Bomgard, a young doctor recently transferred from a rural area to a small town hospital, receives an urgent message from Polyakov, the doctor who replaced him. Polyakov has become ill; he needs medical help. Before Bomgard can respond, however, Polyakov arrives at the hospital, dying of a self-inflicted wound. In his last moments, he gives Bomgard a notebook, on which is recorded the story of Polyakov's addiction to morphine.

Polyakov first took morphine to relieve an abdominal pain. He found that it also relieved his despair over the loss of his lover, an opera singer in Moscow. Morphine relieved his loneliness and improved his work. He gradually increased the dose until he became hopelessly dependent on the substance. He failed in his attempts to break the habit at a clinic in Moscow. Eventually there is nothing in life but the drug and Polyakov suicides.


This tale, like Bulgakov's other "doctor stories," was written in the mid-1920's, after Bulgakov gave up medical practice for a career in writing. This story arises from his experience as a district physician in the period from 1916 to 1918. It presents a gripping portrait of the perils of addiction to morphine. Interestingly, Polyakov's abdominal pain quickly disappears; he continues to use morphine to treat his psychical pain. Does Polyakov have an "addictive personality"? Which is the menace here, Polyakov, the environment, or morphine itself?


First published: 1925-27. Translated by Michael Glenny.

Primary Source

A Country Doctor's Notebook


Collins & Harvill

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