Joe struggles to regain control over his mind in order to think through his situation. Time has passed since the wounds where Joe's limbs were cut off have healed. Joe likens his position to being back in the womb, except with no promise of future life. He thinks of all the things he will never hear, see, smell, or do again.
Joe ponders his current vulnerability and the twist of fate that has left him alive while many others have died with much less serious injuries. He thinks of all the grotesque stories he's heard about survivors of war—one man with an open-view stomach, one man who had his faced burned off only to return home and be killed by his wife. Joe bitterly realizes that the fact that he is alive must be a point of pride for the doctors, who think only of their own skills and victories and not at all about his quality of life.
Joe begins to calm himself and to try to feel the status of his body. He realizes that there is a cloth mask tied over his face that has settled into the mucus scab at the bottom of the hole in his face. Joe decides to pull the mask off, but gradually realizes that he will never be able to accomplish even a small task such as this. Joe notices a hole in his side that has not yet healed. Joe reasons that the hole, which is running liquid, must smell unpleasant, and he is glad he has no sense of smell.
Joe becomes tired and feels himself slipping away. He dreams that a rat crawls over him and begins eating out of his open wound. Once, during the war, Joe and others found the body of a Prussian soldier who had been dead for several weeks; a rat had been eating the man's face. Joe and the others chased the rat and beat it dead, but they felt foolish afterward. Joe thought about it afterward and reasoned that one's real enemy is not the people one is fighting in war, but the rat. Joe feels the rat eating at him now and he knows that there is nothing he can do to stop it, that it will return to eat from his wound night after night forever. Joe feels himself running away and screaming and becomes tired.
Joe feels the nurse cleaning him and redressing his wounds. Joe now knows that the rat was only a dream, but he worries that the same dream will trouble his sleep again. He realizes that when he used to have nightmares he could calm himself down by realizing it was a nightmare and opening his eyes. But now Joe has no eyes, and he worries that there will be no way for him to distinguish between sleeping and waking. Joe wonders how, without the ability to move, he will now tire himself out enough to fall directly asleep.
Joe works himself into a panic over his dilemma, but he finally just resolves to be decisive about the differences between his sleep and his wakefulness. Joe decides that he will no longer dream about the past when he is awake, but instead he will think very hard until he is tired and falls asleep. Joe must make himself do this, because if he cannot distinguish between waking and sleeping, that makes him "nothing and less than nothing."