Chapter One. In the Looney Bin.
From the Journal of Frank Marion Burns, M.D., USA (ret., LTCOL)
08 SEP 1951
Lt. Colonel. Big deal. HE is a Lt. Colonel. Now she's with him, I'm in the looney bin, Louise is divorcing me, and it's all come crashing down on me. Like I care.
13 SEP 1951
Got a letter from Mother today. I told her I'm sure the Army will be done processing my exit papers any day now, and I can return to her and Fort Wayne as soon as possible. She doesn't know about my little episode in Tokyo, thank God. Doesn't know about Louise either, and I'm not telling her. I go from one bitch to another it seems. Mother's my only source of comfort now. No Louise, no HER. I can't even bring myself to write her name. Someone at the 4077th caught wind of US and it made it's way, somehow, to Fort Wayne, the country club, and Louise. Who didn't have a lick of sympathy for me being tossed in here to calm down a little.
Why do I bother?
14 SEP 1951
I miss surgery.
18 SEP 1951
20 SEP 1951
Mother wrote again. I'm getting concerned for some reason I can't pinpoint. Her writing's harder to read, and she seems to jump willy-nilly from topic to topic, as if her thoughts were straying all the time.
The LB's head shrink came to talk to me today, asked me what I would like to be doing if I wasn't in there. I told him working at an Army hospital doing surgery, like I was trained to do. He had to remind me that I'd been "retired" from the Army. Not a good sign that I could forget THAT. Oh yeah, retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. Whoopie. No rank, no direction, no wife, nobody else, except Mother.
I need to get out of here soon, Mother needs me. I can tell. I need her.
21 SEP 1951
There's a new inmate in the LB today. Older guy, a Colonel the Army is "retiring" like they did to me. He kinda scares me. He just sits, looking out the window, not talking. Being a retired Colonel myself (see? I remembered!) I sat down to chew the fat with him. I know I haven't always had the greatest social skills, but this guy needs a buddy. Even having someone to talk to that doesn't answer back is better than nothing.
It's later. I asked the day-shift shrink what was wrong with the guy. He said he normally wouldn't discuss it, but my being a fellow doctor, he'd allow that. That made me feel great. Sometimes I think they forget around here that I AM an M.D. after all. Maybe it's a sign that I'm improving and close to being let out, I don't know.
Turns out the old guy has Alzheimer's Disease (I think I spelled that right). Wow. I've read about it, but I haven't had much experience with it. Makes me sad, makes me wonder if I could end up like that, in an old drafty Army looney bin, no friends, no family to visit.
I asked the closest shrink on-hand if he had some books in his office I could consult to learn a little more about it. He seemed pleased that I was taking an interest in something medical, and got permission to bring me to the inner sanctum of offices the OTHER M.D.'s use.
25 SEP 1951
The latest information on Alzheimer's that has been discovered since I went to med school is really interesting. I don't know what it is about it, but I'm actually enjoying learning more about it. I think it's because I'm concerned for Mother. She's 82 and once again her latest letter seemed wrong in some way. I wonder if she's coming down with it.
26 SEP 1951
I finally showed Mother's last three letters to the day-shift shrink, asking his opinion of whether he thinks Mother might have AD. He said he wouldn't be able to tell simply from three letters, so we dug out my personal effects and I showed him some of Mother's past letters. I've saved every one of them since being at the 4077th. We looked over several months' worth, and it was obvious from the changes in handwriting, spelling, grammar and other clues that she's got some form of dementia, possibly AD.
27 SEP 1951
Mother's alone now. Michael had to leave back to his job in Philly and can't take care of her any more. Some brother. I don't know why he can't get his firm to relocate him to Fort Wayne.
I know I get excited when it comes to Mother, so I asked the shrink, as calmly as I could, when they thought I'd be released. I needed to be with my mother, she has no one to care for her now. He said he'll arrange a review of my case with the other shrinks tomorrow and hopefully I'll get one of their "exit" interviews.
28 SEP 1951
I'm sick to death with worry for Mother, and anxious as heck for them to let me out of here so I can get to Indiana. I convinced them to let me call Mother, and the day shift shrink, the one that was nice enough to let me read his books, asked if he could listen in on the line. I thought that would be a good idea, so I told him yes. I even told Mother we had another doctor listening in.
She asked, Another doctor? I had to remind her that I'm a doctor too. She asked, You are? Who is this?
Oh my God, I almost lost it right there. I know how I get about Mother, after all.
The other doctor was very nice and patient with both me and Mother. I think he knows I'm pretty attached to her. He motioned with his hands that I needed to calm down, so I wouldn't distress her, so I talked to her as gently as I could. Your son, Frank, I told her. Oh, FRANK! she said. Steady, Dr. Burns, the other doc said to me quietly. Dr. Burns. That's the first time he's called me anything but Frank. Felt great to hear again.
Evening now. I had that panel review with the OTHER MDs, and I think I made a good impression. I hope.
29 SEP 1951
YIPPY, they're letting me out! My friend the day shift doctor convinced them that I've left off all that happened in Korea, now that I have this other concern to focus on, about Mother and her possibly having Alzheimer's. I think they could identify, having mothers themselves. My doc friend gave me the name of some specialists in Indiana to consult with. I go HOME tomorrow. That sounds so good: HOME. To Indiana. To Mother. Forget Louise, forget the country club. My practice is pretty much gone any way.