The Discus Thrower Richard Selzer Richard Selzer Physician Sex Male National Origin United States of America Era Late 20th Century Born 1928 Awards National Magazine Award, American Medical Writer's Award Richard Selzer quotas Each is like a river that leaves behind its name and shape, the whole course of its path, to vanish into the vast sea of God. I contemplate the body, dead and diseased as well as alive and healthy. Surgery is the red flower that blooms among the leaves and thorns that are the rest of medicine. You do not die all at once. Some tissues live on for minutes, even hours, giving still their little cellular shrieks, molecular echoes of the agony of the whole corpus. The heart is pure theater throbbing in its cage palpably as any nightingale. The Discus Thrower Myron Discobolus (Discus thrower) 460-450 B.C. Marble copy of bronze original. 5 feet high Myron chose a moment of rest between two periods of movement for a statue that combines implied action with classical formalism. It seems the perfect formula for the depiction of a beautiful athletic body. It must have been as popular in ancient times as it is today if one is to judge by the number of copies that have come down to us; those in the National Museum in Rome and the Vatican being but two. The backward swing of the discus has reached its furthest point and the unwinding of the body has not commenced. As consequence a poise is achieved; the utmost straining of the muscles is yet to come. perfect athletic form Doctor and patient Describe a terminally ill patient you observed. How do you think the relationship between doctor and patient? Terminally ill patient highlights This text is a piece of narration. The narrator, as a doctor, had a unique habit of “spying on” his patients for the sake of better medical treatment. He met with a particular patient with a strange habit of throwing the plate. This caused a conflict between the man and the head nurse. Finally the patient died, and the doctor discovered that the man starved himself to death when he paid attention to the repeatedly washed place where the scrambled eggs dropped to the floor. summary The story begins with the doctor-narrator unobtrusively observing an older man lying in a hospital bed. The patient is blind and has amputations of both legs. (We are given no medical details that cannot be observed in the room.) The narrator tends to the man's amputation wounds and answers a few simple questions. The man requests a pair of shoes. summary Back in the corridor, a nurse tells the doctor that the patient refuses his food, throwing his china plate against the wall of his room. The narrator hears the man and a nurse argue briefly about food and then, by himself, watches as the patient carefully and powerfully throws another dish against the wall. The next day the doctor discovers that the patient has died. Structural Analysis of the Text This passage can be divided into three parts. Part One (Paragraph 1): Spying on Patients— a Habit of Mine This part serves as an introduction to the background of the story. The narrator tells about one of his unique habits of “spying on” the patient and justifies himself for the sake of better medical treatment. Part Two (Paragraphs 2-13) Encounters with a Particular Patient This part talks about the narrator’s contact with the “discus thrower”. The miserable condition of the patient is compared to a bonsai, as he resembles it in several ways. His confinement caused by blindness is like the restricted growth domain of a bonsai: the domain permitted by a pot. He is legless in the way the roots and braches of the miniature trees are pruned. The reason for his “discus throwing” is that his plight throws him into despair and he hopes for nothing, only waiting for death. Part Three (Paragraphs 14-15) The Death of the Patient This part tells about how the man is found dead and the doctor discovered the secret that the man starved himself to death as is suggested at the end of the text by the doctor’s attention to the repeatedly washed place where the scrambled eggs dropped to the floor. Part one 1) what is unique about the narrator as a doctor? As a doctor he spies on his patient. 2) What does the author mean by asking the question “ought not a doctor…? He believes that a doctor is entitled to spy on his patient for the sake of medical treatment. 3 ) Why does the narrator say “it is not all that furtive?” Because he wants to justify his action: he does not actually spy but rather observes his patient. Language Points and Difficult Sentences Comprehension stance: 1 an opinion that is stated publicly (stand) stance on /stance against What is your stance on environmental issues? a strong stance against abortion take/adopt a stance The President has adopted a tough stance on terrorism. 2 a position in which you stand, especially when playing a sport a fighting stance he might the more fully assemble evidence? …he might gather evidence more fully than without spying? The structure “the more fully” is the elliptical form of “all the more fully”. In English the structure “all/ so much/ none + the + the comparative degree of adjectives or adverbs” is used without “than…” following it to express emphasis. Sometimes all can be omitted. 1) She was waiting for the spring. She felt the younger for it. 2) I walked around for two hours yesterday, and the doctor said I was none the worse for it. 3) I know there’s danger ahead, but I am all the more set on driving forward. furtive attempting to avoid notice or attention; secretive, sneaky, stealthy 1) I saw him cast a furtive glance at the woman at the table to his right. 2) There was something furtive about his behavior and I immediately felt suspicious. Part two 1. Why does the man seem deeply tanned? His skin is brown not because of the suntan but because of his approaching death, ie. He was in the last stage of his life. Tanned: having a darker skin colour because you have been in the sun He had a tough tanned face and clear eyes. Crop: to cut someone's hair short Stella had had her hair closely cropped . if a problem crops up, it happens or appears suddenly and in an unexpected way Tanned and close-cropped rusted Rusted and tanned, brown Vile repose : the smell of death Vile: 1.extremely unpleasant or bad (horrible)This coffee tastes really vile ./a vile smell /She has a vile temper . 2 evil or immoral a vile act of betrayal Repose: a state of calm or comfortable rest in repose His face looked less hard in repose. It is rusted, rather, in the last stage of containing the vile repose within. Rather, his skin gets dark brown because he was approaching the last stage of his life, that is, he was dying. Here “vile repose” is a metaphor, and it means “death”. And the blue eyes are frosted, looking inward like the windows of a snowbound cottage. And (under scrutiny/thorough examination) the blue eyes are not clear but covered with a gray frost-like layer, without looking outside at the external world like the windows of a snowsurrounded cottage. bonsai Prune (amputations) 1.prune something to cut off some of the branches of a tree or bush to make it grow better The roses need pruning. 2.especially British English to make something smaller by removing parts that you do not need or want The company is pruning staff in order to reduce costs. The original version of the text has been pruned quite a bit. dwarf to be so big that other things are made to seem very small The cathedral is dwarfed by the surrounding skyscrapers. a person who is a dwarf has not continued to grow to the normal height because of a medical condition. Many people think that this use is offensive. Yao dwarfs all the people. 2. Why does the narrator compare the patient to a bonsai? A bonsai is an ornamental tree or shrub grown in a pot and artificially prevented from reaching its normal size. The patient resembles a bonsai in several ways. His confinement caused by blindness is like the restricted growth domain of a bonsai: the domain permitted by a pot. He is legless in the way the roots and branches of the miniature tree are pruned. he cups his right thigh in both hands. …he holds his right thigh with his hands curved like a dish. cup: support or hold something with the hands that are curved like a dish e.g. 1) He cupped his chin in the palm of his hand. 2) David knelt, cupped his hands and splashed river water onto his face. Cache: a number of things that have been hidden, especially weapons, or the place where they have been hidden cache of a cache of explosives swing: move something from one side to the other e.g. 1) A large pendulum swung back and forth inside the big clock. 2) The truck driver swung himself up into the driver’s seat. 3) His mood swings between elation and despair. Why is the patient’s ward empty of all possessions? Because there is none of the usual possessions like get-well cards, flowers etc.. Which shows that he is forsaken by his friends and family. As stated in the following part, he is intolerable. And there aren’t possessions such as shoes, either, for he is legless and blind, and thus is confined to bed. When the doctor asks how he feels, he respond with a question “feel?” What does this show? This shows he is numb in emotion. His plight throws him into despair and he hopes for nothing, waiting for death. This is also confirmed by the fact that he wants to know nothing but time. What does the patient mean when he says “yes, down?” This is his response to the doctor’s remark, “Down you go.” what the doctor means is that the man is going down with the bed, yet the patient means that he is going down towards death. Stump:1. the bottom part of a tree that is left in the ground after the rest of it has been cut down an old tree stump 2. the short part of someone's leg, arm etc that remains after the rest of it has been cut off Scab: 1 a hard layer of dried blood that forms over a cut or wound while it is getting better 2 an insulting word for someone who works while the other people in the same factory, office etc are on strike inert 1not producing a chemical reaction when combined with other substances inert gases 2 literary not moving, or not having the strength or power to move He lay, inert, in his bed. 3 not willing to do anything The government was perceived to be inert and inefficient. Why does the man ask for a pair of shoes? The man knows he is legless and has no need for a pair of shoes. Yet he still asks for a pair of shoes when the doctor offers him help. This shows that at the bottom of his heart the man aspires after freedom; only a pair of shoes can give him freedom. Why is the head nurse waiting for the doctor? Because she is waiting for the doctor to suggest measures to deal with the patient, who throws the food plate against the wall every time it is brought to him. What’s the head nurse’s attitude toward the patient? What’s the doctor’s? Irritated by his behavior, the nurse is impatient and disgusted with him. The doctor does not agree to take immediate measures. He wants to make sure of the fact described by the nurse. Rim: the outside edge of something circular rim of the rim of a glass plates with a gold band around the rim 2 gold-rimmed/red-rimmed etc Dome: 1 a round roof on a building 2a shape or building like a ball cut in half probe: physically explore or examine (something) with the hands or an instrument; investigate e.g. 1) They probed in/into the mud with a special drill, looking for a shipwreck. 2) Detectives questioned him for hours, probing for any inconsistencies in his story. heft: lift or hold (something) in order to test its weight e.g. I hefted a suitcase. Why does the patient lift the cover and probe the eggs before throwing the plate? This seems to show that what is important to him is not the crack of the plate against the wall. Otherwise he would have thrown the plate with the lid, or throw the lid before the plate. What he is interested in seems to be the scrambled eggs. This is confirmed by the fact that he ordered the scramble eggs every day and it is after hearing the wet sound of the scrambled eggs that he starts to laugh. Why does he laugh? For one thing the laughter suggests his vision of hope of his ultimate emancipation. Maybe the scrambled egg is his favorite food, yet he is determined not to eat them because he feels hopeless in this world. He wants to put an end to his life but he desires to die a dignified death. The discus throwing strengthen his resolve. For another thing his laughter is also a sign of defiance of the unfair fate and the unfriendly hospital workers. Why does the narrator say the laughter could cure cancer? Because every time the man throws the plate he feels a triumph over his ego that urges him to eat and live. His laughter is joyous from the bottom of his heart and expresses a sense of complete release, and therefore it could give a promising future to him if he were a patient of cancer. Why do the eyes of the head nurse narrow? Because she frowns on the patient’s behaviour. “Who are you?” not recognize? He distrusts the doctor, he does not believe that he doctor can him anyway. It is , rather, a signal dismissal. I see that we are to be accomplices. I see that I have to help the aide feed the patient. make one’s rounds: make one’s usual visits, esp. of inspection e.g. The production manage makes his rounds to check whether everything goes well. Commentary This portrait of a difficult and only semicommunicative patient is more a sketch than a story, but it poses interesting challenges: What to think of this man, how to understand him, and how to treat him? Clearly the man's enigmatic speech and actions are saying something, and Selzer suggests that few are listening. The story offers no answers, but it suggests that the kind of empathy the narrator develops through watching the patient (but does not express) is a good start. The patient's provocative behavior and the story's openness make it a good point of departure for a discussion of reading difficult or inscrutable patients.