*Quote* “‘Christ let me alone.’ As he cried ‘alone’ the doctor was beside him. The wounded man recognized the doctor; his eyes focused. For him too the conclusion was nearer and this gave him the courage to be quieter. Suddenly it was silent. The men had stopped hammering but were still kneeling on the ground. The knelt and looked at the doctor. His hands are at home on a body. Even these new wounds which had not existed twenty minutes before were familiar to him. Within seconds of being beside the man he injected morphine. The three onlookers were relieved by the doctor’s presence. But now his very sureness made it seem to them that he was part of the accident: almost its accomplice.”
The first story in A Fortunate Man, The Story of a Country Doctor takes place in the countryside in the Forest of Dean in the mid-1960s (Francis). The characters include 4 unnamed men including the doctor, 3 woodsmen, one of which whose leg was just crushed by a fallen tree. The story began with one man shouting out a warning that the woodman had been in an accident which creates urgency from the beginning. The text is written in the 3rd person omniscient point of view which allows the reader to understand the emotions of the doctor, the onlookers, and the wounded man.
For me, the text really hammered in on the ambiguity of suffering care in the block of text that I included above. The entire text, and especially this passage, seemed to say that the alleviation of suffering is not clear cut and can’t be concluded with the presence of a doctor or treatment. At the beginning of the text, the “wounded man” says ‘Christ let me alone’ while the doctor comes closer. I took “alone” to mean for the pain to leave his body or possibly for death considering the amount of agony he was in. However, the doctor’s very presence solidifies that the pain is real which for a second brings all of the people in the text closer to a “conclusion.” At the perception of a conclusion, the tone of the text seems to shift. In the beginning, there was a sense of urgency as the doctor rushed to the site, the men were anxious about the fate of their friend, and as the wounded man writhed. Afterward, the tone is still and silent, almost as if the characters are holding their breath. They seem to trust the doctor because his hands “are at home on a body.” However, this same comfortability shifts the mood once again. Berger says the doctor is like an “accomplice” of the accident. There is the sense that they are uneasy with the outcome of the doctor’s place in the scheme of the man’s pain. The author frames the relationship as inseparable (pain, treatment, and the doctor) which makes it difficult to consider the doctor as a good force. Essentially, you only need the doctor or healer when something is going wrong and after the doctor goes away the physical and emotional damage will continue to impede the injured person’s life. In the final lines of the text, the author discusses the marker in the ground where the man had been trapped and says that with the visual reminder the other woodsmen questioned if “the doctor could be right” about him not losing his leg. I’m unsure if this means physically, (given that the medical and technological advances probably aren’t where they are now) or emotionally, but I think that the statement could refer to both.
John Berger, A Fortunate Man: The Story of a Country Doctor (Pantheon, 1967), 12-19.Berger_A_Fortunate_Man_One_of_them_shouted_She_is_a_woman
Francis, Gavin. “John Berger’s A Fortunate Man: a masterpiece of witness.” The Guardian. 7 Feb, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/feb/07/john-sassall-country-doctor-a-fortunate-man-john-berger-jean-mohr