dose of clap?'
'I've got more than your dose of clap,' Yossarian told him. 'I've got to keep flying
combat missions because of that dose of yours until they kill me.'
'That makes it even worse. What's the justice in that?'
'I had a friend named Clevinger two and a half weeks ago who used to
see plenty of justice in it.'
'It's the highest kind of justice of all,' Clevinger had gloated, clapping his hands with
a merry laugh. 'I can't help thinking of the *Hippolytus* of Euripides, where the
early licentiousness of Theseus is probably responsible for the asceticism of the son
that helps bring about the tragedy that ruins them all. If nothing else, that episode
with the Wac should teach you the evil of sexual immorality.'
'It teaches me the evil of candy.'
'Can't you see that you're not exactly without blame for the predicament you're in?'
Clevinger had continued with undisguised relish. 'If you hadn't been laid up in the
hospital with venereal disease for ten days back there in Africa, you might have
finished your twenty-five missions in time to be sent home before Colonel Nevers
was killed and Colonel Cathcart came to replace him.'
'And what about you?' Yossarian had replied. 'You never got clap in Marrakech and
you're in the same predicament.'
'I don't know,' confessed Clevinger, with a trace of mock concern. 'I guess I must
have done something very bad in my time.'
'Do you really believe that?'
Clevinger laughed. 'No, of course not. I just like to kid you along a little.'
There were too many dangers for Yossarian to keep track of. There was Hitler,
Mussolini and Tojo, for example, and they were all out to kill him. There was
Lieutenant Scheisskopf with his fanaticism for parades and there was the bloated
colonel with his big fat mustache and his fanaticism for retribution, and they wanted
to kill him, too. There was Appleby, Havermeyer, Black and Korn. There was Nurse
Cramer and Nurse Duckett, who he was almost certain wanted him dead, and there
was the Texan and the C.I.D. man, about whom he had no doubt. There were
bartenders, bricklayers and bus conductors all over the world who wanted him dead,
landlords and tenants, traitors and patriots, lynchers, leeches and lackeys, and they
were all out to bump him off. That was the secret Snowden had spilled to him on the
mission to Avignon - they were out to get him; and Snowden had spilled it all over the
back of the plane.
There were lymph glands that might do him in. There were kidneys, nerve sheaths
and corpuscles. There were tumors of the brain. There was Hodgkin's disease,
leukemia, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
There were fertile red meadows of epithelial tissue to catch and coddle a cancer
cell. There were diseases of the skin, diseases of the bone, diseases of the lung,
diseases of the stomach, diseases of the heart, blood and arteries. There were
diseases of the head, diseases of the neck, diseases of the chest, diseases of the
intestines, diseases of the crotch. There even were diseases of the feet. There were
billions of conscientious body cells oxidating away day and night like dumb animals at
their complicated job of keeping him alive and healthy, and every one was a potential
traitor and foe. There were so many diseases that it took a truly diseased mind to
even think about them as often as he and Hungry Joe did.
Hungry Joe collected lists of fatal diseases and arranged them in alphabetical order
so that he could put his finger without delay on any one he wanted to worry about. He
grew very upset whenever he misplaced some or when he could not add to his list, and
he would go rushing in a cold sweat to Doc Daneeka for help.
'Give him Ewing's tumor,' Yossarian advised Doc Daneeka, who would come to
Yossarian for help in handling Hungry Joe, 'and follow it up with melanoma.
Hungry Joe likes lingering diseases, but he likes the fulminating ones even more.'
Doc Daneeka had never heard of either. 'How do you manage to keep up on so many
diseases like that?' he inquired with high professional esteem.
'I learn about them at the hospital when I study the *Reader's Digest*.'
Yossarian had so many ailments to be afraid of that he was sometimes tempted to
turn himself in to the hospital for good and spend the rest of his life stretched out
there inside an oxygen tent with a battery of specialists and nurses seated at one
side of his bed twenty-four hours a day waiting for something to go wrong and at
least one surgeon with a knife poised at the other, ready to jump forward and begin
cutting away the moment it became necessary. Aneurisms, for instance; how else
could they ever defend him in time against an aneurism of the aorta? Yossarian felt
much safer inside the hospital than outside the hospital, even though he loathed the
surgeon and his knife as much as he had ever loathed anyone. He could start
screaming inside a hospital and people would at least come running to try to help;
outside the hospital they would throw him in prison if he ever started screaming
about all the things he felt everyone ought to start screaming about, or they would
put him in the hospital. One of the things he wanted to start screaming about was
the surgeon's knife that was almost certain to be waiting for him and everyone else
who lived long enough to die. He wondered often how he would ever recognize the
first chill, flush, twinge, ache, belch, sneeze, stain, lethargy, vocal slip, loss of
balance or lapse of memory that would signal the inevitable beginning of the
He was afraid also that Doc Daneeka would still refuse to help him when he went to
him again after jumping out of Major Major's office, and he was right.
'You think you've got something to be afraid about?' Doc Daneeka demanded, lifting
his delicate immaculate dark head up from his chest to gaze at Yossarian irascibly
for a moment with lachrymose eyes. 'What about me? My precious medical skills are
rusting away here on this lousy island while other doctors are cleaning up. Do you
think I enjoy sitting here day after day refusing to help you? I wouldn't mind it so
much if I could refuse to help you back in the States or in some place like Rome. But
saying no to you here isn't easy for me, either.'
'Then stop saying no. Ground me.'
'I can't ground you,' Doc Daneeka mumbled.
'How many times do you have to be told?'
'Yes you can. Major Major told me you're the only one in the squadron who *can*
Doc Daneeka was stunned. 'Major Major told you that? When?'
'When I tackled him in the ditch.'
'Major Major told you that? In a ditch?'
'He told me in his office after we left the ditch and jumped inside. He told me not to
tell anyone he told me, so don't start shooting your mouth off.'
'Why that dirty, scheming liar!' Doc Daneeka cried. 'He wasn't supposed to tell
anyone. Did he tell you how I could ground you?'
'Just by filling out a little slip of paper saying I'm on the verge of a nervous collapse
and sending it to Group. Dr. Stubbs grounds men in his squadron all the time,
so why can't you?'
'And what happens to the men after Stubbs does ground them?' Doc Daneeka
retorted with a sneer. 'They go right back on combat status, don't they? And he
finds himself right up the creek. Sure, I can ground you by filling out a slip saying
you're unfit to fly. But there's a catch.'
'Sure. If I take you off combat duty, Group has to approve my action, and Group
isn't going to. They'll put you right back on combat status, and then where will I be?
On my way to the Pacific Ocean, probably. No, thank you. I'm not going to take any
chances for you.'
'Isn't it worth a try?' Yossarian argued. 'What's so hot about Pianosa?'
'Pianosa is terrible. But it's better than the Pacific Ocean. I wouldn't mind being
shipped someplace civilized where I might pick up a buck or two in abortion money
every now and then. But all they've got in the Pacific is jungles and monsoons,
I'd rot there.'
'You're rotting here.'
Doc Daneeka flared up angrily. 'Yeah? Well, at least I'm going to come out of this
war alive, which is a lot more than you're going to do.'
'That's just what I'm trying to tell you, goddammit. I'm asking you to save my life.'
'It's not my business to save lives,' Doc Daneeka retorted sullenly.
'What is your business?'
'I don't know what my business is. All they ever told me was to uphold the ethics of
my profession and never give testimony against another physician. Listen. You think
you're the only one whose life is in danger? What about me? Those two quacks I've
got working for me in the medical tent still can't find out what's wrong with me.'
'Maybe it's Ewing's tumor,' Yossarian muttered sarcastically.
'Do you really think so?' Doc Daneeka exclaimed with fright.
'Oh, I don't know,' Yossarian answered impatiently. 'I just know I'm not going to fly
any more missions. They wouldn't really shoot me, would they? I've got fifty-one.'
'Why don't you at least finish the fifty-five before you take a stand?' Doc Daneeka
advised. 'With all your bitching, you've never finished a tour of duty even once.'
'How the hell can I? The colonel keeps raising them every time I get close.'
'You never finish your missions because you keep running into the hospital or going
off to Rome. You'd be in a much, stronger position if you had your fifty-five finished
and then refused to fly. Then maybe I'd see what I could do.'
'Do you promise?'
'What do you promise?'
'I promise that maybe I'll think about doing something to help if you finish your
fifty-five missions and if you get McWatt to put my name on his flight log again so
that I can draw my flight pay without going up in a plane. I'm afraid of airplanes. Did
you read about that airplane crash in Idaho three weeks ago? Six people killed. It
was terrible. I don't know why they want me to put in four hours' flight time every
month in order to get my flight pay. Don't I have enough to worry about without
worrying about being killed in an airplane crash too?'
'I worry about the airplane crashes also,' Yossarian told him.
'You're not the only one.'
'Yeah, but I'm also pretty worried about that Ewing's tumor,' Doc Daneeka boasted.
'Do you think that's why my nose is stuffed all the time and why I always feel so
chilly? Take my pulse.'
Yossarian also worried about Ewing's tumor and melanoma. Catastrophes were lurking
everywhere, too numerous to count. When he contemplated the many diseases and
potential accidents threatening him, he was positively astounded that he had
managed to survive in good health for as long as he had. It was miraculous. Each day
he faced was another dangerous mission against mortality. And he had been surviving
them for twenty-eight years.