The Clinic

MacLaverty, Bernard

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Annotated by:
Miksanek, Tony
  • Date of entry: Jul-28-2008
  • Last revised: Jul-27-2008


An overweight, older man is referred by his family doctor to a hospital-based Diabetic Clinic. The patient may have "borderline" diabetes and requires a glucose tolerance test to confirm the diagnosis. He remembers to bring two important items to his appointment - an early morning sample of his urine and something to read. He chooses a volume of short stories by Anton Chekhov.

At the clinic, three things vie for the man's attention: the environment of the waiting room, the requirement of providing a sample of blood and urine every thirty minutes, and one of Chekhov's stories titled "The Beauties." As the patient reads the short story, the clinic surroundings fade away. The existing reality is temporarily doused.

After the testing is completed, he meets with the doctor. Their encounter is brief. The diagnosis is not diabetes but rather impaired glucose tolerance (a condition that might progress to diabetes). The doctor recommends a healthier diet and extra exercise. The man telephones his worried wife with the news that he is alright. Like Chekhov, the patient also understands and savors the drama that is present in ordinary life.


This dandy story pays homage to physician-writer Anton Chekhov. It acknowledges the quirky atmosphere of the doctor's waiting room - a mixture of anticipation, distraction, and the slowing of time. The story aptly captures the sights, smells, sounds, and feel of the place: the presence of a wheelchair, health posters, radio music softly playing in the background, the repetitive squeaking of the door opening and closing, the flipping of pages in magazines, empty seats, and fellow patients.

The story alludes to the sense of worry that fills the room and the fact that some of the anxiety ends up wasted. The comfort of reading may not eliminate the worry of sitting in a doctor's waiting room, but it helps time pass and offers a diversion. Because literature can transport people to other places and different states of mind, it has an important role at the doctor's office.

Primary Source

Matters of Life & Death and Other Stories (pp 49-61)


W. W. Norton

Place Published

New York



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