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A Country Doctor's Notebook by Mikhail…

A Country Doctor's Notebook

by Mikhail Bulgakov

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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In 1916, as Russia was suffering the effects of two years of civil war, medical graduates were assigned to rural areas without the usual hospital internship. As a newly qualified doctor, the twenty-five-year-old Bulgakov found himself the solitary doctor at a remote hospital with erratic mail service, no electricity, transport by sleigh or cart on roads unreliable even in good conditions. He was tortured by his lack of experience and dreaded the possibility of certain conditions such as a strangulated hernia. Despite his worry, he successfully treated most patients, in the worst possible circumstances. His stories, part fiction, part autobiographical, are realistic, humorous, and enthralling. Bulgakov gave up medicine in 1920 to become a journalist. ( )
2 vote VivienneR | Mar 12, 2016 |
A short Russian work featuring a series of interconnected stories set in the early 20th century featuring a newly qualified doctor manning a small hospital in the Russian countryside. Cut off from modern civilisation as he is by arduous weather conditions. the first few tales chronicle the young doctor's initial grieving at being left in such an undesirable position so early in his career. But as he has to perform lifesaving procedures upon the ignorant peasant population, including amputating the leg of a young girl, and performing a tracheotomy, he swiftly gains confidence and earns the respect of his assistant and midwives.
Throughout this narrative the author vividly portrays the trials and tribulations involved with being a young doctor in early 20th century Russia. The account is made more credible by the fact that the author was a trained doctor, with the stories being part fiction and part autobiography. The book is also less than 200 pages, making it a nice light read that can be read within the space of several hours (but what an entertaining experience it is). ( )
1 vote hickey92 | Jan 24, 2016 |
A series of short stories inspired by the author's experience of being a newly qualified doctor sent to a tiny, remote hospital in the soon to be Soviet Union. The stories are by turn serious, humorous, interesting, gross - but they all give a feel for what the practice of medicine was like at that time (1916) outside the major centres. Fascinating! ( )
1 vote PennyAnne | May 24, 2014 |
I was deeply moved by this story of a young doctor fresh out of medical school who is tossed into the remotest Russian countryside to practice medicine. No surprise that it reads more like real life than fiction, as Bulgakov himself was a young doctor in similar circumstances once. The year is 1917, the "unforgettable year" according to the author, but the politics of the Revolution are yet to reach this provincial area... Within one year, the protagonist metamorphoses from an unsure, hesitant fledgling doctor willing to flee the godforsaken place, into a hands-on, confident professional determined to overcome the backwardness of his rural patients and make a difference in their lives. His sentiments are described by Bulgakov with profound clarity and frankness, so typical of his writing. Also, I couldn't help but draw a line of comparison with doctors of today - who daily rely on multitude of tests just to make a diagnosis, while our hero, under the pressure of necessity, successfully dealt with an enormous diversity of conditions and treatments... ( )
2 vote Clara53 | Nov 10, 2013 |
Bulgakov was a doctor before he was a writer, having graduated with a degree in medicine from Kiev University in 1916. He spent the next eighteen months in the remote countryside, assigned to the post of chief doctor to the peasants near the village of Nikolskoye. The stories here recount those times, and are brutally honest about the doubts he felt as a young doctor, the fear that cases would come his way that he wouldn’t be able to handle, and the need to sneak off and look up information in reference books when they did. Bulgakov was in a primitive environment – 32 miles from the nearest electric light, without all of the right tools, and sorely understaffed. His log showed he attended to 15,613 patients in the first year, and aside from his nurses and assistants, he was largely isolated, with the inherent slowness of travel and lack of a telephone delaying any type of outside communication. Add to all this the brutality of a Russian winter; “The Blizzard” describes almost freezing to death while getting lost in one on the way back home at night.

There was an enormous gap between rich and poor in Russia at the time, which as Glenny says in the introduction, had Bulgakov “at the point of contact between two cultures which are about five hundred years apart in time.” The peasants had no end to their superstitions, and much has been made of Bulgkov bringing ‘light’ to the darkness of ignorance. On the other hand, I found it interesting that we look back about a hundred years and see how in the dark Bulgakov himself was. He occasionally describes outdated medical practice (e.g. mercury ointments) and his own chain smoking, mentioning his 50th cigarette of the day at one point, in addition to often not knowing how to handle cases and just having to make best efforts and learn as he went. Overall, though, he’s heroic, and it’s a very interesting glimpse into life right before the Russian revolution.

After Bulgakov moves on to another post, he comes to learn of another doctor’s sad descent into heroin addiction, and publishes his diary and notes in “Morphine”. I’m not sure if it was fiction or reality, but regardless it’s an excellent description of addiction. The book ends in Kiev and the story “The Murderer”, about the moral ambiguity of being a doctor to an enemy’s wounds, as Kiev began to come under conflict in the revolution. It’s interesting to think of this as a seque into his classic book “The White Guard”.

On being a young doctor:
“And there was I, all on my own, with a woman in agony on my hands and I was responsible for her. I had no idea, however, what I was supposed to do to help her, because I had seen childbirth at close quarters only twice in my life in a hospital, and both occasions were completely normal. The fact that I was conducting an examination was of no value to me or to the woman; I understood absolutely nothing and could feel nothing of what was inside her.

The pages of Doderlein flickered before my eyes. Internal method…Combined method…External method…Page after page, covered in illustrations. A pelvis; twisted, crunched babies with enormous heads…a little dangling arm with a loop in it.
Indeed I had read it not long ago and had underlined it, soaking up every word, mentally picturing the interrelationship of every part of the whole and every method. And as I read it I imagined that the entire text was being imprinted on my brain forever. Yet now only one sentence of it floated back into my memory: ‘A transverse lie is a wholly unfavourable position.’”

On Kiev:
“Ah, what stars there are in the Ukraine. I’ve been living in Moscow almost seven years, but I still feel drawn to my homeland. My heart aches, I get a terrible urge to board a train and be off. To see the cliffs covered in snow, the Dnieper…there’s no more beautiful city in the world than Kiev.” ( )
2 vote gbill | Nov 3, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Mikhail Bulgakovprimary authorall editionscalculated
Glenny, MichaelTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Peet, DickTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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If you have never driven over country roads it is useless for me to tell you about it; you wouldn't understand anyway. But if you have, I would rather not remind you of it.
I don't remember him arriving. I only remember the bolt grating in the door, a shriek from Aksinya and a cart creaking out in the yard.

He was hatless, his sheepskin coat unbuttoned, his beard was dishevelled and there was a mad look in his eyes.

He crossed himself, fell on his knees and banged his forehead against the floor. This to me!

'I'm a lost man,' I thought wretchedly.
'No, I will fight it... I will... I...' After a hard night, sweet sleep overtook me. Darkness, black as Egypt's night, descended and in it I was standing alone, armed with something that might have been a sword or might have been a stethoscope. I was moving forward and fighting... somewhere at the back of beyond. But I was not alone. With me was my warrior band: Demyan Lukich, Anna Nikolaevna, Pelagea Ivanova, all dressed in white overalls, all pressing forward.

Sleep... what a boon...
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