A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway

The X-ray was taken at the Ospedale Maggiore and the doctor who did it was excitable, efficient and cheerful. It was arranged by holding up the shoulders, that the patient should see personally some of the larger foreign bodies through the machine. The plates were to be sent over. The doctor requested me to write in his pocket notebook, my name, and regiment and some sentiment. He declared that the foreign bodies were ugly, nasty, brutal. The Austrians were sons of bitches. How many had I killed? I had not killed any but I was anxious to please–and I said I had killed plenty. Miss Gage was with me and the doctor put his arm around her and said she was more beautiful than Cleopatra. Did she understand that? Cleopatra the former queen of Egypt. Yes, by God she was. We returned to the little hospital in the ambulance and after a while and much lifting I was upstairs and in bed again. The plates came that afternoon, the doctor had said by God he would have them that afternoon and he did. Catherine Barkley showed them to me. They were in red envelopes and she took them out of the envelopes and held them up to the light and we both looked.

“That’s your right leg,” she said, then put the plate back in the envelope. “This is your left.”

“Put them away,” I said, “and come over to the bed.”

“I can’t,” she said. “I just brought them in for a second to show you.”

She went out and I lay there. It was a hot afternoon and I was sick of lying in bed. I sent the porter for the papers, all the papers he could get.

Before he came back three doctors came into the room. I have noticed that doctors who fail in the practice of medicine have a tendency to seek one another’s company and aid in consultation. A doctor who cannot take out your appendix properly will recommend to you a doctor who will be unable to remove your tonsils with success. These were three such doctors.

“This is the young man,” said the house doctor with the delicate hands.

“How do you do?” said the tall gaunt doctor with the beard. The third doctor, who carried the X-ray plates in their red envelopes, said nothing.

“Remove the dressings?” questioned the bearded doctor.

“Certainly. Remove the dressings, please, nurse,” the house doctor said to Miss Gage. Miss Gage removed the dressings. I looked down at the legs. At the field hospital they had the look of not too freshly ground hamburger steak. Now they were crusted and the knee was swollen and discolored and the calf sunken but there was no pus.

“Very clean,” said the house doctor. “Very clean and nice.”

“Urn,” said the doctor with the beard. The third doctor looked over the house doctor’s shoulder.

“Please move the knee,” said the bearded doctor.

“I can’t.”

“Test the articulation?” the bearded doctor questioned. He had a stripe beside the three stars on his sleeve. That meant he was a first captain.

“Certainly,” the house doctor said. Two of them took hold of my right leg very gingerly and bent it.

“That hurts,” I said.

“Yes. Yes. A little further, doctor.”

“That’s enough. That’s as far as it goes,” I said.

“Partial articulation,” said the first captain. He straightened up. “May I see the plates again, please, doctor?” The third doctor handed him one of the plates. “No. The left leg, please.”

“That is the left leg, doctor.”

“You are right. I was looking from a different angle.” He returned the plate. The other plate he examined for some time. “You see, doctor?” he pointed to one of the foreign bodies which showed spherical and clear against the light. They examined the plate for some time.

“Only one thing I can say,” the first captain with the beard said. “It is a question of time. Three months, six months probably.”

“Certainly the synovial fluid must re-form.”

“Certainly. It is a question of time. I could not conscientiously open a knee like that before the projectile was encysted.”

“I agree with you, doctor.”

“Six months for what?” I asked.

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Categories: Hemingway, Ernest