Hawkeye Pierce lay down on his cot, fatigued after an eleven hour day of surgery. The last operation, a bowel resection, had been particularly grueling. It wasn’t an abnormal surgery, but the patient had a reaction to the anesthestha and had to be monitored carefully. For a few minutes, it was touch and go, leaving Hawkeye increasingly agitated at the situation. Everything had turned out all right, but he hated close calls. He had been working so feverishly on saving his patient that he had almost forgotten about the doctor who had slipped in the operating room. The mild mannered psychiatrist always had a way of blending in with his surroundings- he was the opposite of Hawkeye in that aspect. Whereas Hawkeye was loud and presumptuous, Sidney was quiet and unassuming. He took nothing for granted, not that he could afford to in his line of work. The man’s ability to focus intensely was just one part of his charm.
Hawkeye was too tired to think about Sidney or anyone else for that matter although he had a sneaking suspicion that he was on the shrink’s to see list. It had been awhile- three months to be exact- since their last powwow.
B.J. was busy writing to his wife and wouldn’t engage in conversation, so Hawkeye looked for other ways to occupy his time. Finding nothing but a spare sock, he wound the cloth material into a ball and tossed it into the air repeatedly while he lay on his back.
“I think I’ve found the ultimate thrill.” He declared. “Nothing screams excitement like watching your own laundry bounce across your bed. Here. Catch.”
B.J. threw the sock back to his best friend. “I’m busy. Sorry.”
“Don’t look at me.” Piped in Charles, who was busy sorting through his various assortments of records.
Too late. Hawkeye had gone ahead and thrown the cloth at the major, who certainly did not appreciate the gesture. He was about to argue when he was interrupted by a knock on the door.
“Come in.” Shouted B.J who was thankful for the interruption. He was in no mood for the Bickersons that night.
In walked Dr. Sidney Freedman, traveling psychiatrist. Both Charles and B.J.’s eyes inadvertently swept over to Hawkeye. It might be unfair to presume that the shrink was there solely to visit their colleague, but neither one could help it. It hadn’t been that long ago since the death of Radar O’Reilly. Sidney had been brought in to council a grieving Hawkeye. Everyone deals with grief in their own way, but the surgeon internalized his in an unhealthy manner. He stopped eating and sleeping, and refused to speak at times. He even temporarily moved out of the Swamp. Those closest to the man from Maine felt powerless to help him; B.J. was glad to see Sidney now. The three month anniversary was fast approaching and it was a safe bet to assume that Colonel Potter had called in the psychiatrist.
“Have I come at a bad time? I know you fellows had a long day today.” Sidney commented.
“No, Charles and were just leaving, weren’t we?” B.J. glared the major.
“I, uh, as a matter of fact it happens that I have some business to attend to with Colonel Potter. Now if you’ll excuse me. Sidney.” He knew that the psychiatrist had unfinished business with Hawkeye so he thought it best that he leave. He nodded as he made his way out the door.
“I’ll catch you later. I’m just going to finish my letter in the mess tent.” B.J. smiled as he gathered his belongings.
“Why do I get the feeling that they want us to be alone?” Hawkeye muttered as he sat on the edge of the bed.
Sidney pulled up a seat. “You don’t mind my staying, do you? It’s been awhile since our last chat. I thought I’d take a minute to see how things have been going for you.”
“Oh fine, fine. You know, I get up in the morning to a cold cup of coffee and even colder breakfast and wait for the day’s casualties to arrive. Or if not I pass the day playing a few jokes or sharing a few minutes with the ladies. Drink a few drinks. You know...”
“Sounds like things have gone back to normal.”
Hawkeye froze up. He never could stand that word. “No, things are not normal! I know what you’re trying to say. I know why you’re here. And I haven’t forgotten Radar. Just because he’s gone doesn’t mean a guy doesn’t have to do things to survive, you know. And that’s what this place is about. You know what? I think about him all the time. I think about how he’d still be here if I hadn’t have given him some lousy advice. I think about the future he would have had. He would have had a long and arduous life on the farm back in Iowa. Hometown kid trying to make good. Maybe get married and have a few little Radars of his own. That’s not too much for anyone to ask, right? But it was too much for everyone to expect of him apparently. I’ve gotten past that. I’ve moved on.”
Hawkeye sighed. “Not really. You got me there. I’ll never forgive myself for what I did to him.”
“I remember you saying that you didn’t want to be his hero.”
“That’s right. It’s too much. I can’t be a hero and a surgeon at the same time. It’s like they don’t mix. I’ll make a mistake and then what happens? It’s like what happened with Radar. He put me on that pedestal and then I couldn’t live up to his expectations. I disappointed him and myself. I got caught in a no-win situation that I couldn’t get out of. If I measured up to his expectations then that only raised the bar for next time. Then what would I do if I failed? I’d just be setting everyone else up-not to mention myself-up for a major disappointment. And I already have so much that I’m carrying around- the need to be everyone’s tower of strength. If the world is falling apart- and it is- then the least I can do is be the one thing people can count on.” Hawkeye sighed with a heavy heart.
He never realized how much he’d been bottling up.
“What about B.J.? Does he know how you feel about all of this?” inquired Sidney.
“No. I can’t lay all of this on his shoulders. He’s got enough to worry about with Peg and Erin. The last thing he needs is to be bothered with my troubles. And I know him- he’d work himself into lather if he knew how I felt. Hell, I didn’t even know how I felt until just now. Well I did, but that was before Radar died. I thought I’d put it behind me. I never really had time to deal with it, you know. I feel so guilty.”
“Why would you feel guilty?”
“Because the last feeling I had toward him was anger. I’d never gotten angry with him. I’ll tell you what gets me angry. War. Stupidity. Pride. Not Radar O’Reilly.” Hawkeye said.
“You couldn’t have known what would happen. If you had, what would you have done differently?” the psychiatrist asked.
“I don’t know. I would have said goodbye.” He looked down. “That’s the kicker. He died without knowing how I felt about him. At least Henry knew. Trapper, Radar and I threw him a little shin-dig. We gave him a suit. He knew we were crazy about him. I kissed him on the cheeks. I’d do anything....” His voice trailed off while he looked away.
“Anyways...” Hawkeye continued. “Sometimes I walk into Colonel Potter’s office and I forget Henry’s not there. I always knew that when my back was up against a wall Henry would support me. No matter what. I can’t tell you how many times Frank and Margaret would look for ways to cause trouble for me and yet Henry would always have my back. Once Henry was transferred to Tokyo and Trapper, Radar and I cooked up a scheme to bring him back. It wouldn’t be the same without him but at least he would be with his family. And then he went and got himself killed. He was one of the best men I’ve ever met and he had to die. Sometimes I lie awake thinking about him on that plane. He’s just dreaming of home and suddenly the plane spins out of control. Does he have time to realize what’s happening to him? Does he have time to feel panic and terror? I only pray he never knew what happened before he hit his watery grave.” Hawkeye shuddered.
“That’s what I’m afraid of the most- Henry suffering. We spent all of our medical training learning how to reduce suffering only to have him go out like that. He died a senseless and violent death and there was nothing anyone could do about it. I remembered what it was like to almost drown, and it wasn’t pretty. I’ve thought about that- a lot. I know that Henry died on impact, not that it offers any comfort. He was such a good man and deserved so much better than what he got.”
“Does it bother you? To talk about Henry?”
“Not really. I used to talk about him all the time. Right after he died Trapper left and B.J. arrived. So I had someone new to talk to. B.J. feels as if he practically knew Henry.”
“It helps to talk about loved ones. Do you talk about Radar?” asked Sidney.
“That’s just it! I can talk about Henry but I can’t talk about Radar. No one will even mention his name around me. I wonder if it’s because they blame me for his death.”
“I don’t think that’s it. Number one, I don’t think anyone blames you. Everyone knows it was an accident. You didn’t shoot at him. Secondly, I think most people know how that it’s a sensitive subject with you. They don’t know how to approach it. So they figure it’s best to leave it alone. And do you think they’re right?”
“Maybe.” Hawkeye agreed. “I practically bit everyone’s head off that tried to talk to me about him at first.”
“Maybe you’re ready. Start with B.J. I’m sure he’d be more than glad to talk about him with you. He’d know what to say. After all, you did spend a better part of our session talking about Radar. It’s time.”
Hawkeye said nothing, but was willing to concede that the doctor had a point. It used to anger him even hearing the name Radar but now there was something strangely soothing in the room. It was like a source of peace could be found just thinking of his lost friend. True it had been awhile since he’d thought of his friend but that didn’t mean he didn’t care. It had just been so painful that he’d tried to block out the memories of the events surrounding Radar’s death, if that were possible. He’d thought he’d lost his mind with grief. Seeing Sidney again was starting to bring back feelings of anxiety, reminiscent of their old therapy sessions following Radar’s funeral. This time he was much stronger. He’d allowed himself to get close to his friends again, especially B.J. They say time heals all wounds, but Hawkeye had found that to be a fallacy. Time helps all wounds, but some wounds could never fully heal. The loss of a loved one is so immensely painful that you cannot imagine the pain unless you have experienced it yourself. This latest loss in Hawkeye’s young life brought him closer to the edge of despair and discouragement. Faith was becoming harder and harder to find in this mad world filled with loss.
“Hawkeye, can I ask you a question?”
“You just did.”
“What do you remember most about your mother?”
“What is it about you shrinks and mothers? I knew that this was going to come up!” Hawkeye rolled his eyes.
“Bread. I remember the smell of freshly baked bread coming from the kitchen when I’d come home from school. It was my favorite thing in the world. Dad always loved it too. I remember she always hated going to the store. Anything you needed you could make at home, she always said. She was really practical that way. She always said I must have taken after my father since my head was always in the clouds. She was an excellent seamstress. Everyone in town was always coming to her. Dad didn’t want her to work, he was old-fashioned, but he didn’t mind her taking in some extra dollars that way. We always had people coming and going. They would bring me candy, which my mom didn’t always know about. She was always singing. Sometimes I could hear her singing from the upstairs. I take after her that way. Drove my dad batty. He said if he wanted music he’d put on the radio. But we couldn’t help it. And how my friends loved her. My friend Harry had his first crush on her. Made me madder than hell. She was my mom, you know. I used to think it was the cooking but it was the way she treated all the kids. She’d never let you go hungry. If you were over there playing she’d insist on you staying for dinner. And then sometimes she would dance with them. My friend Steve’s face got so red he ran out the door and he didn’t show back up for two weeks. She was amazing.”
“And how did you handle it when she passed away?” Sidney asked.
“I cried every day for a month. But I didn’t let my dad see me. I couldn’t. He was counting on me. It was like someone had ripped a part of me out and replaced it with a stone wall. I felt like I couldn’t breathe. I never thought I’d ever be myself again.”
“How did you act with your father?”
“I had to act like myself. I told jokes, made him laugh, you know...I couldn’t let him know anything was wrong. He had too much to worry about without me dragging him down.”
“Even at a young age you learned to hide behind your jokes. Is that how you’ve dealt with Radar’s death?” Sidney inquired. “That may work in the short-term but not the long run.”
“I’ve been doing all right. Certainly better than last time we’ve talked. I think I was ready to leave on a section 8.”
“You know, Hawkeye, you certainly are doing much better. Tell your jokes, drink your drinks. Chase your nurses. But listen to your body. If you’ve learned anything from all of this know this: you have limits. Recognize them and learn to slow down when you need to. You’re not God, so quit playing so. Let B.J. and a few others in once in awhile. You’d be mighty surprised at how much better you’d feel. No man is an island, and you shouldn’t try to be.”
“Is that it?”
“That’s it, soldier. I think you’ve made remarkable progress. I’ll pop in from time to time. You’ll be okay. Just don’t try to do it by yourself.” Sidney stood up and shook the surgeon’s hand.
Hawkeye would think about their conversation and decide Sidney was right. B.J. was a good friend, the best one he’d ever had. Maybe it was time to start talking about Radar again. In small doses, of course, but he never was one to forget the ones he loved. It was time to let the healing begin.