Mikhail Bulgakov, The Steel Windpipe

A little girl is brought to a rural hospital by her mother. The doctor recommends tracheotomy, however, he has never before performed the procedure. He has no choice.

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Bulgakov, The Steel Windpipe

Bulgakov, The Steel Windpipe (with highlights)

Bulgakov, The Steel Windpipe (vocabulary)

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Crossword #2 (Adjectives and Nouns)

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Discussion Questions

  1. The Doctor mentions that he graduated medical school “with distinction” (very high grades/honors), but he believes that “distinction is one thing and hernia is another” (1). Do you feel that the Doctor’s schooling prepared him to perform the tracheotomy on Lidka? Why or why not?
  2. In reference to the question above – can theory ever fully prepare us for practice, whether in medicine or otherwise?
  3. What do you make of the Doctor’s demeanor? Do you think the patients are convinced that he is calm and prepared to perform an operation?
  4. Why does the Doctor insist on performing the operation, even though it terrifies him?
  5. Do you think the Doctor did a good job on the operation? Why or why not? How might one perform a surgical operation “well”?
  6. When the midwife compliments the doctor and relays that the villagers think he is a hero, he responds that he is not often worried, but then thinks to himself that he is “too tired to even feel ashamed” (6). What do you make of this? Why might he feel ashamed?
  7. The Doctor in the story goes out of his way to hide his fear about performing the operation. Do we, as patients, expect too much of doctors? Do we place so much trust in them, that it becomes a burden?
  8. Why is the Doctor so hostile towards Lidka’s grandmother?
  9. Why does the Doctor describe Lidka with words like “beauty” and “doll-like” (2)?

1 thought on “Mikhail Bulgakov, The Steel Windpipe

  1. I read the Steel Windpipe by Mikhail Bulgakov in utter frustration. I hated everything about the doctor, and yet I loved the story. The doctor came off as a complete tool, yet I was enthralled by what he would do next. You don’t have to like a character in a story to like the story as a whole, and this was a prime example of that. One thing I wondered as I read the tale was if I was supposed to like the doctor. I rooted for him to win because a patient’s life was on the line, but I disagreed with his decision making completely. I enjoyed this reading because the writer allowed me to despise the protagonist and enjoy the journey he was on.

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