After weeks of slaving in the brutal cold, Elie's right foot begins to swell, and he is soon unable to put it on the ground. He goes to have it examined, and the doctor, a Jewish prisoner himself, declares that he must have an operation. It is the doctor's opinion that if the operation is not performed immediately, Elie's toes, and perhaps his whole leg, will have to be amputated.
Elie is put into the hospital, which is actually an almost pleasant place. He is given a bed with sheets, and fed good bread and a soup that is thicker than that fed to the rest of the prisoners. Elie is warned, however, by a skeletal Hungarian Jew who occupies a nearby bed, that he would do well to get out of the hospital at the soonest opportunity. Selections occur more often in the hospital than they do on the outside; "Germany doesn't need sick Jews!"
The Jewish doctor performs the operation on Elie's foot the next day. Elie is given no anesthetic, and must bear the pain of the procedure until he passes out. When he comes to, the doctor tells him that the sole of his foot had been full of pus, and they had to open the foot to drain it; the operation had gone well, and Elie should be "completely recovered within two weeks (Chapter 5).
When Elie is in the work camp, his foot swells from the cold, and a Jewish doctor tells him that he will operate on his foot. The doctor says that if Elie waits, he risks having an amputation. Elie is placed in the infirmary, where the man in the neighboring bed tells him to get well soon or face deportation to a worse fate. The doctor operates on Elie's foot while Elie is still awake. He tells Elie that the sole of his foot was filled with pus and that Elie, who fears his leg has been amputated, will instead be fine and will be walking in two weeks. Elie can benefit from two weeks of rest and slightly better food.
Later, after Buchenwald is liberated, Elie becomes ill from a kind of poison and also spends some time in a hospital. He does not elaborate on how he was poisoned. He lingers for two weeks between life and death. While recovering, he looks at himself in the mirror for the first time since he was in the ghetto and says of the corpse looking back at him, "The look in his eyes as he gazed at me has never left me."