Two Blind Men and a Fool
by Sherman Smith
Chapter 36: A Daily Dose of Music
Ivory Burch was a rare kind of patient. After all the years, the long hours, the sorrow that the doctor held tucked away in a private place for all the ones who didn’t make it, Ivory made it all worthwhile.
Dr. Fryback stood silently in the door way and studied Ivory, who was sitting on his bed strumming his guitar. Ivory was the most unusual patient he had ever encountered. He had called Stella and listened with amazement as she told him the remarkable story of the two blind men and a Jap that Ivory had spoken about when he had first been readmitted.
After that, the doctor wrote a prescription allowing Ivory a daily dose of music: medically necessary, as often as needed. No one in the ward complained as long as he wasn’t too repetitious. Sometimes he sang, but mostly he just played. Ivory couldn’t read a note of music but what he made up sounded damned good.
Dr. Fryback took one last look at Ivory’s chart, then closed it. In the few weeks that Ivory had been here, he had put on enough weight that he no longer looked like a dead man walking. Considering the menagerie of jungle diseases and parasites that he had played host to, he was in remarkable shape.
Ivory played a few bluesy notes. “Hey, Sarge, it’s Doc Fryback and, what do you know, he ain’t got no damn needles in his hand this time.”
Dr. Fryback chuckled. Ivory frequently spoke to the phantom Sergeant Ware as if he were recuperating in the cot next to him. When Ivory concentrated on the strings, he didn’t think about the past. The dead didn’t whisper in his ear, except for Sergeant Ware, who sometimes sat just on the edge of his consciousness wishing him well. Getting things straight with the sarge had taken some doing.
“Old sarge here has got my backside covered,” Ivory had said. If one friendly spirit, out of a thousand unfriendly ones, could help him overcome the guilt of surviving when they hadn’t, that was just fine.
Dr. Fryback looked at the bed next to Ivory and wondered if Ivory thought he actually saw the sergeant. Dr. Fryback nodded towards the empty bed. “Sergeant, as always.”
Ivory strummed out a few more bluesy notes.
“Well, Ivory, it’s been a long time coming. Are you ready?” The doctor peered through the top of smudged spectacles. “Son, are you really ready? Once we start, there is no turning back. The first amputation and for, what it’s worth, the second were classic field hospital butcheries, cut out the bad, pack it with sulfur powder, sew it up, allow for drainage, then ship the patient back to a rear area hospital or hospital ship where a clean saw can be used. You got a rotten deal.”
He shook his head apologetically. “You’ve had two brushes with gangrene, and the risk of infection is too great. That’s why we have to take off three more inches.” He reached down and touched Ivory’s stump and could tell by Ivory’s face that his light touch had drawn pain.
He gently rested his palm over his patient’s kneecap. “Six months ago we might have been able to save your knee. Now, we just can’t risk another infection.” He gently moved his hand forward and drew a line with his finger. “Here will be the first cut.”
He moved his finger up another inch and a half. “And here the second. The remaining healthy flesh and skin I’ll fold over the stump and graft it together. With time, patience and hard work, and a little luck, we should be able to fit you with an artificial leg. With some real sweat and tears on your part, you could be walking with only a slight limp by this time next year.”
The doctor took off his glasses and pretended to clean them on a handkerchief. “The pain? I’ll give it to you straight. There will be some pain. At first it will hurt like a sonofabitch, but you’ll get through it.” He closed the chart. “Are you sure?” he asked, knowing what his patient was about to go through.
Ivory’s Adam’s apple rose as he sighed. “Nothing will ever hurt as bad as it did when that Army corpsman cut my leg off. He didn’t have any morphine. He said if he didn’t take the leg, I’d be dead by nightfall. The next morning I wished I was. Let’s do it, Doc, before I change my mind.”
The doctor patted Ivory’s shoulder. “Tomorrow morning then. Anything I can do for you in the meantime?”
“How about a big fat medium rare steak with all the trimmings?”
The doc smiled. “Sorry, it’s Jello tonight.”
“No, hospital plain. All you get is a choice of color: yellow or orange.”
Ivory started to play again. “Give my steak to the sarge. He’s looking a little rawboned. And Doc, you’ve got one thing wrong: I’ll be walking inside of six months.”
Copyright © 2013 by Sherman Smith