Sunday, January 10, 2010

And How He Was Reprieved

This time there was no Captain Mikhailoff to come to my grandfather’s rescue as the Captain was in Harbin, China.

“…My…attorney… wouldn't even consider [letting me] simply tell the truth — that a human being can go only so long without sleep. Of course, he probably knew his customers and what they would believe and what they wouldn't. He seemed to feel my only possible defense was to claim that, owing to food poisoning or drinking polluted water, I now suffered from a strange sickness which, without warning, could send me into a coma.

“Frankly, I was desperate enough to try anything. But where on this green earth would I find a Russian army doctor who would favor me with such an improbable diagnosis?

"...The court, after hearing my attorney's preposterous story, surprised me. They agreed to postpone my case until I'd had a thorough medical examination…”

After being dismissed by the doctor to which a guard had brought him because the visit interrupted a dinner party, my grandfather felt despondent. But once again a higher power intervened.

When the hearing resumed, “… My attorney…[ran] quickly over to the clinic, burst in on my doctor, and dragged him away from a roomful of patients. When they returned, I was relieved to see that my convert outranked the other four [court-appointed] doctors.

“He…examined me right then and there [by] separat[ing] my lids and shin[ing] a match in front of my eyes.… His eyes stabbed into mine like a surgeon's knife. The devil only knows what he expected to find there.… I flinched as the [doctor] suddenly turned to his colleagues and shouted, ‘How can you say this man is well. Have you examined his brain?’

“Flustered, the other doctors shook their heads. I could see they were skeptical but, thank Heaven, in Fonya's*  army, you didn't argue with a superior officer.

“‘You never noticed there is a spot on his brain?’

“‘And what is the significance of that?’” demanded the presiding judge, who outranked even my doctor friend.

“‘That spot is a symptom of a kind of sleeping sickness.’” He said it so convincingly that for a moment I wondered how long I could live with such a disease. ‘A man with those symptoms may sink into a coma at any moment. He should never have been allowed to serve in the army. But now that he's here, the only place for him is the hospital.’

“…The other doctors … look[ed] into my eyes…dutifully lighting match[es], agreed with his diagnosis, and apologized to the court for having overbooked my brain.…

“The presiding officer, with a disgusted look, ordered me straight to the hospital for observation and treatment. I was not convinced that he believed a word of all this, but form had been satisfied, and probably if I could produce such influential supporters, it was best not to shoot me.”

*A diminutive for Ivan; used generically to refer to any Russian

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