Anonymous Diagnosis

In ancient China, a sense of propriety did not allow women of high social status, and women in general, to expose any part of their bodies to a male physician. A woman suffering an ailment could only point to an anatomical doll to show the area of the pain and have their pulses read.

Her culture dictates that she cannot reveal,
Merely demonstrate any pain she might feel.
Exams not allowed for she ranks as elite,
Thus physical contact is deemed indiscreet.

Defining the palpable pain that she bares,
She marks a bone figure, to indicate where
A broken rib hurts or a failing heart lies;
Anatomical marks on the doll that belies.

She passes the doll to a waiting maid’s hand,
Who passes it through shrouds and thereby remands,
This “proof” to a doctor a few steps away,
To diagnose pain that’s obscurely portrayed.

Is taking a pulse then just a placebo,
A string round her wrist, gauging pulse incognito?
Is distress, quanshen fali, a weakness of sorts,
A sense of malaise found in souls and in hearts?

The patient’s good modesty staying secure
When probe nor palpation can touch the demure.
Though pain may remain a medical mystery,
The treatment is beautiful, medical frippery!


quanshen fali: malaise

©2019 Beverly Stock

Beverly Stock is a poet living in St. Louis, Missouri. Visit for more of her poetry.    

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2 Responses

  1. Sally Cook

    I truly enjoyed your poem. I own a diagnostic doll – she is a tiny thing, about five inches in length, and rests on a tiny free-standing couch. When I bought it, I recall seeing one 12 in length.

    Use of the diagnostic doll reminds me of Emily Dickinson, who stood in a lighted area behind a sheet. That was as much as the doctor was allowed to see.

    Looking forward to seeing more of your work.


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