Selzer, Richard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Mar-13-1997
  • Last revised: Aug-15-2007


In the Emergency Room at 2 AM, a doctor tries to suture a laceration on the forehead of "a huge black man," brought in by the police. The man groans and strains; he won't hold still. Finally, the doctor becomes so angry that he sutures the patient's earlobes to the mattress. Not only that, he leans over the man's face and grins: "It is the cruelest grin of my life." Then he sutures the man's wound.


This is one of Selzer's Letters to a Young Doctor (see this database). A cautionary tale, it begins: "You must never again set your anger upon a patient." A wonderful story to illustrate the dehumanizing power of anger in medicine (as elsewhere). "Brute" is sometimes paired with the William Carlos Williams story on a similar theme, The Use of Force (see annotations by Aull and by Moore and Coulehan Coulehan).

Primary Source

Letters to a Young Doctor


Simon & Schuster

Place Published

New York



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