A Worker’s Speech to a Doctor (Bertolt Brecht)

We know what makes us ill.
When we’re ill word says
You’re the one to make us well
For ten years, so we hear
You learned how to heal in elegant schools
Built at the people’s expense
And to get your knowledge
Dispensed a fortune
That means you can make us well.
Can you make us well?
When we visit you
Our clothes are ripped and torn
And you listen all over our naked body.
As to the cause of our illness
A glance at our rags would be more
Revealing. One and the same cause wears out
Our bodies and our clothes.
The pain in our shoulder comes
You say, from the damp; and this is also the cause
Of the patch on the apartment wall.
So tell us then:
Where does the damp come from?
Too much work and too little food
Make us weak and scrawny.
Your prescription says:
Put on more weight.
You might as well tell a fish
Go climb a tree
How much time can you give us?
We see: one carpet in your flat costs
The fees you take from
Five thousand consultations
You’ll no doubt protest
Your innocence. The damp patch
On the wall of our apartments
Tells the same story.

Discussion Questions:
How can the physician facilitate lifestyle changes, so that the patient does not feel like you are telling “a fish go climb a tree”?

Discrepancies in wealth, education or lifestyle may create barriers in the physician-patient relationship. As a physician, how can you facilitate positive communication despite these barriers.

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