Taking the Medicine

Taking the Medicine

March 17, 2010

Making the Chapter:

Most people can’t name a Ukrainian famous in the field of medicine.  And yet, this is a sphere in which they have excelled. The conundrum is in part explained by the persecution of doctors – being recognised internationally was not a prescription for good health – or simply that their ideas were stolen. Others emigrated and assumed a new nationality.

In Taking the Medicine I support a sick friend inside a city hospital whilst he undergoes a minor operation, and reflect on healthier times for the Ukrainian health service. The issue is not one of a lack of doctors or facilities, but medical competence and the quality of facilities. The body of the chapter (pun intended) looks at blood, cholera, antibiotics, X-rays, surgery, organ transplants, and reflexology and conditioning. But we’ll need another second appointment if we’re to cover magnetic spin resonance, skin transplants and the polyhedral chisel for skull trephination.


Though most of the world refers to X-rays as “Roentgen waves” after the name of the German physicist and Nobel Prize winner, X-rays were discovered seven years earlier than Roentgen’s claim in 1887 by a Ukrainian named Ivan Pulyui.

Pulyui’s story is quite common for Ukraine. He was an outstanding scientist whose diverse achievements included the construction of Europe’s first alternating current power plant and the translation of the Old Testament into Ukrainian. Yet the 1983 Encyclopaedia of Ukraine, compiled under the censorship of the Soviet Union, makes no reference to him.

“Why do you call this the Roentgen Kabinet?” I asked the technician after he had positioned Mikhail next to the vintage machine. Holding a lead curtain in front of his sex organ, Mikhail looked like a bandy-legged Daliesque bullfighter.

“Breath in, hold it,” the technician barked as he peered out from above a green mask and pressed the button to emit the radiation.

“You don’t know who invented the X-ray?” he said as he looked at me incredulously.

Though the three of us discussed the history of X-rays for the next ten minutes, the technician gave no ground. He was the expert, Mikhail was clearly suffering from the late stages of dementia, and I was a foreign novice. Roentgen discovered X-rays. Period.

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