CHAPTER 18 - THE SOLDIER WHO SAW EVERYTHING TWICE
(AnyBooksFree) CHAPTER 18 - THE SOLDIER WHO SAW EVERYTHING TWICE
Yossarian owed his good health to exercise, fresh air, teamwork and good
sportsmanship; it was to get away from them all that he had first discovered the
hospital. When the physical-education officer at Lowery Field ordered everyone to
fall out for calisthenics one afternoon, Yossarian, the private, reported instead at
the dispensary with what he said was a pain in his right side.
'Beat it,' said the doctor on duty there, who was doing a crossword puzzle.
'We can't tell him to beat it,' said a corporal. 'There's a new directive out about
abdominal complaints. We have to keep them under observation five days because so
many of them have been dying after we make them beat it.'
'All right,' grumbled the doctor. 'Keep him under observation five days and *then*
make him beat it.'
They took Yossarian's clothes away and put him in a ward, where he was very happy
when no one was snoring nearby. In the morning a helpful young English intern popped
in to ask him about his liver.
'I think it's my appendix that's bothering me,' Yossarian told him.
'Your appendix is no good,' the Englishman declared with jaunty authority. 'If your
appendix goes wrong, we can take it out and have you back on active duty in almost no
time at all. But come to us with a liver complaint and you can fool us for weeks. The
liver, you see, is a large, ugly mystery to us. If you've ever eaten liver you know what
I mean. We're pretty sure today that the liver exists and we have a fairly good idea
of what it does whenever it's doing what it's supposed to be doing. Beyond that,
we're really in the dark. After all, what is a liver? My father, for example, died of
cancer of the liver and was never sick a day of his life right up till the moment it
killed him. Never felt a twinge of pain. In a way, that was too bad, since I hated my
father. Lust for my mother, you know.'
'What's an English medical officer doing on duty here?' Yossarian wanted to know.
The officer laughed. 'I'll tell you all about that when I see you tomorrow morning.
And throw that silly ice bag away before you die of pneumonia.'
Yossarian never saw him again. That was one of the nice things about all the doctors
at the hospital; he never saw any of them a second time. They came and went and
In place of the English intern the next day, there arrived a group of doctors he had
never seen before to ask him about his appendix.
'There's nothing wrong with my appendix,' Yossarian informed them.
'The doctor yesterday said it was my liver.'
'Maybe it is his liver,' replied the white-haired officer in charge.
'What does his blood count show?'
'He hasn't had a blood count.'
'Have one taken right away. We can't afford to take chances with a patient in his
condition. We've got to keep ourselves covered in case he dies.' He made a notation
on his clipboard and spoke to Yossarian. 'In the meantime, keep that ice bag on.
It's very important.'
'I don't have an ice bag on.'
'Well, get one. There must be an ice bag around here somewhere.
And let someone know if the pain becomes unendurable.'
At the end of ten days, a new group of doctors came to Yossarian with bad news; he
was in perfect health and had to get out. He was rescued in the nick of time by a
patient across the aisle who began to see everything twice. Without warning, the
patient sat up in bed and shouted.
'I see everything twice!'
A nurse screamed and an orderly fainted. Doctors came running up from every
direction with needles, lights, tubes, rubber mallets and oscillating metal tines. They
rolled up complicated instruments on wheels. There was not enough of the patient to
go around, and specialists pushed forward in line with raw tempers and snapped at
their colleagues in front to hurry up and give somebody else a chance. A colonel with
a large forehead and horn-rimmed glasses soon arrived at a diagnosis.
'It's meningitis,' he called out emphatically, waving the others back.
'Although Lord knows there's not the slightest reason for thinking so.'
'Then why pick meningitis?' inquired a major with a suave chuckle.
'Why not, let's say, acute nephritis?'
'Because I'm a meningitis man, that's why, and not an acute-nephritis man,' retorted
the colonel. 'And I'm not going to give him up to any of you kidney birds without a
struggle. I was here first.'
In the end, the doctors were all in accord. They agreed they had no idea what was
wrong with the soldier who saw everything twice, and they rolled him away into a
room in the corridor and quarantined everyone else in the ward for fourteen days.
Thanksgiving Day came and went without any fuss while Yossarian was still in the
hospital. The only bad thing about it was the turkey for dinner, and even that was
pretty good. It was the most rational Thanksgiving he had ever spent, and he took a
sacred oath to spend every future Thanksgiving Day in the cloistered shelter of a
hospital. He broke his sacred oath the very next year, when he spent the holiday in a
hotel room instead in intellectual conversation with Lieutenant Scheisskopf's wife,
who had Dori Duz's dog tags on for the occasion and who henpecked Yossarian
sententiously for being cynical and callous about Thanksgiving, even though she didn't
believe in God just as much as he didn't.
'I'm probably just as good an atheist as you are,' she speculated boastfully. 'But
even I feel that we all have a great deal to be thankful for and that we shouldn't be
ashamed to show it.'
'Name one thing I've got to be thankful for,'
Yossarian challenged her without interest.
'Well' Lieutenant Scheisskopf's wife mused and paused a moment
to ponder dubiously. 'Me.'
'Oh, come on,' he scoffed.
She arched her eyebrows in surprise. 'Aren't you thankful for me?' she asked. She
frowned peevishly, her pride wounded. 'I don't have to shack up with you, you know,'
she told him with cold dignity. 'My husband has a whole squadron full of aviation
cadets who would be only too happy to shack up with their commanding officer's wife
just for the added fillip it would give them.'
Yossarian decided to change the subject. 'Now you're changing the subject,' he
pointed out diplomatically. 'I'll bet I can name two things to be miserable about for
every one you can name to be thankful for.'
'Be thankful you've got me,' she insisted.
'I am, honey. But I'm also goddamn good and miserable that I can't have Dori Duz
again, too. Or the hundreds of other girls and women I'll see and want in my short
lifetime and won't be able to go to bed with even once.'
'Be thankful you're healthy.'
'Be bitter you're not going to stay that way.'
'Be glad you're even alive.'
'Be *furious* you're going to die.'
'Things could be much worse,' she cried.
'They could be one hell of a lot better,' he answered heatedly.
'You're naming only one thing,' she protested. 'You said you could name two.'
'And don't tell me God works in mysterious ways,' Yossarian continued, hurtling on
over her objection. 'There's nothing so mysterious about it. He's not working at all.
He's playing. Or else He's forgotten all about us. That's the kind of God you people
talk about - a country bumpkin, a clumsy, bungling, brainless, conceited, uncouth
hayseed. Good God, how much reverence can you have for a Supreme Being who finds
it necessary to include such phenomena as phlegm and tooth decay in His divine
system of creation? What in the world was running through that warped, evil,
scatological mind of His when He robbed old people of the power to control their
bowel movements? Why in the world did He ever create pain?'
'Pain?' Lieutenant Scheisskopf's wife pounced upon the word victoriously.
'Pain is a useful symptom. Pain is a warning to us of bodily dangers.'
'And who created the dangers?' Yossarian demanded. He laughed caustically. 'Oh, He
was really being charitable to us when He gave us pain! Why couldn't He have used a
doorbell instead to notify us, or one of His celestial choirs? Or a system of blue-andred neon tubes right in the middle of each person's forehead. Any jukebox
manufacturer worth his salt could have done that. Why couldn't He?'
'People would certainly look silly walking around with red neon tubes in the
middle of their foreheads.'
'They certainly look beautiful now writhing in agony or stupefied with morphine,
don't they? What a colossal, immortal blunderer!
When you consider the opportunity and power He had to really do a job, and then look
at the stupid, ugly little mess He made of it instead, His sheer incompetence is
almost staggering. It's obvious He never met a payroll. Why, no self-respecting
businessman would hire a bungler like Him as even a shipping clerk!'
Lieutenant Scheisskopf's wife had turned ashen in disbelief and was ogling him with
alarm. 'You'd better not talk that way about Him, honey,' she warned him reprovingly
in a low and hostile voice. 'He might punish you.'
'Isn't He punishing me enough?' Yossarian snorted resentfully. 'You know, we
mustn't let Him get away with it. Oh, no, we certainly mustn't let Him get away scot
free for all the sorrow He's caused us. Someday I'm going to make Him pay. I know
when. On the Judgment Day. Yes, That's the day I'll be close enough to reach out
and grab that little yokel by His neck and -'
'Stop it! Stop it!' Lieutenant Scheisskopf's wife screamed suddenly, and began
beating him ineffectually about the head with both fists. 'Stop it!'
Yossarian ducked behind his arm for protection while she slammed away at him in
feminine fury for a few seconds, and then he caught her determinedly by the wrists
and forced her gently back down on the bed. 'What the hell are you getting so upset
about?' he asked her bewilderedly in a tone of contrite amusement. 'I thought you
didn't believe in God.'
'I don't,' she sobbed, bursting violently into tears. 'But the God I don't believe in is
a good God, a just God, a merciful God. He's not the mean and stupid God you make
Him out to be.'
Yossarian laughed and turned her arms loose. 'Let's have a little more religious
freedom between us,' he proposed obligingly. 'You don't believe in the God you want
to, and I won't believe in the God I want to. Is that a deal?'
That was the most illogical Thanksgiving he could ever remember spending, and his
thoughts returned wishfully to his halcyon fourteen-day quarantine in the hospital
the year before; but even that idyll had ended on a tragic note; he was still in good
health when the quarantine period was over, and they told him again that he had to
get out and go to war. Yossarian sat up in bed when he heard the bad news and
'I see everything twice!'
Pandemonium broke loose in the ward again. The specialists came running up from all
directions and ringed him in a circle of scrutiny so confining that he could feel the
humid breath from their various noses blowing uncomfortably upon the different
sectors of his body. They went snooping into his eyes and ears with tiny beams of
light, assaulted his legs and feet with rubber hammers and vibrating forks, drew
blood from his veins, held anything handy up for him to see on the periphery
of his vision
The leader of this team of doctors was a dignified, solicitous gentleman who held one
finger up directly in front ofYossarian and demanded,
'How many fingers do you see?'
'Two,' said Yossarian.
'How many fingers do you see now?' asked the doctor, holding up two.
'Two,' said Yossarian.
'And how many now?' asked the doctor, holding up none.
'Two,' said Yossarian.
The doctor's face wreathed with a smile. 'By Jove, he's right,' he declared
jubilantly. 'He *does* see everything twice.'
They rolled Yossarian away on a stretcher into the room with the other soldier who
saw everything twice and quarantined everyone else in the ward for
another fourteen days.
'I see everything twice!' the soldier who saw everything twice shouted
when they rolled Yossarian in.
'I see everything twice!' Yossarian shouted back at him just as loudly,
with a secret wink.
'The walls! The walls!' the other soldier cried. 'Move back the walls!'
'The walls! The walls!' Yossarian cried. 'Move back the walls!'
One of the doctors pretended to shove the wall back. 'Is that far enough?'
The soldier who saw everything twice nodded weakly and sank back on his bed.
Yossarian nodded weakly too, eyeing his talented roommate with great humility and
admiration. He knew he was in the presence of a master. His talented roommate was
obviously a person to be studied and emulated. During the night, his talented
roommate died, and Yossarian decided that he had followed him far enough.
'I see everything once!' he cried quickly.
A new group of specialists came pounding up to his bedside with their instruments to
find out if it was true.
'How many fingers do you see?' asked the leader, holding up one.
The doctor held up two fingers. 'How many fingers do you see now?'
The doctor held up ten fingers. 'And how many now?'
The doctor turned to the other doctors with amazement.
'He does see everything once!' he exclaimed. 'We made him all better.'
'And just in time, too,' announced the doctor with whom Yossarian next found
himself alone, a tall, torpedo-shaped congenial man with an unshaven growth of brown
beard and a pack of cigarettes in his shirt pocket that he chain-smoked insouciantly
as he leaned against the wall. 'There are some relatives here to see you. Oh, don't
worry,' he added with a laugh. 'Not your relatives. It's the mother, father and
brother of that chap who died. They've traveled all the way from New York to see a
dying soldier, and you're the handiest one we've got.'
'What are you talking about?' Yossarian asked suspiciously. 'I'm not dying.'
'Of course you're dying. We're all dying.
Where the devil else do you think you're heading?'
'They didn't come to see me,' Yossarian objected. 'They came to see their son.'
'They'll have to take what they can get. As far as we're concerned, one dying boy is
just as good as any other, or just as bad. To a scientist, all dying boys are equal. I
have a proposition for you. You let them come in and look you over for a few minutes
and I won't tell anyone you've been lying about your liver symptoms.'
Yossarian drew back from him farther. 'You know about that?'
'Of course I do. Give us some credit.' The doctor chuckled amiably and lit another
cigarette. 'How do you expect anyone to believe you have a liver condition if you keep
squeezing the nurses' tits every time you get a chance? You're going to have to give
up sex if you want to convince people you've got an ailing liver.'
'That's a hell of a price to pay just to keep alive. Why didn't you turn me in if you
knew I was faking?'
'Why the devil should I?' asked the doctor with a flicker of surprise. 'We're all in
this business of illusion together. I'm always willing to lend a helping hand to a fellow
conspirator along the road to survival if he's willing to do the same for me. These
people have come a long way, and I'd rather not disappoint them.
I'm sentimental about old people.'
'But they came to see their son.'
'They came too late. Maybe they won't even notice the difference.'
'Suppose they start crying.'
'They probably will start crying. That's one of the reasons they came
I'll listen outside the door and break it up if it starts getting tacky.'
'It all sounds a bit crazy,' Yossarian reflected. 'What do they want to watch their
son die for, anyway?'
'I've never been able to figure that one out,' the doctor admitted, 'but they always
do. Well, what do you say? All you've got to do is lie there a few minutes and die a
little. Is that asking so much?'
'All right,' Yossarian gave in. 'If it's just for a few minutes and you promise to wait
right outside.' He warmed to his role. 'Say, why don't you wrap a bandage around me
'That sounds like a splendid idea,' applauded the doctor.
They wrapped a batch of bandages around Yossarian. A team of medical orderlies
installed tan shades on each of the two windows and lowered them to douse the room
in depressing shadows. Yossarian suggested flowers and the doctor sent an orderly
out to find two small bunches of fading ones with a strong and sickening smell. When
everything was in place, they made Yossarian get back into bed and lie down. Then
they admitted the visitors.
The visitors entered uncertainly as though they felt they were intruding, tiptoeing in
with stares of meek apology, first the grieving mother and father, then the brother,
a glowering heavy-set sailor with a deep chest. The man and woman stepped into the
room stiffly side by side as though right out of a familiar, though esoteric,
anniversary daguerreotype on a wall. They were both short, sere and proud. They
seemed made of iron and old, dark clothing. The woman had a long, brooding oval face
of burnt umber, with coarse graying black hair parted severely in the middle and
combed back austerely behind her neck without curl, wave or ornamentation. Her
mouth was sullen and sad, her lined lips compressed. The father stood very rigid and
quaint in a double-breasted suit with padded shoulders that were much too tight for
him. He was broad and muscular on a small scale and had a magnificently curled silver
mustache on his crinkled face. His eyes were creased and rheumy, and he appeared
tragically ill at ease as he stood awkwardly with the brim of his black felt fedora
held in his two brawny laborer's hands out in front of his wide lapels. Poverty and
hard work had inflicted iniquitous damage on both. The brother was looking for a
fight. His round white cap was cocked at an insolent tilt, his hands were clenched, and
he glared at everything in the room with a scowl of injured truculence.
The three creaked forward timidly, holding themselves close to each other in a
stealthy, funereal group and inching forward almost in step, until they arrived at the
side of the bed and stood staring down at Yossarian. There was a gruesome and
excruciating silence that threatened to endure forever. Finally Yossarian was unable
to bear it any longer and cleared his throat. The old man spoke at last.
'He looks terrible,' he said.
'He's sick, Pa.'
'Giuseppe,' said the mother, who had seated herself in a chair with her veinous
fingers clasped in her lap.
'My name is Yossarian,' Yossarian said.
'His name is Yossarian, Ma. Yossarian, don't you recognize me? I'm your brother
John. Don't you know who I am?'
'Sure I do. You're my brother John.'
'He does recognize me! Pa, he knows who I am. Yossarian, here's Papa.
Say hello to Papa.'
'Hello, Papa,' said Yossarian.
'His name is Yossarian, Pa.'
'I can't get over how terrible he looks,' the father said.
'He's very sick, Pa. The doctor says he's going to die.'
'I didn't know whether to believe the doctor or not,' the father said.
'You know how crooked those guys are.'
'Giuseppe,' the mother said again, in a soft, broken chord of muted anguish.
'His name is Yossarian, Ma. She don't remember things too good any more.
How're they treating you in here, kid? They treating you pretty good?'
'Pretty good,' Yossarian told him.
'That's good. Just don't let anybody in here push you around. You're just as good as
anybody else in here even though you are Italian. You've got rights, too.'
Yossarian winced and closed his eyes so that he would not have to look at his brother
John. He began to feel sick.
'Now see how terrible he looks,' the father observed.
'Giuseppe,' the mother said.
'Ma, his name is Yossarian,' the brother interrupted her impatiently.
'Can't you remember?'
'It's all right,' Yossarian interrupted him. 'She can call me Giuseppe if she wants to.'
'Giuseppe,' she said to him.
'Don't worry, Yossarian,' the brother said. 'Everything is going to be all right.'
'Don't worry, Ma,' Yossarian said. 'Everything is going to be all right.'
'Did you have a priest?' the brother wanted to know.
'Yes,' Yossarian lied, wincing again.
'That's good,' the brother decided. 'Just as long as you're getting everything you've
got coming to you. We came all the way from New York. We were afraid we wouldn't
get here in time.'
'In time for what?'
'In time to see you before you died.'
'What difference would it make?'
'We didn't want you to die by yourself.'
'What difference would it make?'
'He must be getting delirious,' the brother said.
'He keeps saying the same thing over and over again.'
'That's really very funny,' the old man replied. 'All the time I thought his name was
Giuseppe, and now I find out his name is Yossarian. That's really very funny.'
'Ma, make him feel good,' the brother urged. 'Say something to cheer him up.'
'It's not Giuseppe, Ma. It's Yossarian.'
'What difference does it make?' the mother answered in the same mourning tone,
without looking up. 'He's dying.'
Her tumid eyes filled with tears and she began to cry, rocking back and forth slowly
in her chair with her hands lying in her lap like fallen moths. Yossarian was afraid she
would start wailing. The father and brother began crying also. Yossarian remembered
suddenly why they were all crying, and he began crying too. A doctor Yossarian had
never seen before stepped inside the room and told the visitors courteously that
they had to go. The father drew himself up formally to say goodbye.
'Giuseppe,' he began.
'Yossarian,' corrected the son.
'Yossarian,' said the father.
'Giuseppe,' corrected Yossarian.
'Soon you're going to die.'
Yossarian began to cry again. The doctor threw him a dirty look from the rear of the
room, and Yossarian made himself stop.
The father continued solemnly with his head lowered. 'When you talk to the man
upstairs,' he said, 'I want you to tell Him something for me. Tell Him it ain't right
for people to die when they're young. I mean it. Tell Him if they got to die at all,
they got to die when they're old. I want you to tell Him that. I don't think He knows
it ain't right, because He's supposed to be good and it's been going on for a long, long
'And don't let anybody up there push you around,' the brother advised. 'You'll be
just as good as anybody else in heaven, even though you are Italian.'
'Dress warm,' said the mother, who seemed to know.