Like Chekhov, Mikhail Bulgakov was a doctor before he was a writer. He started writing at 29, and before then got to know plenty about the absurdity and intensity of medical practice. He had met a lot of people, and sawn off some of their legs. After graduating from medical school in , Bulgakov was sent to run a hospital in the remote Smolensk province, where his patients lived a brutal, essentially medieval existence. His young doctor discovers that childbirth and tracheotomies go much faster, and get a lot messier, than the medical textbooks had led him to believe.
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Now to be translated to a small screen featuring Daniel Radcliffe. And it will be "a new black comedy". I kid you not. Mikhail Bulgakov, the amazing Russian writer of The Master and Margarita fame, was a medical doctor by training. Just like the young protagonist of his semi-autobiographical collection of short "I am a doctor, thrown straight from the university bench into a far away village, in the beginning of the revolution. And what amazed me is that so many of these things are still present even in our sophisticated modern-day medicine.
Some things never change, do they? The first gas lights are nine miles away at the railroad station [ Bomgard, sent straight from the medical university in Russia in the winter of to be the only doctor in a provincial hospital the staff there consisting of a couple of nurses and a pharmacist without any supervision or backup - save for quite a few medical textbooks and brand-new medical knowledge that he brought with him.
What am I supposed to do then? Please, kindly tell me. Forty-eight days ago I graduated with high distinction, but distinction is one thing and hernia is another. Once I saw my professor operate on the strangulated hernia. He was doing it, and I was sitting in the audience, watching him. I felt cold sweat running along my spinal column when I thought about hernias. And on my right - ten different illustrated surgical manuals. Imagine him performing a tracheostomy surgically opening a throat to enable breathing on a small dying child with diphtheria while her frantic mother is waiting outside.
Think about discovering that your seemingly intelligent patient has taken his entire course of medications all at once to speed up the healing process, apparently and now is almost dying in front of your eyes. Imagine the entire villages infected with syphilis without having any idea about the disease or its severity, and abandoning life-saving treatment halfway through at the earliest signs of improvement. Think about realizing that your colleague has fallen prey to the deadly morphine addiction, painstakingly documenting the horrific mental and physical destruction by the way, probably one of the earliest realistic portrayals of narcotic addiction in fiction, and based on personal experience with the drug, no less.
Fate threw me into this wilderness and made me fight my battles alone, without any support or instruction. What unbelievable difficulties I have to suffer through. They can bring in any strange or difficult case, most often a surgical case, and I have to face it, with my unshaven face, and win.
I stopped eating dinners. Mathematics is a cruel science. Five hundred minutes - eight hours and twenty minutes. All in a row, please note that. And besides that I had a hospital ward for thirty patients. And in addition to that, I was still performing surgeries. And yet, so unlike the doctor stereotype of that long-gone era he exhibits astounding patience and perseverance, fighting the uphill battle and actually succeeding with every life saved, every disaster averted.
These stories are often sad but at the same time life-affirming. And I happily give this book about my colleague almost a hundred years ago, facing similar problems that we encounter even in modern medicine, five well-earned stars. I counted for an hour.
In a year I have seen 15, patients, I had hospitalized patients, and only six died.
A Young Doctor's Notebook: from the operating table to the screen
Books to give you hope: A Country Doctor's Notebook by Mikhail Bulgakov
A Young Doctor's Notebook