Twelve-year old Philip is admitted to the hospital for a month of nightly infusions of amphotericin, a drug used to treat severe fungal infections. Wise beyond his years, he’s been in the hospital before and is only too familiar with its routines: the "vampires" who take blood; the candy-stripers who volunteer cheerfulness.

Four nurses welcome Philip back, teasing him about his annoying but intelligent insights and promising excellent outcomes this time. The doctors are testing a wonderful new drug that should eliminate all the horrible side effects that he had experienced in the past. But the new drug does not work, and Philip passes a miserable night. 

He feels sorry for his parents who are eager for him to receive the best of care; he puts on a smile for them and notices them putting on smiles for him. He tries to be brave for the doctor too, but surprises himself by voicing his opinion, finally making his physician understand that the new anti-side-effect drug does not work.

In the midst of yet another difficult night, Philip decides that he will refuse all future infusions. And he begins to feel well. We do not know what will happen in the morning, but one has the hopeful impression that Phillip will have his own way.


This poignant exploration of a child’s experience of chemotherapy posits the idea that maturity is not merely a product of years and invites us to question how we define the age of consent. Philip’s parents love him and want him to live for as long as possible. But the treatments are torture: it is not clear that they will “work,” and Phillip is unable to enjoy his health while he is caught up in the chemical pursuit of longevity.

We are not told what condition Philip has, although several times he is assured that he does not have cancer.  Perhaps he once had a malignancy complicated by infection. The fact that amphotericin is discretionary following a protocol, rather than as a treatment for a symptomatic disease, enhances the thorniness of the dilemma.


Portions of this play appeared in CMAJ 2003 168.6: 746-47

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From Calcedonies to Orchids: Plays Promoting Humanity in Health Policy



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Nisker, Jeffrey A.

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