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Poetry and Medicine
October 28, 1998

Chekhov's Doctors

Author Affiliations

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor

JAMA. 1998;280(16):1398C. doi:10.1001/jama.280.16.1398

I'm spending time in front of the mirror
trying to give my face a languid look—
the look of easy disregard a man
of my importance has—and surely not
an air of nerves. I see it now—my colleagues
squabbling among themselves about my guilt,
tossing around malfeasance-talk,
and demanding my account. My friends,
I tell them—with eyes half-bored, my whiskers
languid—Let he who is without fault
cast the first point. And then I toss them
line and verse about their skill—take Bronn,
who pierced an esophagus with his probe,
or Zhila who mistook a floating kidney
for infection. Let me assure you, gentlemen,
ethics is not the exclusive right
of this Association. After they applaud
my moral power and candor, they censure
my opponents and condemn them.
In a tumult of acclamation
they elect me Chief of the Association!
I notice in the mirror my face is sour
instead of languid, and it appears
dog-like, narrow and desperate, which is not
the noble mien I had in mind. The truth is
they must have lured my face into their camp.
There is no escaping it, my colleagues'
intrigues have gotten out of hand. I puff my cheeks—
there, doesn't that look better? No,
it doesn't. My canine eyes flit back and forth.
Steady, Shelestov, keep your nerve.

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