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Memoirs of a Woman Doctor: [Excerpt]

El-Saadawi, Nawal

doi: 10.1097/ACM.0b013e31824d2c8d
Medicine and the Arts

From pp. 80–81, Memoirs of a Woman Doctor by Nawal El-Saadawi. Translated by Catherine Cobham. Copyright © Saqi Books, London. 2000 (paperback) and 2001 (hardback). Reprinted with permission.

She came to see me in the surgery, her small body trembling with fear, panting, turning to look behind her, her innocent child’s face contorted with terror.

“What’s wrong, my girl?” I asked.

She shuddered as if she was feverish and started to sob her heart out. I managed to pick up a few disjointed fragmented words from the quivering lips: “He didn’t do what he said … cruel bastard … Upper Egypt … they’ll kill me … I haven’t got anyone … save me, doctor.”

She didn’t have a hanky, so I gave her mine and waited until she had no more tears left. She dried her eyes and fixed her frightened gaze on my lips, desperate to hear the one small word I would speak, granting her life or sentencing her to death.

I looked at her. She was a child of no more than fourteen or fifteen, innocent, pure, frail, with no income and no one to support her. I had no choice. How could I abandon her when I was all she had, or sentence her to death when I believed in her innocence and her right to life? How could I leave her neck under her father’s knife when I knew that her father, mother, brother and uncle had all done wrong? How could I punish her alone when I knew that the whole of society had participated in the act, or wonder at her when I knew that everybody did similar things? How could I not protect her when she was the victim and society protected the real offender, or disapprove of her error when I myself had already fallen? I would have lived twice as long as her and seen and learnt many more things than she had. How could I not absolve her when I had already absolved myself?

I tried to save the poor child from the talons of the law and tradition and from the fangs of the wild beasts and the snakes, rats and cockroaches. I’d save her and they would crucify me if the idea appealed to them, stone me to death, take me to the scaffold. I’d accept my fate and meet death with satisfied soul and an easy conscience.

© 2012 Association of American Medical Colleges