Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

The doctor in bed with the patient

Solomon Posen
Sydney, Australia


The act of getting into bed with a patient, which would normally be regarded as indecent and highly unprofessional, may be totally free of lecherous implications. Strong’s doctor has been summoned to deliver an elderly primipara, who lives with her crofter husband in an isolated one-roomed cottage on an island off the Scottish coast. The men are soaked to the skin after a stormy journey in a rowboat, and the only dry garments available for the doctor are a flannel nightshirt and a blanket. The husband who also wears a nightshirt is shivering and, as nothing will be happening for some hours, he decides to get into bed with his wife. The doctor sits by the fire, listening to the gale, but he feels cold and moves around to warm up a little.

“There was whispering in the bed. It sounded as if the wife was saying something which shocked Allan. She persisted. There was a silence. Then she spoke. ‘Doctor.’ ‘Yes?’ ‘Why don’t you come into the bed, and keep yourself warm? There is plenty of room there beside Allan.’ The doctor hesitated only for a second. ‘An excellent suggestion,’ he said. ‘Thank you Mrs. McKechnie, I will.’”

After an embarrassed silence followed by some small talk, Allan is made to rub his wife’s back, and then all is quiet. “[The doctor] remembered half a dozen obscene stories in which this was the central situation, husband, wife, and stranger in the same bed . . . How remote they were from the present . . . ” After a chaste rest, Mrs. McKechnie goes into labor and, ably assisted by her erstwhile bed companion, delivers a healthy boy.



  1. Strong, L. A. G. The White Cottage. In: Strong LAG Travellers: Thirty One Selected Short Stories. Methuen, London, 1945, pp. 124-43.



SOLOMON POSEN, MD, an emeritus professor of medicine at the University of Sydney, majored in English before obtaining his medical degrees (MB BS, MD) at the University of Adelaide, Australia. He is a Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, London, and a past president of the Endocrine Society of Australia. He lives in Sydney, Australia.

Dr. Posen taught general medicine and endocrinology at Sydney University for almost 30 years and has served on the editorial boards of several medical journals. He is the author of some 130 scientific papers (mainly in the field of calcium metabolism) and a co-author of a book on alkaline phosphatase. He is the author of a projected four-volume work titled The Doctor in Literature. The first volume, Satisfaction or Resentment was published by Radcliffe in 2005. The second volume, Private Life, appeared in 2006.


Spring 2013  |  Sections  |  Literary Vignettes

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