Some years ago I resolved to research the lives and careers of a number of doctors I had known when I was a child. I was in relatively good health at the time, and that fact enabled me to view the individuals with a certain distance, far removed from the terror with which I had regarded them as a boy.

I studied the contents of the personal archives of Professor S, a history scholar and a man of great intellectual and moral honesty. He had decided, a long time before, to conduct research along the same lines as mine, but with a quite different aim. During our brief conversation seven years ago, I was able to establish that for Professor S, medicine, and indeed science in general – notwithstanding the huge advances made in the last few decades – represented ‘the darkness born of the light’. I well remember his exact words, and those of his hasty correction: ‘or rather, the light that feeds on the darkness’.

The voice of Professor S was very hoarse at the time and I had to strain to hear him. But my discomfort was nothing against the compassion he showed towards those modest doctors who, in the course of their careers, had been forced to try their strength against ‘mysteries bigger than themselves’.

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Mothers, Daughters, Sons