The Physician and the Snake

A little prose/poetry story dedicated to the World Health Organisation

A quiet moment and he drummed his fingers on his desk. Another year had turned: Another year of the pain he had shared so willingly – shared so secretly. Another year had turned, and still the snake on the staff stayed his hand. The doctor failed to understand the snake’s demand, to cure the sick, to do no harm, but also keep silence: To give advice when he, the doctor, knew it wrong to hand out lies, prescribing only second best. Gums and patches, and the rest – all failed. He drummed and drummed his fingers on the desk

A year had passed since that evening when that crowd had gathered on the excited street below, and, looking down, he remembered how the jostling and the clamour grew. ‘We have something new.’ They cried. ‘Look Doctor, we have something new.’ And each and every one held up a light. ‘We no longer have to fight.’ They cried. ‘Look! We no longer have to fight.’

The snake had also heard and had slithered down from off its stick. And shocked, the doctor saw the venom drip from hidden fangs, and from the window backed away. ‘Cure the sick and do no harm,’ the creature hissed. ‘Those outside, they won’t be missed. Give out only lies and second best, and if that fails, well, prescribe some rest. But be warned, dear doctor; say nothing of what you saw tonight. Say nothing of that awful blinding light that burns me to my very soul. Say nothing.

And thus the doctor, on the snakes command, stayed silent and said nothing of what he’d seen. Yet, in bed at night, he’d dream that in his hand there was a light which cured the sick, but on awakening all he had was a snake curled round a wooden stick.