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Poetry and Medicine
February 4, 1998

Chekhov's Doctors

Author Affiliations

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1998;279(5):340I. doi:10.1001/jama.279.5.340

In Marfa's study the most famous
of Petersburg's homeopaths
watches benignly from the wall
behind her chest of remedies.
When the allopaths told her
do everything you can
and purge the world with doses
of drug, his lessons were
that less is more and almost
nothing is practically everything.
With gleams of iridescent hope
her patients wait barefoot
in the hall—she makes them drop
their smelly boots—to enter
her study and sit by the desk.
What wonders you've done for me,
a man says. My rheumatism—
dispelled by a single pill.
She, too, is delighted to feel
that power—and promises
oats for his field. Another
tells her a story of cancer—
it went up like a puff of smoke
in a dilution of one
to seventy million. Who knows
where it came from, or whether
it was there? But Marfa shakes
with heartfelt appreciation—
she'll send the woman's daughter
to school. Patient after patient
testifies to Marfa's strength—
she pledges, I'll provide.
If a person knew only a patch
of the human heart, he might
puff out his cheeks and cry,
What deceit! How much work
delusion does, how little
the truth can bear. The truth is—
acceptance is stronger
than flesh, and when you spread
the thinnest grease on a thirsty gear
it willingly turns.