Billy Pilgrim says he went to Dresden, Germany, on the day after his morphine night in the British compound in the center of the extermination camp for Russian prisoners of war. Billy woke up at dawn on that day in January. There were no windows in the little hospital, and the ghostly candles had gone out. So the only light came from pinprick holes in the walls, and from a sketchy rectangle that outlined the imperfectly fitted door. Little Paul Lazzaro, with a broken arm, snored on one bed. Edgar Derby, the high school teacher who would eventually be shot, snored on another.
Billy sat up in bed. He had no idea what year it was or what planet he was on. Whatever the planet's name was, it was cold. But it wasn't the cold that had awakened Billy. It was animal magnetism which was making him shiver and itch. It gave him profound aches in his musculature, as though he had been exercising hard.
The animal magnetism was coming from behind him. If Billy had had to guess as to the source, he would have said that there was a vampire bat hanging upside down on the wall behind him.
Billy moved down toward the foot of his cot before turning to look at whatever it was. He didn't want the animal to drop into his face and maybe claw his eyes out or bite off his big nose. Then he turned. The source of the magnetism really did resemble a bat. It was Billy's impresario's coat with the fur collar. it was hanging from a nail.
Billy now backed toward it again, looking at it over his shoulder, feeling the magnetism increase. Then he faced it, kneeling on his cot, dared to touch it here and there. He was seeking the exact source of the radiation.
He found two small sources, two lumps an inch apart and hidden in the lining. One was shaped like a pea. The other was shaped like a tiny horseshoe. Billy received a message carried by the radiations. He was told not to find out what the lumps were. He was advised to be content with knowing that they could work miracles for him, provided he did not insist on learning their nature. That was all right with Billy Pilgrim. He was grateful. He was glad.
If I were Billy, I wouldn't investigate the lumps either. Billy is promised miracles if he doesn't get curious. His response isn't fear or nagging doubt. His response is thankfulness and joy. That's a pretty good reaction to something miraculous.
Of course, the natural human inclination is curiosity. The need to understand and dissect. Don't get me wrong. I don't think there's anything wrong with an inquisitive mind. If it weren't for curiosity, much of modern medical treatment simply wouldn't exist. I wouldn't be sitting at my keyboard right now with an insulin pump at my side. In fact, I probably wouldn't be sitting anywhere at all. I would have died when I was thirteen and ended up in the hospital in a diabetic coma.
Modern medicine is a miracle, and I give thanks for it. What the business world has done with modern medicine in the United States does not fill me with gratitude. Medicine in my country is not about saving people's lives. It's about generating money. Yes, it's about saving lives, too, but, after that life is saved, the hospital comes after your home if you can't pay your medical bills. Compassion comes at a price.
I have worked in the healthcare system of the United States for close to 20 years. I've seen its inner workings up close. It isn't pretty at times. A sick person sometimes has to make a choice between lifesaving treatment and bankruptcy. Being healthy and homeless. Living in poverty and not living at all. Those aren't great choices, and unfortunately there are no magical radiation lumps in impresario coats transmitting cures.
If I sound a little jaded, I am. This afternoon, I experienced the failings of our healthcare system personally. Medicine as big business. So I am a little cranky this evening. Hating people again. I really need to get away from the world for a while.
Tonight, Saint Marty is thankful that he hasn't killed anybody today. Can't say the same for the healthcare system.