Doomed


Marcel has not noticed the signs of his grandmother’s illness as they have accumulated over the last year. He can no longer avoid the obvious when she takes to bed with a fever. It is time to call in the doctors. Proust himself, a lifelong sufferer of asthma, had a rich experience in the ineffectiveness of medicine at that time. The body is a mystery.

But to ask pity of our body is like discoursing in front of an octupus, for which our words can have no more meaning than the sound of the tides, and with which we should be appalled to find ourselves condemned to live. (III,404)

First, Dr. Cottard, who prescribes his cure-all:

Cottard, who had been called in to examine my grandmother–and who had infuriated us by asking with a subtle smile, the moment we told him she was ill: “Ill? You’re sure it’s not what they call a diplomatic illness?”–tried to soothe his patient’s restlessness by a milk diet….So that to believe in medicine would be the height of folly, if not to believe in it were not a greater folly still, for from this mass of errors a few truths have in the long run emerged.  (III,404)

Next, Dr. du Boulbon, who has a “special competence in cerebral and nervous matters” :

You have what I have had occasion to call ‘mental albumin.’ We have all of us had, when we have not been very well, little albuminous phases which our doctor has done his best to prolong by calling our attention to them. For one disorder that doctors cure with medicaments (as I am assured that they do occasionally succeed in doing) they produce a dozen others in healthy subjects by inoculating them with that pathogenic agent a thousand times more virulent than all the microbes in the world, the idea that one is ill. (III,410)

Marcel, following the advice of du Boulbon, accompanies his grandmother to the park, where she immediately has a stroke. He importunes a reluctant nearby doctor to see her.

I helped my grandmother in Professor E—-‘s lift and a moment later he came to us and took us into his consulting room. But there, pressed for time though he was, his offensive manner changed, such is the force of habit, and his habit was to be friendly, not to say playful, with his patients….My confidence in my grandmother’s prompt recovery was all the more complete in that …I was distracted …by a shout of laughter which served as conclusion to one the Professor’s jokes….I waited until my grandmother had left the room, closed the door and asked him to tell me the truth. “Your grandmother is doomed,” he said to me. (III,431)

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