Summary: Chapter 4

A young woman named Veronica Como, who works at the hospital as a candy striper, has come by each day to visit with Doc Hata while he’s remained under supervision. Doc Hata feels refreshed by Veronica’s youthful energy and worry-free demeanor, and he enjoys goading her to laughter by making jokes about the night nurse. Veronica lives in Ebbington, a working-class suburb to the east of Bedley Run.

Veronica’s mother, Sally Como, has worked as a police officer in Bedley Run ever since the death of her husband, who was also a police officer. He got caught in the crossfire during a shootout between police and gamblers, but because he wasn’t on duty at the time, his wife and daughter didn’t receive his pension benefit. Doc Hata took an interest in Sally and Veronica’s welfare, and when he learned that Sally had applied to become an officer herself, he called on an acquaintance of his in the police department to support her application. Ever since then, Sally has shown Doc Hata her gratitude.

Doc Hata feels heartened by how well Veronica has turned out, and he ponders what enabled her to grow into such a fine young woman despite the difficult circumstances of her early childhood. He wonders if things worked out well because her mother raised her in a certain way or if it was simply due to Veronica’s inherent good nature.

Doc Hata also wonders about how he ended up the person he is. He considers himself a solitary individual. In contrast to someone like Mary Burns, who primarily created her identity through her associations with family and friends, Doc Hata feels most himself when he’s alone. Yet he doesn’t want to feel so alone anymore.

During his visit with Veronica, Doc Hata’s mind drifts to other memories.

He recalls waking up with Mary in his bed one morning and how even though he wanted to stay with her, Sunny had started practicing the piano and he felt compelled to go downstairs. He’d noticed that when Mary was visiting, Sunny would play the piano in an aggressive, perhaps even malicious, way.

Doc Hata remembers that he himself was a difficult child. He was born in Japan to working-class Korean parents. His circumstances changed when he scored well on achievement tests and went to a new school near the city. There he lived with a childless, middle-class Japanese couple, who provided for him materially and emotionally. He took their surname, Kurohata, but he insists that neither his biological nor adoptive parents really raised him, believing instead that Japanese society had more influence on him than either set of parents.

Doc Hata reflects that his desire to adopt may have been overly inspired by the misguided notion that Sunny would bring his life “harmony and balance” and that her arrival would kickstart his life.

Doc Hata remembers the previous night when he went up to the ICU to check on Anne and James Hickey’s son, Patrick, who is in urgent need of a new heart. The thought of Patrick’s heart transplant reminds Doc Hata of an incident during the war when he witnessed a doctor open a man’s chest and massage his heart. He wonders if he could perform a similar operation on Patrick, though he knows that even when he served as a field medic, his main aim was only ever to keep a wounded soldier alive long enough to see a trained doctor.

Sally Como comes to visit Doc Hata and to pick up her daughter. She mentions that she left the Bedley Run police force and now works in security at the Ebbington mall, where she has seen Sunny working as the manager of a clothing store.

On her way out, Sally tells Doc Hata she’s glad he’ll be discharged in the morning, and Veronica becomes visibly upset because he hadn’t told her this news.

Analysis: Chapter 4

One of Doc Hata’s strategies for cultivating a respectable reputation in Bedley Run involved making unanticipated gestures of goodwill, often to people he didn’t already know personally. Doc Hata’s longstanding friendship with Sally Como stems from just such a gesture, when he leveraged a contact in the police bureau in order to ensure that her application to become an officer went through without a problem. Though Doc Hata made this gesture out of a desire to do good and to make sure that the tragic death of Sally’s husband didn’t unnecessarily destroy her family, his act of goodwill also proved advantageous for him. In the most direct sense, Sally showed her thanks for his support by showing special care for the success of his store. In a more indirect way, because Doc Hata’s gesture was not anonymous, it made a positive contribution to his social status in Bedley Run. Thus, despite doing real good in the community and not asking for anything in return, the assistance Doc Hata gave Sally came back to him in the form of added security and improved reputation.

When Doc Hata wonders how Sally got Veronica to turn out so well, he’s implicitly comparing their relationship to his own with Sunny. Crucially, he is also echoing his earlier query about whether actions or essence ultimately define who a person is. In Chapter 1, Doc Hata considered that a person’s actions may not reflect who they truly are. Here he transposes his thinking to the context of the parent–child relationship. He wants to know whether the parent or the child must ultimately take responsibility for the person the child becomes. In his specific case, he wonders whether it was his duty to transform Sunny into a polite and obedient child, or if Sunny had an essentially rebellious spirit that would never bow to his discipline. Doc Hata does not come to any conclusion here, suggesting that he prefers to leave the question hanging rather than take any responsibility for his shortcomings as a father.

Doc Hata’s preference for solitude shows that he is an individualist at heart. He describes how he feels most fully himself when he’s alone, as if the company of others, however pleasant, obscures the clarity and purity of his own thoughts and actions. Doc Hata’s individualism has two contrasting sides. On one side is a sense of freedom, the feeling that he has the license to do precisely what he wants and have complete control over his environment. On the other side is a sense of loneliness, the feeling that he has no family or friends he can truly rely on. Doc Hata finds it difficult to strike a balance between freedom and loneliness, and his attempts to find such a balance have all failed. Though he expected Sunny’s adoption to help balance his life, it brought mostly frustration and pain and threw his life even further out of balance. His relationship with Mary Burns also fell apart, partly because of incompatible personalities. As someone who derived her sense of identity mainly from her associations with others, Mary found it challenging to connect with someone who so resolutely kept to himself.

In this chapter, Doc Hata once again demonstrates his inability to take the kinds of action that he believes he should take. When he went to see Patrick Hickey in the ICU, he felt overcome with the desire to be the one to perform the necessary, life-saving heart transplant operation. In the midst of this fantasy, however, he reminded himself that he never pursued medical training and only ever served as a field medic. As such, his job was never to save lives through truly correcting a problem but rather to simply stave off death until a real physician arrived. These reflections give Doc Hata’s inability to act an almost metaphysical justification, as if his partial medical training symbolizes a more profound limitation for which he has never be able to compensate. Doc Hata’s inability to help Patrick leaves him sullen and dejected. Yet even when he has a more realistic opportunity to take direct action on another matter, he doesn’t take it. Worrying that the news would sadden her, he fails to tell Veronica that his doctor has discharged him. However, when she finds out that he’s leaving, she feels upset that he didn’t tell her directly.