|SHADES OF DARKNESS by George E. Brummell
Excerpt from Chapter 17
"What are we gonna do with this one?"
A voice, exhausted or disgusted, or both. "Put him in the ear, eye, nose and throat ward.” A second voice, efficient. “The poor fellow's blind. We can treat all his injuries from there."
Another voice, slightly higher than the first, concerned. "He’s got burns over sixty percent of his body. Why don't we treat him from the burn ward? What’s your opinion, Doctor Artis?"
A deep voice with a European accent, clipped, authoritative. "Orthopedics, I think. That left hand looks as though it might have to be amputated."
Some poor soldier was in bad shape. I’d hate to be in that bed.
The higher-pitched voice approached, speaking. "Well, hello there, Sergeant Brummell! Welcome to Brooks Medical Center. You’re in a bed in a hallway, in Admissions. We’re trying to decide which ward would be the best one for you."
A jolt of recognition coursed through my battered body. "You mean you were talking about me just now? Am I blind? I'm not blind, am I? I could see if you’d just take these damn bandages off."
The voice hesitated. "You...you don't have any bandages on, Sergeant. We don't know yet how badly you’re injured. We’re going to try to restore your vision. Let's hope, anyway. Just stay calm and everything’ll be all right. We'll have you out of here before you know it. I'm leaving now. Good luck, soldier."
The voice moved away. Rubber soles chirped on linoleum. The three voices resumed chatting, just out of range.
Blind! I couldn’t be blind. How would I be able to see my son, and Blanche? What the hell had happened to me! I felt tears flooding my injured eyes, flowing down my face like the deluges of Vietnam. At least being blind hadn’t robbed me of my ability to weep.
My arms were bandaged up and tied down. I couldn’t even scratch my nose, if I still had one. I was falling, falling, plunging into a black, bottomless abyss. This can't be happening. Wasn’t it bad enough to be sent to Vietnam? The doctors must be wrong...got to be wrong!
God could have picked anyone! There's supposed to be a God watching over us, right? What God would blind me when I’ve a wife and child to care for? Damn restraints!
Chirping shoes approached. A gentle woman’s voice came close. "Hello, Sergeant Brummell. I’m a nurse's aide—Miss Sanchez. I’m going to roll you over to the Orthopedic Ward."
I lay in numb silence as she maneuvered the bed down the noisy, hot hallways. I could feel the gurney bump over the threshold of a doorway. "Dan Zuck, you have company,” Miss Sanchez announced.
I heard rustling, a phlegmy cough. “This is Staff Sergeant George Brummell. He’ll be joining you guys in your corner."
A groan. Or was it a greeting? Over the next day or two I learned about my invisible hospital-mates. Private First Class Dan Zuck was white, from Jackson, Mississippi. He was blinded when a phosphorus grenade went off in his hand. His nose and eyes were missing and his mouth twisted. I was glad that I didn’t have to look at him, but wondered just how grisly I must have looked.
PFC William Fisher was a black guy from Georgia who had been temporarily moved for some surgical procedure. A bullet entered one side of his head, severed both optic nerves, and exited the other side.
Shortly after I arrived at blind man's corner, a Red Cross representative came to help me write letters and contact my family. I needed to talk to Blanche like a tree needs bark, but she had been staying with her mother and I didn’t have the number. Shirley Staples, the Red Cross worker, took the address. The number turned out to be unlisted but Shirley returned and placed a phone receiver in my hand.
“It’s your wife,” she whispered. “Mrs. Brummell.” With my good hand I held the receiver to my ear and heard Blanche’s tinny voice frantically calling my name. "George? George? Is that you, honey? Are you all right? Are you there? George?"
"Hey, Blanche,” I croaked. “Sure, I'm all right," I lied.
"I got a telegram that said you got hurt.” A sob. “What's wrong? I’m going to the doctor to see if it's all right to come out there. Mom said she would take care of Junior."
For a moment I debated, then said more brusquely than I intended, "Blanche, I'm fine. I just can't see. I AM BLIND."
Blanche burst into uncontrollable wailing. I listened for what seemed like minutes until she regained her composure. "George, I'll be out there soon. You'll be all right. I love you, baby. I miss you so much."
"That’s what everyone says, I'll be all right." I was beginning to believe it. Maybe I would be all right.
She hung up and the nurse took the phone from my hand. I couldn’t get my mind around being blind. I would never see again? Now what? How could I keep my beautiful wife interested in me? How could I help raise my new son? What can a blind man do? I’d seen blind people and how vulnerable and pathetic they seemed, tapping their way down sidewalks, needing someone to guide them through airports, unable to drive, or read, or play catch with a child, or look into a wife’s adoring eyes as they kissed.
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