Literary Vignettes – Hektoen International

A Treatment for “Circular Insanity”: Joseph Roth’s Radetzky March

Sally Metzler Chicago, Illinois, USA   Madness and decay of society permeate Joseph Roth’s brooding novel The Radetsky March (1932). One character, Herr von Taussig, experiences attacks of “circular insanity.”1 The recommended cure is an institution on Lake Constance, where Von Taussig receives treatment by “mundane and feather-brained physicians who prescribe ‘spiritual emotions,’ just as […]

Sir Charles Symonds 1890-1978 , the neurologist’s neurologist

There was a time when medical practitioners in England would refer their difficult cases to a neurologist paid by the health services to come once a week to consult at the local hospital. Faced with a difficult or puzzling case, this consultant neurologist would send the patient to be seen at the National Hospital for […]

Haunting poetic characteristics: the dissection scene from Dr. Zhivago

Timo Hannu Helsinki, Finland   Dissecting room from Edinburgh in 1889. Source: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images. Doctor Zhivago, a novel by the Russian poet Boris Pasternak, tells the story of physician-poet Yura Zhivago during the turmoil of the first decades of the twentieth century in Russia. The character of Dr. Zhivago is portrayed as […]

Consider the nails of the hand, how they grow

In the days when the Archives of Internal Medicine was one of the greatest general medicals journal in America, William Bean was its famed editor. Born in 1909 in Manila, he had studied at the University of Charlottesville in Virginia, served in World War II, became professor of medicine in Iowa city, and during his […]

Henrik Ibsen’s diagnosis of the conscience

Sally Metzler Chicago, Illinois, USA   Dr. Thomas Stockmann, the protagonist in Henrik Ibsen’s 1879 play, An Enemy of the People, thought he had finally landed the ideal position as physician for an idyllic Norwegian resort town.  He was well-paid and well-connected; his brother was even the mayor.  Life and livelihood centered on the public […]

The Grasshopper by Chekhov: folly and regrets

Diphtheria in the days of writers such as Chekhov and Goncharov was a common disease that spread death and devastation across the wide expanse of the Russian Empire. It could kill its victims by its toxic effects on the heart but more often suffocated them with a grayish white membrane in their throat and nasal […]

Plato on free and slave doctors

Athenian: And have you further observed that there are slaves as well as free men among the patients in our communities. The slaves are generally treated by slave doctors, who pay them a hurried visit or wait for them in the dispensaries. A physician of this kind never speaks to his patient individually or lets […]

Mean dudes and mean deeds: Tarantino’s vision

Bernardo Ng San Diego, California, USA     Cinema as an educational method for psychiatric trainees, medical students, and other mental health specialists has been successfully used for decades. Films portray mental illness and mental health problems in a variety of ways. Watching a film can be useful when learning to examine a patient, reach […]

The illusion of rainbows

Bryant Phan Palo Alto, California, USA    The street lamps in my neighborhood flicker in Technicolor before shutting off. A glimmer of orange surrounding the houses outside the window catches my eye. The outline of each house turns grey before imprinting a series of geometrical shapes in the back of my mind. My father obsessively […]

All life is a gift

“I am tired,” said Mr. Hale. “I’m fifty-five years of age, and that little fact of itself accounts for any loss of strength.” “Nonsense! I’m upward of sixty and feel no strength, either bodily or mental. Don’t let me hear you talking so. Fifty-five! Why, you’re quite a young man.” Elisabeth Gaskell, North and South, […]