The Doctor and the State

While cooling my preadolescent heels in the family doctor's office forty-odd years ago, I was given to studying a Victorian Era print that hung on the waiting room wall. The Doctor was its title. A young woman, bare arm flung helplessly toward the viewer, lay stretched on chairs in, apparently, the family parlor. The tailcoated doctor gazed down on her with great concern. Family members hovered nearby. Matters looked grave. "What was the young lady's affliction? And, equally to the point, what was the likelihood of recovery? The artist offered no hints. That was not, of course, the point of the painting.

The point was, here is medicine. In a moment of extremity, patient and healer join in near-spiritual communion. There is something of the sacred in it all. Pay? Remuneration? The doctor had not come for these. Anyway, the parties, with nods and murmurs, would afterwards arrange matters to their mutual satisfaction. No computers would spit out the reckoning, no committee's review arid stamp of approval.

There is a purity about The Doctor that is more beguiling now than when it fascinated me in the 50's—an age more akin, in spirit, to the 1890's than the 1990's. Doctors healed, and monetary matters somehow took care of themselves. This is not to idealize a bygone time when cholera, tuberculosis, childbirth, and malaria swept away thousands whose cure today could be taken...

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