Most of the other beds in the ward were occupied by fellow malaria victims and an even number of those with acute cases of Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD). The worst of these latter patients arrived shortly after I was admitted and remained mute for as long as I was there. Like the patient in Joseph Heller's Catch 22, he was hooked up with a catheter and an IV. He laid on his back, spread eagle with an ice pack atop his private parts like the mushroom-shaped cloud hovering over a thermonuclear detonation.
About two days after he was admitted a Miss America contestant arrived on a USO-sponsored visit. She was accompanied by her escort officer, one of our medical corpsmen, and an enlisted man with a Polaroid camera to take photographs of her with each patient she met. She stopped at each bed, introduced herself, and asked “What happened to you?” She then autographed a photo of her taken with the patient.
Fortunately for our amusement, her entourage was delayed at the bed of one patient as she moved alone to the man with the ice pack. In response to her question he simply lifted the ice pack to reveal the most massively engorged penis anyone could imagine. It was black and blue and purple. The poor young woman stared agape in horror until her escort officer leaped to pull her away while the patients pulled pillows over their faces to stifle the laughter. I have often wondered if the incident scarred her in anyway.
I was scarred, but not by the sight of the poor man's genitalia. The malaria remains with me to this day, hiding in my liver. It attacks my system if I allow myself to become run down. I spent another week battling it at Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii about two years following my tour of duty in Vietnam. I had lesser attacks every few years thereafter. Doctors warn that it will kill me if I am weakened by any other malady.
Regardless of how long I live with it, I will never forget the misfortune of the young woman who came to help build up our spirits in the field hospital in Vietnam.
My experience also gives me a peculiar empathy with the millions who died from malaria, a disease all but eradicated until the ban on DDT. I can imagine their sufferings better than most.