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Poetry and Medicine
September 16, 1998

Chekhov's Doctors

JAMA. 1998;280(11):950C. doi:10.1001/jama.280.11.950

Faith moves mountains. That reminds me
of Thomson, a foreigner who became
the doctor of our village. A strange man—
as quiet and morose as endless miles
of taiga. He would have been the subject
of vicious scuttlebutt, I'm sure, if he hadn't
been so generous. His character
was written on the villagers' bodies.
No, "beloved" is not a strong enough word
for their feeling. So you can imagine
how devastated the countryside was
when his corpse was found sprawled in a ditch
beside the highway, his skull smashed
by a blunt instrument. At the inquest
the judge ruled the death was accidental,
despite the evidence of foul play—
the doctor's snuffbox, for example,
and his bloody shirt in a scoundrel's hut.
(The weasel said Thomson was already cold
when he got there. He snatched the loot
out of habit.) Maybe so. But the fact is
there wasn't a rock where the head hit
and all that week the weather had been kind.
It could have been bandits, but part of me thinks
Thomson was killed by a person he trusted,
because in my experience that's the way
the world works. Another part of me
wants to believe the judge, who vowed that faith
ennobles us—not even the worst of men
could murder a saint. The devil take facts!
It's strange—I once aimed to be a fool
for faith and move mountains, or at least
to scale them, but I left my village
and landed here on the devilish plain
where reasonable people question everything.

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