Chekhov, Anton P.
|Keywords||Disease and Health, History of Medicine, Human Worth, Mental Illness, Patient Experience, Physician Experience, Society, Stroke, Suffering|
Dr. Andrey Yefimych Ragin has for many years been the superintendent of a town hospital. A solitary man who pursued a medical career to please his father, he feels superior to the people who live in the provincial town, none of whom engage in intellectual or aesthetic pursuits. Initially, Ragin was conscientious about his duties at the hospital, but after a while he withdrew his interest and energy. Now he sees only a minimal number of patients and leaves the rest to his assistant, Sergey Sergeyich.
Ragin has developed the philosophy that, since "dying is the normal and legitimate end of us all," there is no point in trying to cure patients or alleviate suffering. The endeavor is futile. While Ragin accurately observes deficiencies in the hospital and in the surrounding society, he does nothing to try to remedy them. Instead, he withdraws to his apartment and spends his time reading.
At one point, Ragin accidentally finds himself in Ward 6, where the lunatics are kept. One of them, Ivan Dmitrich Gromov is a well-educated paranoid man who engages Ragin in conversation. Ragin is so taken with this stimulating interchange that he begins to visit Ward 6 daily to debate with Gromov. Since the doctors never visit Ward 6, this is considered very peculiar behavior. Based on this new evidence of incompetence, the town council decides to fire Ragin from his position.
Ragin then goes on an extended tour with his one friend, Mikhail Averyanych, the postmaster. But when he returns, he behaves more strangely than ever. Finally, the new superintendent, Dr. Khobotov, tricks Ragin into visiting Ward 6, whereupon they incarcerate him as a lunatic. Shortly thereafter, Ragin has a stroke and dies.
This is a long story (45 pages) in which we encounter the conflict of story versus philosophy, individuality versus abstraction. Ragin lives in a world of abstraction, in which he has come to believe that any attempts to relieve human suffering are futile. He fails to form connections (empathize) with the sick people under his care, as well as with the other people in his town. As Gromov says, Ragin has never experienced suffering. Instead, he pursues his own narcissistic isolation.
Of course, there may well be some truth to Ragin's observation that Ward 6 is just another jail; the luck of the draw determines who is incarcerated for mental illness and who is not. Ironically, Ragin's fascination with the paranoid Gromov's conversation leads to his being dismissed from his position and, ultimately, to a "nervous breakdown."
|Source||Lady With Lapdog and Other Stories|
|Alternate Source||Chekhov's Doctors|
|Alternate Publisher||Kent State Univ. Press|
|Alternate Editors||Jack Coulehan|
|Place Published||Kent, Ohio & London|
|Miscellaneous||First published: 1892. Translated by David Magarshack.|
|Annotated by||Coulehan, Jack|
|Date of Entry||02/15/96|