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Poetry and Medicine
January 28, 1998

Chekhov's Doctors

Author Affiliations

Edited by Charlene Breedlove, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 1998;279(4):270F. doi:10.1001/jama.279.4.270

A hell of a thing! His tattered overcoat and red cheeks
remind me of the last petitioner who stood
on the steps of my office. Please, your honor, help me.
This time it's his brother in jail. He wants me to plead
his case—the man was drunk and didn't know
what he was doing when he broke into the bakery
and caused such damage. The last time—a different face
blocked my sight, asked me to help him find justice.
He lost his job through no fault of his own and got sick.
What right have I to relieve a drunk of his mean deeds?
Or point my finger at the world and ask for justice?
These petitioners—they come out of the darkness
that surrounds us. Like children they run up to your legs
with open hearts.To whom shall I go? they mutter.
Yes, it's true—I want to be known for my compassion
and to walk light on my feet, bearing the gratitude
of men. But I don't know how to respond.
What I do know—the world of potions, of bandages—
is of little use to them. It seems the world is worse
each day. I am so sick of this—I wave my hand
in despair and push the man aside and close my door.