Two Blind Men and a Fool
by Sherman Smith
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Earl Crier wakes screaming from nightmares in which his ship sinks in the Arctic in World War II. He has survived but is now blind. He takes refuge in music and in the kindness of Stella. Meanwhile, other veterans return, and their most serious wounds are not always visible.
Chapter 3: Wait and See
The itch spread upwards from Ivory Burch’s toes. His skin begged for relief. His right foot ached, the way it had after the first ten miles of his forced march to the prison camp. His leg muscles twitched with the memory of working twelve hours underground digging tunnels before being forced to build a roadway through dense jungle.
A hundred times he had tried to resist the urge to scratch. The relentless itch drove him nuts. He sat up, pulled his bed sheets back, reached down, and groped absently beneath his gray hospital pajamas, but there were no toes to scratch, no ankle or knee, or calf. Only the pain, masked by the unrelenting itch, the ghost of flesh gone bad.
When he had stumbled out of the jungle after four plus years as an honored guest of the Emperor of Japan, a lowly and forgotten prisoner of war, he had escaped with his life. Barely: his legs, as thin as cricket bats, were covered with weeping tropical ulcers. A deep sword wound on his right thigh had gone gangrenous and everything from there down had to be removed.
The field amputation had been guillotine style. The skin and fascia cut at lower levels than the bone. The stump, left open to drain, had not been sutured or closed. It was covered with a dressing, traction applied to the skin of his lower thigh as he healed.
His healing was slow because of malnutrition, beri-beri, malaria, and a host of complications. His one constant nightmare, the one that nibbled away at his will to live, was the faces, voices, of the men who had died there. It was harder to heal than the maladies that ravished his flesh.
He had been captured in China December 8th, 1941, the day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and remained in brutal and inhuman conditions until, after a desperate escape, he found his way back to friendly hands three days after the Emperor of Japan surrendered in total defeat.
He had not fired a shot during the entire war but had suffered shame and abuse every single day, each day, each hour his agony and desperation a brooding fever. In the end he was the only man to crawl out of that hell hole alive.
At Letterman General Hospital it was determined that not enough skin remained on his thigh to stretch over the truncated femurs. A second and third amputation would be needed to saw and shape the bone, grind down the stump, so the soft tissue could grow and harden.
There needed to be enough loose flaps of skin that could be pulled over it so that a pointed bone would not puncture the recovering flesh. This would take time and it could not be done until Ivory recovered the strength needed to endure the additional trauma of the surgeries.
There were too many patients to deal with, most with a better chance of going home. The doctors did not know if Ivory had enough fight left in him to survive. So Ivory was tagged a “wait and see” patient and transferred to the Veterans Hospital in San Francisco, where they would wait and see if he would live or die. There was no medicine that could heal what Ivory needed to heal.
Copyright © 2013 by Sherman Smith