The Cured Patient

translated from Johann Peter Hebel’s “Treasure Chest” (circa: 1850)




Rich people sometimes suffer burdens and ailments unknown, thank God, to poorer folk. Some illnesses are not transmitted by air but arise in laden dishes and glasses, soft chairs and silken beds. This was proven by a wealthy Amsterdamer who spent each morning in his armchair, smoking when his energy permitted, or yawning out the window, who however ate like a thresher at lunch. The neighbors often said: “Is there a wind outside or is our neighbor wheezing?” He ate and drank all afternoon as well, without hunger and without appetite, out of sheer boredom, until the evening. You could never rightly say when lunch ended and supper began. After supper he would lie down, as fatigued as though he had carried stones all day. Finally he gained a substantial belly, clumsy as a sack of potatos. Food and sleep no longer satisfied him. For a long period of time he was not really ill and not really well, but listening to him he had 365 ailments, one for every day of the year. All doctors in Amsterdam were called upon to advise him. He swallowed pails of mixtures and shovels-full of powders, and pills large as duck eggs.


Of course no doctor could help him, because he never did what they said, grumbling all the while: ‘Thunder and lightning, why am I a rich man, if I have to live like a dog and no physician can cure me for my money? At last he heard of a physician who was said to be so clever that he could cure patients just by looking at them. This inspired confidence in the man who wrote the physician concerning his condition. The latter soon figured out what was needed, namely not medicine but temperance and activity. He said to himself: ‘Wait a while, I’ll soon cure you,” and wrote him a note. “Dear friend, you are in bad shape, but I can help you if you obey. You have an evil creature in your gut, a monster worm with seven mouths. I myself must speak with this monster, and you must come to me. But, you may neither drive nor ride – you must walk, else you will shake up the worm and he will bite through your intestines, all seven at once. Furthermore you must eat no more than a plate of vegetables twice a day, at noon a little sausage, and at night an egg. In the morning you can have broth with herbs only. If you eat more, the worm will get bigger, and will crush your liver. Then the tailor will not longer have much need to measure you, but the carpenter will do so. This is my advice, and if you don’t follow it you will not hear the cuckoo sing next spring. Do as you wish!”. When the patient received this he immediately polished his boots and set forth next morning, just as the doctor had advised. The first day he crawled along, a snail could have covered more ground. Whoever greeted him was ignored, and any earthworm along the way was trodden upon. Yet already the second and the third morning it seemed as though the birds had not sung as beautifully in a long while, the dew looked so fresh and the poppies in the field so red, and all people who met him so friendly that he felt friendly too. Each morning was more beautiful than the last and lhe walked with lighter foot and happier mien and when he arrived in the physician’s city on the l8th day and rose next morning he felt so well that he said: ‘I couldn’t have gotten well at a worse time than now that I am to visit the doctor. If only I had a little buzzing in my ears or pain in my heart!’ When he arrived, the physician took him by the hand and said: ‘Now tell me exactly what is wrong with you.’ He answered: ‘Sir doctor, there is nothing wrong with me thank God, and if you’re as healthy as I, I’m glad of it.’ The doctor said: ‘It was a good intuition that bade you follow my advice. The worm is dead. But you still have its eggs in your body. You must return home on foot and split logs, and not eat more than hunger dictates, so that the eggs don’t hatch. Then you will live to be an old man.’ And he smiled as he spoke. The rich stranger however said: ‘Sir physician, you are a fine fellow, and I understand you well.’ He followed his advice and lived 87 years, 4 months and l0 days, healthy as a fish in water. And every New Years he sent the physician 20 gold pieces as a greeting.

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