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'Dr Goldsworthy on Dr Chekhov' by Peter Goldsworthy

Reviewed by
March 2011, no. 329

'Dr Goldsworthy on Dr Chekhov' by Peter Goldsworthy

Reviewed by
March 2011, no. 329

‘Who do you think you are?’ an eminent paediatrician once thundered at me across a child’s cot during his weekly grand ward round. ‘Anton Chekhov?’

I was a lowly medical student; my white student-smock had a small front pocket meant for my doctoring tools; mine contained, a little ostentatiously, a book of poems instead. I had failed to answer a question correctly. His Eminence plucked out the highly visible book, asked a few polite literary questions to lull me, then proceeded to humiliate me in front of the entire ward team, at length. This was before medical schools became more touchy-feely, caring-sharing places; the old-school teaching principle of ‘thalamic learning’ meant that a public humiliation in front of your peers left such an indelible trace that you never made a fatal mistake again.