"Medicine…….. is my lawful wife,

 but  literature ………..is my mistress.

When I get tired of one,

I spend the night………. with the other.

It’s a little irregular,

but…life is a little  more interesting …this way.”


Mr. Chairman,


These words were spoken

by a famous Russian author

.... see if you can guess his name…..

who was born in 1860

and who died  of Tuberculosis

at the age of 44…..in 1904.


As the quote suggests,

he was a man whose life

was ….devoted to Medicine,

but….who was at the same time

was consumed by Literature.


One of his most famous plays

was called The Cherry Orchard.


His name was…. ….Anton Chekhov,

and this evening I want to tell you

a little about his interesting life.

Chekhov began his medical studies

at the Moscow University Medical School  in 1879.

While he was a student there

to support himself and his family

he wrote hundreds of short stories.


So, by the time he had graduated  in 1884

he was a well-known writer

and a regular contributor

to the St. Petersburg daily newspaper.


But …in 1890,  Anton Chekov’s brother

died ..of Tuberculosis.


This had a big effect

on the young doctor-writer Anton.

He became depressed.

He was fed up with Moscow.

He no longer even enjoyed

seeing his works in print.


Chekhov decided to make

the difficult 8000-km  journey

from Moscow, across Siberia

to the island of Sakhalin,

which was a remote

Russian prison colony

where 10,000 convicts ..and political prisoners

lived in frozen exile.

The conditions in the  Siberian prisons

were  extremely harsh….. Sakhalin was a good example…

These prisons  were often used

by the Czar of Russia

to punish his political enemies .


Chekov felt that he could somehow

“pay off some of his  debts to medicine”…

(as he put it)

if he wrote  a couple of hundred pages

about life in the Sakhalin island prison.


To do this Chekhov became

a sort of self appointed

public health physician  at the prison…….


He conducted a medical census of the convicts.

He investigated their living conditions.

He collected mortality statistics.


And after he had done all of this research

he then wrote a detailed description

of the very bad conditions at the prison.


He published this as a book,

entitled, not very originally….

The Island of Sakhalin.


When it was published,

it did prompt an official investigation

into life in the prison


but when  Chekov presented it

as  his doctoral thesis

at the Moscow Medical School

it was rejected by the Dean ,

who said it was "too sociological".

By the next year, 1891,

Chekhov was back living in the Moscow region.

He started a general medical practice

 in the village of Melikhova

which was  80 km south of Moscow.


Patients were poor…..they came by foot or cart

from as far as 50 km away

to see the new doctor.

They would start to line up

in front of the clinic at dawn

Because they were poor,

they bartered for their medical care.


Dr. Chekhov kept very careful records,

he dispensed free medicine,

and he made 576 house calls

 in less than six months. ….100 per month.



Now  there was an epidemic of cholera

raging  in the region at the time,

and in July 1891 Chekhov was appointed

the official ….district public health officer

to help get the epidemic under control.


In two months

he saw almost 1000 cholera patients.

and by the time the epidemic subsided

with the arrival of winter,

Chekhov was left totally exhausted.

Not surprisingly,

the young doctor’s early experiences

1. of the prisons of Siberia, and

2. of the epidemic  in southern Russia

had a very big impact on his work as a writer.


Ultimately, he wrote almost 400 short stories

and 6 full-length plays

which were often based on his own experiences

in these two very different settings.


Doctors ……often appear as characters

in Chekhov’s writing.

As physicians,   these characters

were often protrayed as being less than ideal…

They had serious issues.


For example,


Dr.  Lvov….. misses cases of TB, and depression.

Dr. Dorn….. is burnt out …after 30 years of practise in the country.

Dr. Chebutykin ….is an alcoholic failure.


These people….are examples of

flawed human beings…

who are typical of characters

who often appear in Chekhov’s writing.


Doctor Chekhov himself was not a well man.


He started coughing up blood

while he was still at medical school.


This got worse when he was  at Sakhalin Island

and as he practised in Melikhova

He became more ill with time.


It must have been obvious to him

what was wrong,

but he called it the “flu”, if anybody inquired

kept on working,

and he refused medical treatment until 1897

by which time he was very sick indeed.


Of course, there was no effective drug treatment

for TB at that time.

so Chekhov went for a Rest cure,

….(that was the Standard of Practise for TB treatment then)…

at a Tuberculosis Centre

in Yalta on the Black Sea.


But , of course

 instead of resting when he arrived there

Chekhov threw himself into more feverish work,

this time on a fund raising campaign

for a  new TB Sanatarium for Yalta.


and as well, while he was there,

on this supposed rest cure,

he wrote three of his  masterpiece plays

…one of which was The   (famous) Cherry Orchard..


After 6 years in Yalta,

and against his doctor’s advice

(apparently Chekhov himself was a flawed character)

he  returned to Moscow

 in December 1903,

with his wife, Olga, who was an actress.


The following month, in January 1904

The Cherry Orchard was staged

at the reknowned Moscow Art Theatre

in celebration of Chehkov’s 44th birthday.


The evening was a  great triumph

for him personally.



Shortly after that,  the Chekhovs

returned again to Yalta

His illness was worsening,

and they wanted to get more treatment.


However, six months later,

at 3 a.m. on July 15, 1904.

Chekhov finally succumbed to his disease.


His body was shipped to Moscow

by train in a refrigerated car

which was marked "For Oysters."


This  was rather ironic, because

Chekhov’s  last words

before he died  had been,

"I haven't had champagne for a long time."



Mr. Chairman