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Authors: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Cancer Ward

BOOK: Cancer Ward
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Title Page

Copyright Notice


No Cancer Whatsoever

Education Doesn't Make You Smarter

Teddy Bear

The Patients' Worries

The Doctors' Worries

The Story of an Analysis

The Right to Treat

What Men Live By

9. Tumor Cordis

The Children

Cancer of the Birch Tree

Passions Return …

 … and So Do the Specters


To Each Man His Own


The Root from Issyk Kul

At the Grave's Portals

Approaching the Speed of Light

Memories of Beauty

The Shadows Go Their Way


The River that Flows into the Sands

Why Not Live Well?

Transfusion of Blood


Superb Initiative

Each Has His Own Interests

Bad Luck All Round

Hard Words, Soft Words

The Old Doctor

Idols of the Market Place

The Other Side of the Coin

Happy Ending …

 … and One a Bit Less Happy

The First Day of Creation …

 … and the Last Day



1. No Cancer Whatsoever

On top of everything, the cancer wing was Number 13. Pavel Nikolayevich Rusanov had never been and could never be a superstitious person, but his heart sank when they wrote “Wing 13” on his admission card. They should have had the ingenuity to assign number 13 to some kind of prosthetic or intestinal department.

But this clinic was the only place where they could help him in the whole republic.

“It isn't, it isn't cancer, is it, Doctor? I haven't got cancer?” Pavel Nikolayevich asked hopefully, lightly touching the malevolent tumor on the right side of his neck. It seemed to grow almost daily, yet the tight skin on the outside was as white and inoffensive as ever.

“Good heavens, no. Of course not.” Dr. Dontsova soothed him, for the tenth time, as she filled in the pages of his case history in her bold handwriting. Whenever she wrote, she put on her glasses with rectangular frames rounded at the edges, and she would whisk them off as soon as she had finished. She was no longer a young woman; her face looked pale and utterly tired.

It had happened at the outpatients' reception a few days ago. Patients assigned to a cancer department, even as outpatients, found they could not sleep the next night. And Dontsova had ordered Pavel Nikolayevich to bed

Unforeseen and unprepared for, the disease had come upon him, a happy man with few cares, like a gale in the space of two weeks. But Pavel Nikolayevich was tormented, no less than by the disease itself, by having to enter the clinic as an ordinary patient, just like anyone else. He could hardly remember when he had been in a public hospital last, it was so long ago. Telephone calls had been made, to Evgeny Semenovich, Shendyapin, and Ulmasbaev, and they rang other people to find out if there were not any VIP wards in the clinic, or whether some small room could not be converted, just for a short time, into a special ward. But the clinic was so cramped for space that nothing could be done.

The only success he had managed to achieve through the head doctor was to bypass the waiting room, the public bath and a change of clothing.

Yuri drove his mother and father in their little blue Moskvich right up to the steps of Ward 13.

In spite of the slight frost, two women in heavily laundered cotton dressing gowns were standing outside on the open stone porch. The cold made them shudder, but they stood their ground.

Beginning with these slovenly dressing gowns, Pavel Nikolayevich found everything in the place unpleasant: the path worn by countless pairs of feet on the cement floor of the porch; the dull doorknobs, all messed about by the patients' hands; the waiting room, paint peeling off its floor, its high olive-colored walls (olive seemed somehow such a dirty color), and its large slatted wooden benches with not enough room for all the patients. Many of them had come long distances and had to sit on the floor. There were Uzbeks in quilted, wadded coats, old Uzbek women in long white shawls and young women in lilac, red and green ones, and all wore high boots with rubbers. One Russian youth, thin as a rail but with a great bloated stomach, lay there in an unbuttoned coat which dangled to the floor, taking up a whole bench to himself. He screamed incessantly with pain. His screams deafened Pavel Nikolayevich and hurt him so much that it seemed the boy was screaming not with his own pain but with Rusanov's.

Pavel Nikolayevich went white around the mouth, stopped dead and whispered to his wife, “Kapa, I'll die here. I mustn't stay. Let's go back.”

Kapitolina Matveyevna took him firmly by the arm and said, “Pashenka! Where could we go? And what would we do then?”

“Well, perhaps we might be able to arrange something in Moscow.”

Kapitolina Matveyevna turned to her husband. Her broad head was made even broader by its frame of thick, clipped coppery curls.

“Pashenka! If we went to Moscow we might have to wait another two weeks. Or we might not get there at all. How
we wait? It is bigger every morning!”

His wife squeezed his hand in an effort to transmit her courage to him. In his civic and official duties Pavel Nikolayevich was unshakable, and therefore it was simpler and all the more agreeable for him to be able to rely on his wife in family matters. She made all important decisions quickly and correctly.

The boy on the bench was still tearing himself apart with his screams.

“Perhaps the doctors would come to our house? We'd pay them,” Pavel Nikolayevich argued, unsure of himself.

“Pasik!” his wife chided him, suffering as much as her husband. “You know I'd be the first to agree. Send for someone and pay the fee. But we've been into this before: these doctors don't treat at home, and they won't take money. And there's their equipment, too. It's impossible.”

Pavel Nikolayevich knew perfectly well it was impossible. He had only mentioned it because he felt he just had to say something.

According to the arrangement with the head doctor of the oncology clinic, the head nurse was supposed to wait for them at two o'clock in the afternoon, there at the foot of the stairs, which a patient on crutches was carefully descending. But the head nurse was nowhere to be seen, of course, and her little room under the stairs had a padlock on the door.

“They're all so unreliable!” fumed Kapitolina Matveyevna. “What do they get paid for?”

Just as she was, two silver-fox furs hugging her shoulders, she set off down the corridor past a notice which read: “No entry to persons in outdoor clothes.”

Pavel Nikolayevich remained standing in the waiting room. Timidly he tilted his head slightly to the right and felt the tumor that jutted out between his collarbone and his jaw. He had the impression that in the half hour since he had last looked at it in the mirror as he wrapped it up in a muffler, in that one half hour it seemed to have grown even bigger. Pavel Nikolayevich felt weak and wanted to sit down. But the benches looked dirty, and besides, he would have to ask some peasant woman in a scarf with a greasy sack between her feet to move. Somehow the foul stench of that sack seemed to reach him even from a distance.

When will our people learn to travel with clean, tidy suitcases! (Still, now that he had this tumor it didn't matter any longer.)

Suffering miserably from the young man's cries and from everything that met his eyes and entered his nostrils, Rusanov stood, half leaning on a projection in the wall. A peasant came in carrying in front of him a half-liter jar with a label on it, almost full of yellow liquid. He made no attempt to conceal the jar but held it aloft triumphantly, as if it were a mug of beer he had spent some time lining up for. He stopped in front of Pavel Nikolayevich, almost handing him the jar, made as if to ask him something, but looked at his sealskin hat and turned away. He looked around and addressed himself to a patient on crutches: “Who do I give this to, brother?”

The legless man pointed to the door of the laboratory.

Pavel Nikolayevich felt quite sick.

Again the outer door opened and the matron came in, dressed only in a white coat. Her face was too long and she was not at all pretty. She spotted Pavel Nikolayevich immediately, guessed who he was and went up to him.

“I'm sorry,” she said breathlessly. In her haste her cheeks had flushed the color of her lipstick. “Please forgive me. Have you been waiting long? They were bringing some medicine, I had to go sign for it.”

Pavel Nikolayevich felt like making an acid reply, but he restrained himself. He was glad the wait was over. Yuri came forward, in just his suit, with no coat or hat, with the same clothes he had worn for driving, carrying the suitcase and a bag of provisions. A blond forelock was dancing about on his forehead. He was very calm.

“Come with me,” said the matron, leading the way to her little storeroom-like office under the stairs. “Nizamutdin Bahramovich said you'd bring your own underwear and pajamas. They haven't been worn, have they?”

“Straight from the store.”

“That's absolutely obligatory, otherwise they'd have to be disinfected, you understand? Here, you can change in there.”

She opened the plywood door and put on the light. In the little office with its sloping ceiling there was no window, only a number of colored-pencil diagrams hanging from the walls.

Yuri brought in the suitcase silently, then left the room. Pavel Nikolayevich went in to get changed. The matron had meanwhile gone off somewhere, but Kapitolina Matveyevna caught up with her.

“Nurse!” she said. “I see you're in a hurry.”

“Yes, I am rather.”

“What's your name?”


“That's a strange name. You're not Russian, are you?”

“No. German.…”

“You kept us waiting.”

“Yes, I'm sorry. I had to sign for those…”

“Now listen to me, Mita. I want you to know something. My husband is an important man who does extremely valuable work. His name is Pavel Nikolayevich.”

“I see. Pavel Nikolayevich, I'll remember that.”

“He's used to being well looked after, you see, and now he's seriously ill. Couldn't he have a nurse on duty with him permanently?”

Mita's troubled face grew even more worried. She shook her head. “Apart from the theater nurses, we have three day nurses to deal with sixty patients. And two night nurses.”

“You see! A man could be screaming his head off and dying and no one would come!”

BOOK: Cancer Ward
9.35Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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