Suppose they bring me a hernia

Mikhail Bulgakov
From A Country Doctor's Notebook

Forty-eight days ago I qualified ‘with distinction’; but distinction is one thing and hernia is another. Once I watched a professor operating on a strangulated hernia. He did it, while I sat in the amphitheatre. Suppose they bring me a hernia?

Worse, they brought a dreadfully injured young girl, only daughter of a devastated widower.

This is it. Oh why did I ever come?

Her calico skirt was torn and stained with blood. The light of the kerosene lamp was a lively yellow in comparison with her paper-white face, and her nose was beginning to sharpen.

‘Die. Die quickly,’ I said to myself. ‘Otherwise what am I to do with you?’.

She lay like a corpse, but did not die. Suddenly my head became quite clear.

I suddenly became aware without any textbooks, without any advice or help, that now, for the first time in my life, I had to perform an amputation on a dying person.

Commentary

A newly qualified doctor is sent from urban Moscow to be the only doctor in remote Muryovo Hospital. A Country Doctor’s Notebook is a collection of stories drawn from the early experience of Mikhail Bulgakov (1891-1940) after his graduation from Kiev in 1916. The stories were published in journals 1925-7, and only rediscovered after his death.

Bulgakov subsequently gave up medicine for writing, becoming a successful novelist and playwright in difficult times in Stalin’s Russia.

A Country Doctor’s Notebook was translated into English by Michael Glenny in 1975. It reads as fresh as if in a magazine today. It is often cited as one of the core medical humanities texts. 

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Contributed by

Neil Turner

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