The Doctor's Word
Genre: Short Story
- Ratzan, Richard M.
- Date of entry: Jan-14-1997
Dr. Raman, a fictitious physician in the imaginary South Indian city of Malgudi that is the microcosm for many of Narayan's stories, is renowned for his diagnostic acumen and "certain curt truthfulness; for that very reason his opinion was valued; he was not a mere doctor expressing an opinion but a judge pronouncing a verdict." When Dr. Raman is called upon to make a house call and subsequent operation on his dearest friend, Gopal, he faces a very difficult professional ethical dilemma.
For Gopal is very sick (dying in Dr. Raman's judgment) and requests a truthful prognosis in order to settle his will and avoid the "endless misery for his wife and children" that an unsettled will would entail, a realistic eventuality with which Dr. Raman concurs. Yet, if Dr. Raman reveals his pessimistic opinion, which he does to his assistant, i.e., that Gopal will not survive the night, then it would "virtually mean a death sentence and destroy the thousandth part of a chance that the patient had of survival."
Dr. Raman does "a piece of acting" and assures his friend and patient that he will live. Gopal replies, "If it comes from your lips it must be true . . . . " Gopal lives and Dr. Raman remarks to his assistant, "How he has survived this attack will be a puzzle to me all my life."