Dr. Forrest Janney, once a prominent surgeon, has given up his practice in the city and retired to his hometown in Alabama due to alcoholism. He runs the local pharmacy and keeps up his medical license, but doesn’t practice. His brother Gene begs Forrest to operate on their nephew, who is comatose from a gunshot wound in the head; he was sent home to die. Other doctors have refused to operate because the bullet is lodged close to a major artery at the base of his skull. Dr. Janney examines the young man. Although Janney declines to operate, citing his drunkenness and tremor, he encourages his family to keep trying to find a surgeon because he estimates a 25% chance of survival if the bullet is removed.

Shortly thereafter, a violent tornado plows through the town, leaving dozens of dead and wounded. Dr. Janney immediately pitches in with several other doctors to treat the wounded and makes supplies from his pharmacy available at no charge. The comatose nephew is also found in the wreckage, barely alive, and in order to give him at least a chance, Janney operates on him, despite being fortified by a heavy dose from his flask.

A few days later, the nephew presumably dies (not clear from the text). A little girl whom Dr. Janney has befriended is sent to the orphanage in Montgomery because her father died in the tornado. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Janney leaves town, after giving his house to his brother and his family. He is on his way to save the little girl from the orphanage.


A lot happens in the 20 pages of this story. Much of the action is implausible, especially the sudden appearance of the tornado (actually, two tornados a couple of days apart). Fitzgerald produced "Family in the Wind" (1932) during his own long alcoholic decline, when he was doing a lot of hack writing for commercial magazines. However, the story does raise classical issues of professionalism and physician impairment.

First, the fact that Dr. Janney maintains his medical license suggests that he has voluntarily given up his practice, rather than being disciplined. His refusal to operate is consistent with his Hippocratic duty to "do no harm." However, when the tornado disaster overwhelms the local doctors, Janney not only pitches in; he plays a leading role and ultimately winds up performing the same procedure he knew he was unfit to do. It appears from his perspective that some larger duty to alleviate suffering and save lives trumps his impairment. Perhaps the adrenalin rush somehow kicks him into gear, suppressing the effects of his drunkenness, so he can accomplish Herculean tasks.

The denouement is interesting. The story implies that the disaster, by orphaning the child he cares for, instills new meaning into Dr. Janney’s life. He has a goal--becoming a surrogate parent. To do that, the doctor intends to put his flask aside and perhaps even go back into practice. What do you think is more likely to happen?


This story was first published in 1932.

Primary Source

The Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald


Charles Scribner's Sons

Place Published

New York




Malcolm Cowley

Page Count