DISCLAIMER: I definitely do not own M*A*S*H…but I sure wish I did!
It was the middle of a chilly winter night during early December. Peg was sleeping soundly, but B.J. couldn't escape his thoughts. He thought of how Christmas was fast approaching, and he still didn't have a job. He thought about how there was a possibility that he would never be mentally stable enough to work as a surgeon again. He thought about the possibility that if he couldn't support his family that they might leave him high and dry. But worst of all, he thought about the bodies.
He had been seeing a counselor that Sidney had recommended for several weeks now. Although the sessions were helping, they had not by any means eliminated his problems. In fact, the thoughts about the bodies seemed to plague him more often lately, especially when he wasn't kept busy. The days were usually manageable. He was either out applying for jobs (something his therapist had encouraged him to do, even though B.J. wasn't sure he was ready to work again) or watching Erin while Peg was at work. These tasks kept him from dwelling on the past, but as soon as everything was done for the day, the thoughts and flashbacks came back with a vengeance.
As he continued lying in bed and thinking, his other worries gradually started being replaced with the bodies. Before he knew it, his mind was consumed with nothing but the meat market known as the 4077th. The cycle looped endlessly in his mind: pull them off the buses/helicopters, fix them up in OR, then send them out to be wounded all over again. In his mind, they had no names or faces…they were simply the living tools of a giant army machine.
While these thoughts were developing in his mind, his breathing got faster and his body became restless. By the time he realized exactly what was going on, it was already too late: he had spiraled into a full-blown panic attack. If he wasn't careful, it could easily continue into a series of flashbacks, which would be even more difficult to bear. As all of this was happening, Peg started to wake up. She could feel B.J.'s restlessness and sensed that something was wrong.
"Is everything ok, B.J.?" Peg asked in a sleepy voice as she turned around and started rubbing at her eyes. By this point, B.J. was already sitting up in the bed and breathing rapidly. He didn't respond, so she quickly got up and sat next to him.
"B.J., what's wrong?" Peg asked nervously as she quickly sat beside him.
He turned to her with a look of fear in his eyes. "So…many…bodies…" he muttered to himself, with a look on his face that showed just how far away he was in his mind. As he continued to breathe heavily and tremble, Peg couldn't help but feel broken hearted for her husband. After all, he was one of the strongest men she had ever known. She couldn't help but imagine how bad the anxiety must be for him to be this broken. However, she knew that she couldn't just sit there and feel sorry for him: she had to do something quickly, before the panic attack got any worse.
The therapist had prepared both of them for dealing with panic attacks, and had given them several options. His words played through Peg's mind as she tried to figure out what to do. "Ideally, it would be best to prevent the panic attacks by diverting your thinking as much as you can. Of course, that isn't always possible, so if you reach the panic stage, you and your wife have several options. One is that Peg can continue to try and divert your thinking. That won't necessarily work if the panic is bad enough, so she may simply need to sit with you and speak to you gently as you ride out the wave of anxiety. A third option you have is grounding back to reality. If Peg can remind you of what is really going on around you and of what Korea really was like, it may pull you out of the panic attack."
Diverting B.J.'s thinking didn't seem to be an option at this point, and Peg couldn't bear to see him suffer for another minute by riding it out with him. It seemed that the only option was for her to try and ground him back to reality. The only problem was that she had no idea how she was going to do that. Unless…
Suddenly an idea popped into her head, and she ran over to her desk drawer, hoping and praying that the papers she was looking for were in there. As she opened the drawer, she found them: the pages that made up the list of all of the men B.J. had worked on in Korea. Hawkeye had put them together while over in Korea as a part of his will. He had shown the list to Peg and had later given it to B.J. She grabbed the papers, rushed back to B.J.'s side, and started talking to him.
"B.J., remember what the doctor said about getting through your attacks?" Peg said earnestly. "Remember what's really going on here. You're not at the 4077th. You're here with me, in our home in Mill Valley. You're in our bed. You're safe, okay?"
"But the bodies Peg…" B.J. muttered with tears in his eyes. "There are so many of them."
"Remember, that's not real either! Look at all of these names." Peg said desperately, trying to get B.J. back into reality. She started flipping fervently through the list and reading names, hoping to jog B.J.'s memory. "Basgall, Cordon…Jackson, Johnson, Markham…Vitello, Young, Zelnick." She paused for a moment, trying to find the right words to say. "I can only imagine how many wounded there were, and how scary it must have been. But what your brain isn't telling you is that they weren't just bodies…they were people: people that you saved almost one hundred percent of the time. See?" As she said this, she gently placed the list in his hands. He started to idly flip through it, and as he did his breathing slowly returned to a normal pace.
"You're right." B.J. said quietly as he started to return to reality. "It wasn't a morgue: it was a hospital. I saved so many of these people."
"Exactly." Peg said, her eyes misty as she embraced him. "And the best part is, you aren't there anymore. You're here with me. You're safe, I promise: even if it doesn't feel like it." For a moment, the two of them simply held each other, neither one wanting to break the silence. Eventually, B.J. spoke.
"Thank you Peg…for everything."
"Of course." she said quietly as she pulled away and looked at him. "I'm just glad I was able to help you. It was scary seeing you in such a panic. I wasn't sure if I would even be able to help."
"Well, what you said worked." B.J. answered. "I'm starting to feel better already."
"I'm glad. But it's not just me you have to thank. After all, Hawkeye is the one that put together that list of names. Without it…I don't know what I would have been able to do."
B.J. was silent for a minute as he thumbed through the list of names. "You know, when Hawkeye first gave me this list, I was unsure if I would ever be able to look at it. I was afraid of the memories it would bring up. But when it did bring back memories, it reminded me of what actually happened while I was in Korea. I mean, it was hell, but I was able to do something good over there." As he said all of this, Peg was simply beaming: she had been waiting for B.J. to come to this realization for weeks. The fact that he finally understood what Korea had been about was a good sign that the therapy was working, even if it seemed like it was taking forever. While Peg was thinking about how far her husband had come, B.J. noticed that she had become quiet.
"Are you alright, Peg?" He asked gently. "You got really quiet all of a sudden."
"Yeah, I'm fine." Peg said as she looked at him. "I was just thinking of how far you've come over the last few weeks. I'm so proud of you." As she spoke, her eyes were filled with tears, and yet a smile stretched out across her face.
"I wouldn't be too proud just yet." B.J. answered quickly. "I've still got a long way to go."
"I know." Peg responded quietly. "But we've got time, and I'm not worried. I know we'll get where we need to be one day."
"Yeah…" B.J. said quietly. For a moment, neither one of them spoke: they simply enjoyed each other's quiet presence. But as they sat next to each other, Peg thought of something she wanted to ask B.J.
"You know something, B.J." Peg said with a grin. "Looking at that list of names made me think of something we haven't talked about yet."
"Oh yeah? What?" B.J. asked, wondering what exactly his wife was thinking about.
"A name for our baby." Peg answered as she rubbed her stomach, which was just beginning to show signs of her pregnancy.
"Well." B.J. said with a goofy smile. "I guess that would depend on whether we end up having a boy or girl. Any guesses at this point?"
"No, not yet." Peg said. "I mean, this pregnancy feels different than Erin did. I think that's just because so much is happening in our lives right now. Plus, when I was pregnant with Erin, I was so certain that we were going to have a B.J. Jr., so I don't think we should put much stock in whether I feel like we're having a boy or a girl.
"I'd love a boy, but I'm not too sure what I think about a B.J. Jr." B.J. answered quickly. "The 'junior' part just doesn't roll of the tongue with the rest of the name."
"Well, it might not even matter." Peg replied. "For all we know, Erin might be getting a little sister."
"Honestly, I don't care if we have a boy or girl." B.J answered as he pulled Peg close to him. "I just want to have a healthy baby."
"Me too." Peg answered. "I want a healthy baby, one that I can raise with my husband by my side." While she said this, she leaned in and kissed him. As the two of them kissed, the last remaining anxieties in B.J.'s mind faded away for the night, replaced by thoughts of a bright and happy future with his quickly-growing family.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Hello everyone, and thank you for continuing to follow the story! The only references to previous M*A*S*H episodes are the names of the soldiers Peg reads off of the list:
Basgall: "Rally Round the Flag, Boys" (S7, E22)
Cordon: "Post-Op" (S5, E24)
Jackson: "War Co-Respondent (S8, E23)
Markham: "The Life You Save (S9, E20)
Vitello: "Private Finance" (S8, E8)
Young/Zelnick: "Where There's a Will, There's a War (S10, E17) (the list of soldiers itself is also a reference to this episode).
I hope you all are continuing to enjoy the story. I have a lot more planned for the rest of this story, so be sure to keep an eye out for upcoming chapters. As always, thank you so much for your patience in waiting for more chapters. The last few months have been really busy for me, but I am excited to get back to writing. As always, please comment with any compliments, constructive criticisms, or questions you may have. Thanks again!