A FAREWELL TO ARMS by Ernest Hemingway

“Six months for the projectile to encyst before the knee can be opened safely.”

“I don’t believe it,” I said.

“Do you want to keep your knee, young man?”

“No,” I said.


“I want it cut off,” I said, “so I can wear a hook on it.”

“What do you mean? A hook?”

“He is joking,” said the house doctor. He patted my shoulder very delicately. “He wants to keep his knee. This is a very brave young man. He has been proposed for the silver medal of valor.”

“All my felicitations,” said the first captain. He shook my hand. “I can only say that to be on the safe side you should wait at least six months before opening such a knee. You are welcome of course to another opinion.”

“Thank you very much,” I said. “I value your opinion.”

The first captain looked at his watch.

“We must go,” he said. “All my best wishes.”

“All my best wishes and many thanks,” I said. I shook hands with the third doctor. “Capitano Varini–Tenente Enry,” and they all three went out of the room.

“Miss Gage,” I called. She came in. “Please ask the house doctor to come back a minute.”

He came in holding his cap and stood by the bed. “Did you wish to see me?”

“Yes. I can’t wait six months to be operated on. My God, doctor, did you ever stay in bed six months?”

“You won’t be in bed all the time. You must first have the wounds exposed to the sun. Then afterward you can be on crutches.”

“For six months and then have an operation?”

“That is the safe way. The foreign bodies must be allowed to encyst and the synovial fluid will re-form. Then it will be safe to open up the knee.”

“Do you really think yourself I will have to wait that long?”

“That is the safe way.”

“Who is that first captain?”

“He is a very excellent surgeon of Milan.”

“He’s a first captain, isn’t he?”

“Yes, but he is an excellent surgeon.”

“I don’t want my leg fooled with by a first captain. If he was any good he would be made a major. I know what a first captain is, doctor.”

“He is an excellent surgeon and I would rather have his judgment than any surgeon I know.”

“Could another surgeon see it?”

“Certainly if you wish. But I would take Dr. Varella’s opinion myself.”

“Could you ask another surgeon to come and see it?”

“I will ask Valentini to come.”

“Who is he?”

“He is a surgeon of the Ospedale Maggiore.”

“Good. I appreciate it very much. You understand, doctor, I couldn’t stay in bed six months.”

“You would not be in bed. You would first take a sun cure. Then you could have light exercise. Then when it was encysted we would operate.”

“But I can’t wait six months.”

The doctor spread his delicate fingers on the cap he held and smiled. “You are in such a hurry to get back to the front?”

“Why not?”

“It is very beautiful,” he said. “You are a noble young man.” He stooped over and kissed me very delicately on the forehead. “I will send for Valentini. Do not worry and excite yourself. Be a good boy.”

“Will you have a drink?” I asked.

“No thank you. I never drink alcohol.”

“Just have one.” I rang for the porter to bring glasses.

“No. No thank you. They are waiting for me.”

“Good-by,” I said.


Two hours later Dr. Valentini came into the room. He was in a great hurry and the points of his mustache stood straight up. He was a major, his face was tanned and he laughed all the time.

“How did you do it, this rotten thing?” he asked. “Let me see the plates. Yes. Yes. That’s it. You look healthy as a goat. Who’s the pretty girl? Is she your girl? I thought so. Isn’t this a bloody war? How does that feel? You are a fine boy. I’ll make you better than new. Does that hurt? You bet it hurts. How they love to hurt you, these doctors. What have they done for you so far? Can’t that girl talk Italian? She should learn. What a lovely girl. I could teach her. I will be a patient here myself. No, but I will do all your maternity work free. Does she understand that? She will make you a fine boy. A fine blonde like she is. That’s fine. That’s all right. What a lovely girl. Ask her if she eats supper with me. No I won’t take her away from you. Thank you. Thank you very much, Miss. That’s all.”

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Categories: Hemingway, Ernest