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A VISIT TO THE HOSPITAL Summary
Ivan walks towards the infirmary with hope. Since it is still dark outside, two search lights shine in the sky. Ivan notices an orderly going to summon Barrack 6, consisting of invalids, to breakfast. He also sees Tartar hurrying towards the headquarters and hides himself from the warden for fear of punishment. He then heads towards the hospital.
Inside the spotlessly clean infirmary, Ivan is conscious of his shabby appearance. Since it is so early, there is little activity. He sees one young medic, Vdovushkin, scribbling something on a writing pad; in fact, the young medic, previously a student of literature, was a prisoner in the camp until the senior doctor appointed him as his assistant. When Ivan goes up to Vdovushkin and complains of feeling sick, the medic says he is unable to admit him into the hospital; only a senior doctor can check him in. In addition, only two prisoners can be admitted to the infirmary each day, and the quota has already been met. As a matter of duty, however, the medic takes Ivan’s temperature, which is almost normal. On hearing the bad news, Ivan walks out of the hospital. As he leaves, he thinks, “When you’re cold, don’t expect sympathy from someone who’s warm.”
Feeling hopeful, Ivan walks through the darkness of the prison camp to the bright and spotless infirmary. He pictures himself stretching out on a clean hospital bed and relaxing his tired limbs, hopefully for a week. When a medic takes his temperature and tells Ivan it is almost normal, he realizes his chances of being admitted are bleak; therefore, he simply walks out of the infirmary. He tries to console his disappointment by telling himself that he would probably have to work even if he were in the hospital.
There is a clear and sharp contrast between the dirty, crowded, and noisy barracks and the quiet, spacious, and spotless infirmary. Ivan immediately senses the difference and suddenly realizes the shabbiness of his own appearance, which never bothers him in the dark barracks. In contrast to the young medic, wearing a crisp, clean white coat and cap, Ivan feels pathetic. It is ironic that the medic has been a prisoner himself, but has no sympathy for the other prisoners, like Ivan. He has adopted the harsh ways of the prison camp in order to assure that he will be able to maintain his relatively easy job in the infirmary. It is also significant that the young medic is a student of literature and creative writer, who has sold out to the regime; he spends his spare time copying and writing poetry that will please his boss, a sharp contrast to Solzhenitsyn as a writer. Ivan thinks it is sad that a supposedly sensitive young man like Vdovushkin can be so “cold.”
More information is learned about Ivan’s background in this section. He spent some time at a camp near Ust-Izhma, where he suffered from scurvy. He now has a vitamin deficiency and has lost some of his teeth. Although it is not clear why Ivan is in this especially harsh prison camp, it is becoming more clear that he is probably a political prisoner who has opposed the Soviet regime.