JAMA 100 Years Ago Section Editor: Jennifer Reiling, Assistant Editor.
Bernard Shaw has written a play entitled “The Doctor's Dilemma,” in which we learn that many eminent physicians and surgeons have but little to do.
The plot revolves about a pathologist who has discovered a vaccine for tuberculosis which, if used with proper regard to the opsonic index, will cure the disease. This mode of treatment is still in the experimental stage, and it has thus far been possible to prepare only enough vaccine for ten cases. These have been carefully selected and are all in St. Ann's Hospital awaiting its application. There is a beautiful lady who would devote her fortune and her years to smoothing the rough path of some man of genius. She haply attains this amiable ambition in being the wife of Dubedat, an artist. (She believes she is his wife; but, as the artist is a complicated rascal, she and the audience are left in doubt.) This very altruistic lady adores Dubedat as a man and worships him as an artist; but he is dying of consumption. Will the pathologist save him? At first he refuses, but presently complies, being impressed by her appeal that, although Dubedat is immoral as a man, his artistic achievements are delighting and benefiting (!) the world. The pathologist then comes to wonder whether the life of Dubedat (a combination of artist and blackguard—a sort of up-to-date Benvenuto Cellini) is, after all, worth saving; whether it would not be kinder to her that he should die before her illusions are destroyed. While the man of science hesitates there comes to him an old fellow-practitioner—a good man, but quite a nonentity and in no danger whatever of setting the world on fire—who has developed phthisis. The problem is further complicated when the pathologist finds that he has fallen in love with the lady, and that somewhere among the subliminal strata of his consciousness he has been nurturing the hope of marrying her in the event of the artist's death. What is he to do? He solves the dilemma by treating and curing his fellow-practitioner and by handing Dubedat over to a fashionable physician who has the reputation of bungling badly in his practice. Dubedat dies in a bath chair, after making an artistic profession of faith and inducing his wife to promise to marry again speedily, for the reason that a sorrowing widow has always shocked his esthetic sense. Immediately on his death the pathologist asks the widow to marry him, confessing that when he put the artist in the hands of the fashionable bungler it was in the full expectation of an early demise, and he calls himself a murderer. The lady is shocked, especially that a gentleman as old as the pathologist should have dreamed that she would marry him, and announces that she has already remarried. Curtain.
SHAW ON THE OPSONIC INDEX.. JAMA. 2006;296(24):2979. doi:10.1001/jama.296.24.2979