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A DOCTOR'S STORWeter Baida DR. BÜCHNER SITS on a white bench in a well-kept garden in the town of Dimmsdorf, on the grounds of the nursing home where he has lived for the past four years, since the heart attack that nearly killed him in 1980. A long stretch of grass shines in the sunlight. He stares at the line of trees in the distance. With his high forehead, his firm chin, and his sprinkling of silver-white hair, he is still a fine looking man. But his chest, abdomen, and thighs have shrunk. His hands tremble. His eyes water. You would not think, looking at him, that he has ever done anything loathsome. "Medicine?" Dr. Buchner's grandson says. "Yes. Of course I've thought about it." "It's a fine profession," Dr. Büchner says, looking at the boy from the chair by the window in his room at the nursing home. It is a heavy chair with crimson upholstery. Through the window behind his grandfather , the grandson can see a stretch of lawn with white benches and, farther down, a wavy line of dark blue—the river. "You should not let my experience deter you, Karl. You know, I'm sure, that our family has a long tradition." This is anunderstatement, the grandson thinks. Not only was Dr Büchner a physician, but so were his father, his grandfather, and his greatgrandfather . Dr. Büchner himself was born in 1904 in Munich, received his medical degree in 1931, and married, that same summer, a muchdesired beauty of that time, Dora Fetscher, the daughter ofthe renowned Dr. Otto Fetscher, a professor of biochemistry at Heidelberg. Dr. Buchner 's daughter Anna (Karl's mother) is a pediatrician with a thriving practice, and her sister, Klara, earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry, married an American physician, and now heads the laboratory of Biochemical and Molecular Virology at a prominent university in the United States. "When I think about becoming a physician," Karl says, "I'm not sure whether I'm fulfilling a destiny I've chosen or one that tradition has imposed upon me. Also, I'm not sure that I have the temperament for it, or the ego." "I understand perfectly," his grandfather says. "You're not alone. Everyone in the family struggles with the same doubts. And everyone, or almost everyone, overcomes them in the end." 38 · The Missouri Review Loathsome? Is that the right word? Yes, Dr. Büchner thinks. That is the right word. "What exactly do you want to know?" he asks his grandson. "Everything. I want to understand." "And you think that I understand?" The boy hesitates. Dr. Büchner thinks of him as a boy, though he is twenty-one, about to enter his final year as an undergraduate at the university. A tall youth, thin, with long hands and dark-hued, reddish brown hair—the image of Dr. Büchner himself at the same age, though not quite as handsome. Karl says, "At least you can tell me what happened . That's a start." "AU right. But not today. I'm tired, Karl." Dr. Büchner sighs. "And I must think. It all happened so long ago." It takes the old man a week to gather his thoughts. Then he summons his grandson. They sit in Dr. Buchner's room at the nursing home. Rain streaks the window. The radiator clanks and rattles. From the flesh of the old man comes an odor the boy must force himself to ignore. "I decided on a career in psychiatry," Dr. Büchner begins, "because I realized that I could not distinguish myself as a research scientist. If I could not distinguish myself, I thought, then I would enter a field where I would not embarrass myself." "What made you think you couldn't distinguish yourself?" "I had compared myself with people who excelled in basic science. I disliked laboratory work. I disliked test tubes and microscopes. I was— how shall I put it?—I was sensitive. I was not sure I had the temperament for medicine. In a family of scientists, I read poetry. I felt that I had, just a...


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