He came over and knelt beside Hunnicutt, reaching out to feel the base of Pierce's neck for a pulse.
Instead of answering him, he turned to the colonel. "He must have been bitten by something this afternoon," he said as he shook his head, "It's the only thing I can think of."
"Well," Potter began, "we can't leave him here. Radar," he glanced up at the company clerk, but the young man jumped in before he could finish.
"Yes sir, I'll get you a stretcher so you can carry Cap'n Pierce back to the Swamp since there's no room in Post-Op."
"Thank you, Radar," Potter called as the clerk disappeared.
"Hunnicutt," Winchester began, humbled, "I'm sorry for doubting you."
"Forget it," Hunnicutt said, "we'll discuss doubt in emergency situations later."
Radar returned in record time with a stretcher and the three men gently placed him on it.
"Do you know what kind of hole he fell into, Hunnicutt?" Potter asked as BJ and Radar got to their feet with the stretcher between them.
Hunnicutt shook his head, "If we were in the States, I'd say it was a gopher hole, Colonel."
Potter sighed heavily and pointed a finger at Charles, "Winchester, get me some scissors, alcohol, cotton and a scalpel. We've got to see what we can do."
The doctor disappeared into the O.R. in search of the supplies while Potter opened the washroom door and found almost the entire camp gathered there. He pulled up short in surprise and held his hands up as the mob began throwing questions a him. "
"It's okay, folks. There's nothing to see here. You can all go back to your business."
The colonel waited until half the group had departed before allowing Hunnicutt and Radar to leave. The last thing they needed was a mob scene. Behind him, he could hear Pierce begin to moan and stir and he quickly stepped to one side, allowing the two men to walk ahead of him.
"Get him as comfortable as possible," he called after them.
When Potter finally entered the Swamp, Pierce was semi-conscious and in obvious pain. The colonel pointed to the doctor's right foot, "We need to get that boot off," he said, "that foot's probably swollen and it's being constricted."
Hunnicutt stooped at the base of the bed and started the process of untying the regulation army boots. "And to think, this wasn't Hawkeye's month to shower," he quipped, trying to break the tension. The attempted joke fell flat so Hunnicutt decided to bite his tongue.
On the bed, Pierce continued moan and stir erratically.
As Hunnicutt finished untying the boot as best he could, he grabbed it with both hands and tugged. The action elicited a scream of agony from Pierce and the delirious doctor bolted upright on the cot, fully awake.
Instantly, Potter and Radar were on either side of the doctor, each grabbing onto an arm with all their strength. "You have to get that boot off son," the colonel said quietly to Hunnicutt. "If you don't, he'll lose that foot."
BJ bit his lip and looked up at his friend; Pierce's blue eyes were glassy with shock and his skin tone was much too pale. A thin film of perspiration blanketed his face, plastering his black hair to his forehead. The skin around his eyes and mouth was pulled taut by pain.
"Sorry Hawk," he whispered, gripping the boot tightly with both hands, BJ gritted his teeth and pulled out and up with all his strength. Pierce threw his head back and howled as searing arches of white hot pain lanced through his body, the colonel and Radar dug their feet into the ground as best the could to maintain their grip on the doctor. Veins stood at attention on Pierce's neck, and blotches of red appeared on his pale face. The boot finally came off and Pierce collapsed backward at the sudden relief, gasping for air and whimpering slightly.
A large crowd had gathered outside the Swamp and still more were joining as the news about Pierce's condition spread. Charles' voice was suddenly heard, and the crowd parted easily so he could enter the tent with the necessary supplies.
"Winchester, hand me those scissors. I'm gonna cut this sock off." Potter said.
As the tattered sock fell to the floor, Pierce's right leg swelled to twice its size and took on an unhealthy shade of purple. Hunnicutt shook his head as he stared at the deformed limb. "Colonel, you better cut his pant leg too, give the leg room," he advised.
Potter obliged while Hunnicutt picked up the scalpel, throwing some alcohol on it.
"What can I do?" Charles asked.
Hunnicutt looked over at him but kept the snide remarks to himself. "Sterilize his leg," he said instead, "I'm going to relieve some of the pressure."
"Look here," Potter said suddenly, pointing to a spot on Pierce's lower leg, just below the knee. There were two perfectly small holes there surrounded by hideously swollen flesh. "Spider bite," the Colonel said with a sigh, "seen enough in my time to know what they look like." He straightened up and folded his arms in front of him, "We have no serum here for bites of any kind, and there's no way we'll be able to round some up in time."
Hunnicutt stared up at his commanding officer in unfolding horror, "What're you saying, Colonel?"
Potter looked down at the doctor, "I'm saying that we have to do the best we can with what little we have. We may have to let the poison run its course."
"And what if that course leads to death?" Hunnicutt asked angrily, "I'm not willing to take that chance."
No one noticed the quiet company clerk as he slipped out of the Swamp.
"I agree with Hunnicutt," Charles said, kneeling beside the doctor and rubbing cotton soaked in alcohol over the swollen leg. On the bed, Pierce groaned weakly.
BJ looked over at Charles in surprise, "You do?"
"But of course, Pierce is a fine physician. The war needs more people like him. Besides, he owes me a new pair of socks."
Hunnicutt shook his head with a small smile, gently placing the scalpel against the purple flesh. "There must be something we can do," he said as Pierce's leg split like a ripe sausage under the sharp blade. Charles wiped away the oozing blood without a word. "Some villager somewhere," the doctor continued as he made three more incisions on Pierce's leg before setting the scalpel aside and glancing up at Potter.
"Son, we don't even know what kind of spider bit him."
"I don't care!" Hunnicutt shouted suddenly, slamming his fist into the ground. "Hawkeye deserves better than a shrug and an apology."
"I agree," the colonel said softly, "but what can we do without a serum to counteract the poison?"
On the bed, Pierce began to twitch and shake erratically, moaning and fighting to catch his breath. The three surgeons ceased their arguments and instead prayed for a miracle.
When the door to the Swamp swung open an hour later, dawn had begun to break on the horizon. The entire camp was gathered outside the tent, hoping that there would be something that they would be able to do. Inside, Hunnicutt had begun to pace while Potter placed cold compresses on Hawkeye's forehead to try and bring his fever down. Charles was forcing water down Pierce's throat to keep him from dehydrating. It had been almost nineteen hours since Hawkeye had been bitten and the venom was coursing through his body at a rapid pace. The three surgeons glanced up as the door slammed shut.
"Radar!" They exclaimed in unison.
"My God, son, where have you been? Potter asked, jumping to his feet.
Hunnicutt pointed to a silent old Korean woman who was standing unobtrusively behind the company clerk, "Who's this, Radar?"
"This is Sing Lu," Radar answered as he directed the old woman to Pierce's cot. "She's a local medicine woman from a village a few miles north of here."
"Fine, that's fine, Radar," Charles answered, staring as the woman dug through a bag at her side, "but why is she here?"
"Oh!" the boy exclaimed as if the major were completely missing the totally obvious, "She's gonna help Cap'n Pierce."
The three men exchanged skeptical glances and a small murmur began to rumble through the crowd outside as news of who Radar had brought with him began to spread.
"With what?" Charles asked, "Chants and dancing?"
Radar shook his head, "No sir. Herbs."
"Herbs?" Hunnicutt repeated with a frown, watching as Sing Lu tore some leaves from a tiny branch and placed them in a small wooden cup. "For a spider bite?"
"Oh yes sir," Radar replied with a vigorous nod, "she knows all the local healing remedies. She's known almost to Tokyo."
"Then how come we haven't heard of her," Charles grumbled with a sniff.
Sing Lu threw some water into the cup and began to crush the leaves with a wooden spoon. On the bed, Pierce shuddered and moaned weakly. Potter dipped the compress into a bowl of cool water next to the cot and put it back on the doctor's head; Hawkeye's fever was out of control. The colonel looked first at the woman and then over at Radar and finally over at the two doctors.