The story begins with the doctor-narrator unobtrusively observing an older man lying in a hospital bed. The patient is blind and has amputations of both legs. (We are given no medical details that cannot be observed in the room.) The narrator tends to the man's amputation wounds and answers a few simple questions. The man requests a pair of shoes.

Back in the corridor, a nurse tells the doctor that the patient refuses his food, throwing his china plate against the wall of his room. The narrator hears the man and a nurse argue briefly about food and then, by himself, watches as the patient carefully and powerfully throws another dish against the wall. The next day the doctor discovers that the patient has died.


This portrait of a difficult and only semi-communicative patient is more a sketch than a story, but it poses interesting challenges: What to think of this man, how to understand him, and how to treat him? Clearly the man's enigmatic speech and actions are saying something, and Selzer suggests that few are listening. The story offers no answers, but it suggests that the kind of empathy the narrator develops through watching the patient (but does not express) is a good start. The patient's provocative behavior and the story's openness make it a good point of departure for a discussion of reading difficult or inscrutable patients.


Originally published as "The Discus Thrower" in Jon Mukand, ed., Vital Lines: Contemporary Fiction About Medicine (NY: Ballantine, 1991).

Primary Source

The Doctor Stories


Picador USA

Place Published

New York



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