Chapter 18 Summary
The Soldier Who Saw Everything Twice
Yossarian owes his good health to teamwork, fresh air, exercise, and good sportsmanship; he discovers the hospital in an attempt to get away from all of that. One day, instead of doing calisthenics, he goes to the infirmary complaining of abdominal pain, something the doctors now have to observe for five days because too many soldiers have had trouble when their complaints were not taken seriously.
A young English intern comes to see Yossarian and advises him to complain about his liver because it is something the doctors know little about; no doctor ever sees Yossarian more than once, which makes life even easier for him. After ten days of tests and examinations, a new group of doctors has bad news: Yossarian is fit and must leave the hospital. Suddenly another patient sits up in bed, screaming that he sees everything twice.
The medical personnel are immediately distraught and make a variety of diagnoses, though there is no reason or justification for any of them. They finally all agree that no one has a clue what is wrong with the man, but they quarantine everyone on the ward for two weeks. Yossarian spends the most rational Thanksgiving of his life in the hospital. (The next Thanksgiving with General Scheisskopf’s wife is the most irrational. They are both atheists and Yossarian debates with her about how miserable life is. Finally she gets angry, claiming the God she does not believe in is more just and merciful than Yossarian’s “mean and stupid” God. They agree to believe in whatever God they each choose not to believe in.)
Yossarian is distraught when the quarantine period is up and easily convinces the new doctors that he, too, now sees everything twice. He takes his cue from the original sufferer, but that night the soldier who sees everything twice dies, and now Yossarian is quick to claim that he now sees everything only once. The dead soldier’s family comes to see their dying boy. Yossarian agrees to pose as their son as long as the doctor assists him in his liver illness charade. The doctor agrees, since they are “in this business of illusion together.”
When the family arrives, they see a soldier wrapped in bandages and assume it is their son, though he tells them his name is Yossarian. The family quickly adjusts to the new name and notes that he looks terrible. They console him and encourage him to keep fighting, and Yossarian winces at the deception. The family is mournful, especially the mother; when she starts crying, Yossarian cries, too. The doctor comes to Yossarian’s rescue as the grieving father tells Yossarian to tell God, when he sees Him, that it is not fair for young people to die. (God must not know this yet because young people keep dying.) The grieving brother advises Yossarian not to let “anybody up there” push him around; the grieving mother tells him to “dress warm.”