The practice of medicine in equatorial Africa is both a challenge and an escape for Dr. Koestler. The physician from New Zealand works at a Global Aid mission in Zaire. He has toiled there a long time but is still a loner. His best friend appears to be a pet baboon named George Babbitt. The monkey drinks whiskey and smokes cigarettes. It is a clever creature with a mean streak and is generally despised by everyone except Koestler.

Two young American doctors arrive at the mission to assist Koestler. While the three physicians and the bush pilot drink whiskey and smoke marijuana, Koestler instructs the new doctors on some of the laws of jungle medicine: Use only disposable needles and then destroy them. Never transfuse a patient unless they require at least 3 units of blood (since all blood will likely be contaminated by Hepatitis B or HIV). Safe sex means no sex. Speed matters. Avoid getting involved because feelings will inevitably obstruct your work.

Although a leopard is roaming outside the confines of the mission, Koestler ventures into the darkness of the jungle to search for George Babbitt who has run off with a bottle of whiskey. In a locale teeming with life, the physician remains essentially alone--by choice.


Absurdity plays a large role in this short story. A baboon gets drunk on whiskey and also smokes marijuana. A doctor numbs his mind with alcohol because he finds bliss in numbness. Is the monkey mimicking human behavior or is the man acting like an animal? The jungle plays tricks on people. It smells of life and rot. It can be dangerous or comforting. Yet which environment is more oppressive--civilization or the jungle? Note the allusion to the protagonist of Babbitt, a novel by Sinclair Lewis and consider why the baboon in this tale shares his name.

Altruism is a key concept in this story. How genuine is it? What are the reasons behind it? Why do these fictional doctors embrace the many hardships of Africa and choose to labor at the Global Aid mission? One young physician purportedly desires to serve humanity but Koestler seeks to escape civilization.

For a doctor, the jungle is infectious, toxic, and animate. Leprosy, snakebites, and rabies are some of the problems Koestler encounters there. He and the bush pilot recall the case of one American doctor who died of rabies. "Amor fati" were the dying doctor's last words: Love your fate! Koestler wonders, "How much truth could you bear to look at?" (p. 53]) It seems that self-examination can be a disappointing and sometimes painful exercise.


The story was first published in The New Yorker.

Primary Source

Cold Snap


Little, Brown

Place Published

Boston & New York



Page Count