Today’s story is 1379 words: http://www.chekhovshorts.com/stories/027.html
The last sentence could have easily been the title of this short, “The deceitfulness of man.” A wealthy general’s widow runs a clinic for the poor. While her liberal heart beats true for the impoverished locals in need, she is also a victim of their flattery. Her giving soul continues help her patients beyond their physical ailments once they convince her they are cured. I’m not sure if this has been going on for the full ten years of her “practice,” but it seems like her gullibility is well known in town. Her waiting room is full of takers. While this could be seen as an allegory regarding the manipulative greediness of the poor or how charity is pointless, I don’t think this is the point. Chekhov did not charge the poor in his private practice as a doctor. I think he is commenting more on the greediness of the human condition. It should be noted that the man who inadvertently blows the cover off of the scam was a former wealthy landowner. Like a lot of Chekhov’s stories, the main character makes a radical change by the end. Her miracle cures might have never been. She is not sure, but she is certain of one thing, she’s been a sucker.
Beware the physician who delights in his own treatments. Knowing that Chekhov was likely writing these stories while studying medicine made me read today’s story with heightened interest. To malinger is to feign illness/injury for personal gain. Typically the gain received is something that can only be sought under the care of a physician (medications or time off from work). In today’s story, we see that malingering can also result in personal gain through feigning recovery. Marfa Petrovna can best be described as a devout homeopathic physician. I suspect that Chekhov had little respect for “alternative medicine” based on his description of her credentials and the resulting outcome of her pursuits. Nevertheless, the first patient we are introduced to cannot say enough good things about the treatment he has received in her care. Speaking to Marfa as if she were an angel, the patient expounds upon the miraculous recovery he has made and the admiration he and his wife have for her. Blushing in her own success, she sees the need to assist her newly healed patient with oats (now that he can garden)….and wood (for his roof)….how about a cow?….and even a letter of recommendation for his daughter. He leaves in tears and inadvertently drops a piece of paper from his pocket while retrieving his handkerchief. Thereupon the farce is revealed. The medications the patient claimed to have taken were still in the original wrappings. Her eyes now open, Marfa realizes the true nature of the maladies that plague her patients. They have discovered that by making a deposit in flattery and belittling traditional medicine, the are granted remedies for what truly ails them in life. Therein lies the irony in this story. Health is defined by the WHO as well-being minus illness/disease. Too often, traditional medicine focuses exclusively on illness/disease. Well-being can be defined as personal fulfillment in 5 general domains: career, physical, social, community, and financial. I wonder if Chekhov meant to showcase that the patients were arguably more healthy after visiting Marfa because she was able to fulfill an aspect of well-being whereas the allopathic physicians (“assassins” that they be) focused only on disease.