Cancer Ward [Secure eReader]
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eBook by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
eBook Category: Mainstream
eBook Description: Cancer Ward examines the relationship of a group of people in the cancer ward of a provincial Soviet hospital in 1955, two years after Stalin's death. We see them under normal circumstances, and also reexamined at the eleventh hour of illness. Together they represent a remarkable cross-section of contemporary Russian characters and attitudes. The experiences of the central character, Oleg Kostoglotov, closely reflect the author's own.
eBook Publisher: RosettaBooks/Rosetta
Fictionwise Release Date: April 2005
1. No Cancer Whatsoever
On top of everything, the cancer wing was Number 13. Pavel Nikolayevich Rusanov had never been and could never be a superstitious person, but his heart sank when they wrote "Wing 13" on his admission card. They should have had the ingenuity to assign number 13 to some kind of prosthetic or intestinal department.
But this clinic was the only place where they could help him in the whole republic.
"It isn't, it isn't cancer, is it, Doctor? I haven't got cancer?" Pavel Nikolayevich asked hopefully, lightly touching the malevolent tumor on the right side of his neck. It seemed to grow almost daily, yet the tight skin on the outside was as white and inoffensive as ever.
"Good heavens, no. Of course not." Dr. Dontsova soothed him, for the tenth time, as she filled in the pages of his case history in her bold handwriting. Whenever she wrote, she put on her glasses with rectangular frames rounded at the edges, and she would whisk them off as soon as she had finished. She was no longer a young woman; her face looked pale and utterly tired.
It had happened at the outpatients' reception a few days ago. Patients assigned to a cancer department, even as outpatients, found they could not sleep the next night. And Dontsova had ordered Pavel Nikolayevich to bed immediately.
Unforeseen and unprepared for, the disease had come upon him, a happy man with few cares, like a gale in the space of two weeks. But Pavel Nikolayevich was tormented, no less than by the disease itself, by having to enter the clinic as an ordinary patient, just like anyone else. He could hardly remember when he had been in a public hospital last, it was so long ago. Telephone calls had been made, to Evgeny Semenovich, Shendyapin, and Ulmasbaev, and they rang other people to find out if there were not any VIP wards in the clinic, or whether some small room could not be converted, just for a short time, into a special ward. But the clinic was so cramped for space that nothing could be done.
The only success he had managed to achieve through the head doctor was to bypass the waiting room, the public bath and a change of clothing.
Yuri drove his mother and father in their little blue Moskvich right up to the steps of Ward 13.
In spite of the slight frost, two women in heavily laundered cotton dressing gowns were standing outside on the open stone porch. The cold made them shudder, but they stood their ground.
Beginning with these slovenly dressing gowns, Pavel Nikolayevich found everything in the place unpleasant: the path worn by countless pairs of feet on the cement floor of the porch; the dull doorknobs, all messed about by the patients' hands; the waiting room, paint peeling off its floor, its high olive-colored walls (olive seemed somehow such a dirty color), and its large slatted wooden benches with not enough room for all the patients. Many of them had come long distances and had to sit on the floor. There were Uzbeks in quilted, wadded coats, old Uzbek women in long white shawls and young women in lilac, red and green ones, and all wore high boots with rubbers. One Russian youth, thin as a rail but with a great bloated stomach, lay there in an unbuttoned coat which dangled to the floor, taking up a whole bench to himself. He screamed incessantly with pain. His screams deafened Pavel Nikolayevich and hurt him so much that it seemed the boy was screaming not with his own pain but with Rusanov's.
Pavel Nikolayevich went white around the mouth, stopped dead and whispered to his wife, "Kapa, I'll die here. I mustn't stay. Let's go back."
Kapitolina Matveyevna took him firmly by the arm and said, "Pashenka! Where could we go? And what would we do then?"
"Well, perhaps we might be able to arrange something in Moscow."
Kapitolina Matveyevna turned to her husband. Her broad head was made even broader by its frame of thick, clipped coppery curls.
"Pashenka! If we went to Moscow we might have to wait another two weeks. Or we might not get there at all. How can we wait? It is bigger every morning!"
His wife squeezed his hand in an effort to transmit her courage to him. In his civic and official duties Pavel Nikolayevich was unshakable, and therefore it was simpler and all the more agreeable for him to be able to rely on his wife in family matters. She made all important decisions quickly and correctly.
The boy on the bench was still tearing himself apart with his screams.
"Perhaps the doctors would come to our house? We'd pay them," Pavel Nikolayevich argued, unsure of himself.
"Pasik!" his wife chided him, suffering as much as her husband. "You know I'd be the first to agree. Send for someone and pay the fee. But we've been into this before: these doctors don't treat at home, and they won't take money. And there's their equipment, too. It's impossible."
Copyright © 1968 by Alexander Solzhenitsyn