Doctors choose their paths to save others’ life and they are trying their best achievement apart from their personal feelings or medical condition. Doctors are humans too, not gods, and they have their own imperfections, and using prejudice does not make them better physicians. Having flaws does not make them terrible physicians either, and as is shown in Chekhov’s story “Enemies” with Dr. Kirilov, Gilman’s “The Yellow Wallpaper” with Dr. John, and Williams’s “Bad Doctors” with Dr. James, they are all carrying doctors driven by injustice. Dr. Kirilov is prejudiced when he used his envy against Abogin and his wealth, Dr. John used gender bias for his wife’s health condition, and Dr. James, who was struggling with his own disorder, utilized subjective judgment for his patients. Humans are commonly judging others for their wealth, and gender, are using others’ influence or physical appearance but doctors’ professionalism should overcome their flaws, and mutualism between patients and doctors would improve that.
“Only during hard times do people come to understand how difficult it is to be master of their feelings and thoughts.”
― Anton Pavlovich Chekhov
Even in old times, doctors felt socially and economically inferior to the aristocrats, and some of the wealthy people considered a right to have and to require a doctor to come whenever was need it. In the writing “Enemies”, Dr. Kirilov was the only doctor in that area, and Abogin whose wife was suffering from an aneurysm, could not choose in that case. Minutes before Abogin’s arrival at his house, Dr. Kirilov lost his son, and even though he tried to explain that he is not fit to help him, he puts aside his feelings and left his mourning wife alone and went to help him. Abogin, deeply hurt by his fake ill wife who ran away with another man, treated the doctor as a confident friend, breaking the barriers, and offered to give him money for his services. Dr. Kirilov felt disrespected and he had to protect his status and position in front of Abogin. Even though he was in a difficult position, that situation did not give Dr. Kirilov the right to use prejudice in front of Abogin and judge him for his wealth when he stated that “It means that it’s base and low to play with people like this! I am a doctor; you look upon doctors and people generally who work and don’t stink of perfume and prostitution as your menials and mauves ton; well, you may look upon them so, but no one has given you the right to treat a man who is suffering as a stage property!” (Chekhov 38). Sometimes under pressure doctors can be driven by prejudice and let envy making them look like worse doctors in front of others and their professionalism can get overlooked. It is known that doctors invest many years and money in their degrees, and long hours in emergency rooms and that does not give them a chance to become wealthy. Their values are not reflected in their growth, but in their capabilities of treating and saving other people. They also need to protect their dignity and integrity and avoid implicit bias regarding race, ethnicity, gender, and wealth. Doctors take the oath and for them, the most important is to save lives regardless of any other aspects, but unfortunately, patients dictate every aspect of the service: gender, race, and religion. Nevertheless, in a situation that made him feel uncomfortable or made him feel socially inferior, Dr. Kirilov should not use his personal beliefs above his professionalism. That situation also not gave Abogin the right to approach like that the doctor, especially in his fragile position, after he lost his son just moments before. A mutual understanding between patients and doctors and the limiting of prejudice and judgment would improve both parts and those doctors’ flaws would be less visible.
“Nobody would believe what an effort it is to do what little I am able, – to dress and entertain, and order things”
― Charlotte Perkins Gilman
Sometimes less visible are mental illnesses, which can be hard to identify with a simple observation and for doctors to give the right diagnosis and treatment. These illnesses are challenging because if they do not get the proper treatment can deteriorate the patient’s condition, and what could be a simple and fast procedure can become a painful and long-term struggle for the patient. Preconceived opinions about something or someone based on irrelevant characteristics such as gender bias in the diagnosis and treatment of depression can drive crazy sane people as we can see in “The Yellow Wallpaper “by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. In Perkins’s writing, the submissive housewife was controlled and supervised by her prejudiced doctor/husband who did not understand her condition nor listen to her symptoms. Charlotte didn’t make herself heard by his husband and he even made her believe that what he chose for her is the proper way, “he is very careful and loving, and hardly lets me stir without special direction. I have a scheduled prescription for each hour of the day; he takes all care of me, and so I feel basely ungrateful not to value it more. He said we came here solely on my account, that I was to have perfect rest and all the air I could get” (Perkins Gilman 318). Centered on his personal beliefs and without an accurate diagnosis, he forced his wife to stay in a room with ugly wallpaper. His wife finds herself increasingly depressed and she needed complete rest from her work. She spent her days in isolation as he was working long shifts and what it would make her feel better, writing, was forbidden and her suggestions to change the room were overlooked. An ignorant man and doctor who has misdiagnosed his wife’s condition as hysteria when in fact she suffered from postpartum depression showed the prejudice and the oppression of women in a patriarchal bias of nineteenth-century medicine and the world. Even though he was carrying for his wife, the prejudice made him a worse doctor leaving control and manipulation to stand in front of his professionalism. Unfortunately, this bias is still present in some cultures and families, and doctors are judging based on their personal observations and beliefs, and without a mutual understanding between doctors and patients, doctors’ flaws are visibly increased.
“After you find out all the things that can go wrong, your life becomes less about living and more about waiting.”
― Chuck Palahniuk
Occasionally, doctors struggle with mental disorders like OCD, where the patients with the same condition not only remind doctors of their sickness but also help them improve and accept their hidden symptoms. In “Bad Doctors”, Dr. James battles with his own disorder for many years, hiding it from his patients and did not let it interfere with his judgment, but helps him give a better diagnosis and empathize with a patient with a similar syndrome. Yet he is driven by prejudice and some of his decisions are not accurate based on the research but on his personal beliefs. One of his prejudices is reflected in his behavior related to a local businessman suffering from bilateral colobomas defects of the iris, and his appearance with dark glasses intimidated the doctor from the first time he met him. Driven by superstitions and influenced by his friend, the first time when he saw him, he thought he was a fanatic, judging by the physical appearance and the interaction they had with him while riding the bikes close to his home. The second time he saw the bizarre guy was at the hospital where he came to renew his shotgun license. The doctor denied it because he did not want to take that responsibility anymore and because he would feel uncomfortable around him, showing a decision made based on his personal beliefs judging the patient physical appearance. The last time he interacted with him was in his office when he asked for a refill of his sleeping tablets which he again denied based on his prejudice made the first time he met the strange guy. Only after the businessman’s suicide, the doctor realized that he used his prejudice the whole time and he could save his life if he would approach him differently, “I was as prejudiced as anyone…I just wanted him out of the consultation room. He gave me the creeps. Maybe I could have done more. I might have saved him” (Williams 199). We always have a choice, and either we are adjusting our life in a better way even if we are not perfect, or we leave the prejudice to decide for us. Unfairness is always a way to oppress what should flow naturally and easily, but we are not without flaws, not even doctors who are trustworthy people that can perform miracles and give hope. Dr. James, exposed his vulnerability and his personal illness, and we could see that he was silently suffering too, but he thought he does not need improvement, and his judgment made him overlook the patient’s condition and the fact that he asked for help with his sleeping pills. Personal beliefs come as a first impulse as looking and judging, and less observing and analyzing, but even with flaws, a doctor still can be good.
“You have lost your reason and taken the wrong path. You have taken lies for truth, and hideousness for beauty. You would marvel if, owing to strange events of some sorts, frogs and lizards suddenly grew on apple and orange trees instead of fruit, or if roses began to smell like a sweating horse; so I marvel at you who exchange heaven for earth. I don’t want to understand you.”
― Anton Chekhov
All three doctors are carrying physicians but all of them are driven by prejudice and that makes them imperfect doctors with flaws. They are humans, but also doctors and while performing their responsibilities, bias and personal judgment should not be mixed and their professionalism should overcome their flaws. Doctors are not gods, but a shared understanding with patients would limit the prejudice and without judgment, both parts would be improved, and those flaws will be less observed.
Chekhov, Anton Pavlovich. “The Enemies” Chekhov’s Doctors: A Collection of Chekhov’s Medical Tales. Ed. Jack Coulehan. Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2003.
Gilman, Charlotte Perkins, 1860-1935. The Charlotte Perkins Gilman Reader: The Yellow Wallpaper, and Other Fiction. New York: Pantheon Books, 1980.
Williams, Ian. “The Bad Doctors”, The Pennsylvania States University Press, University Park, PA, 2015