Why did the Emergency Hospital send technicians instead of doctors to treat Mildred in Fahrenheit 451?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Part One, Montag comes home from work and kicks an empty pill bottle. He then looks at Mildred, who is lying incapacitated on their bed staring directly at the ceiling. Montag immediately realizes that his wife has overdosed on sleeping pills and calls emergency services. When the emergency technicians arrive, they use two machines to pump Mildred's stomach and replace her old blood with new, fresh blood. Montag is shocked and disturbed at the impersonal, callous nature of the two emergency technicians, who are casually smoking as they revive Mildred. After their job is over, the two technicians request payment, and Montag asks if either of them is a doctor. The operator responds by telling Montag that they get about nine or ten overdose emergency calls per night, so the hospitals had special machines made to deal with the high volume of attempted suicides. He also tells Montag that an M.D. is not required to clean someone's stomach and replace their blood since the two machines do all the work. The emergency technicians then get another call concerning an overdose and quickly leave Montag's house to revive another citizen. Essentially, overdoses are so ubiquitous throughout Montag's dystopian society that emergency technicians with machines are licensed to revive citizens who've overdosed on various pills. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Emergency Hospital sends technicians instead of doctors to treat suicide attempts because they have a machine for pumping stomachs and doctors are not needed.

In Fahrenheit 451, the people attempt suicide so often that there is a special “snake” used to pump their stomachs.  The snake is operated by technicians, so no doctors are needed. 

Montag is annoyed by the “impersonal” nature of the technicians.  One pumps the stomach, and the other replaces the blood.  He compares the woman whose stomach is being pumped to “a hard stratum of marble they had reached” (part 1).  The action of pumping her stomach is no more sympathetic than digging a trench.

Go on, anyway, shove the bore down, slush up the emptiness, if such a thing could be brought out in the throb of the suction snake. (part 1)

Apparently, suicide or drug use is quite common in Montag’s society.  There is very little emotion.  People live in a world of television and false reality.

And he thought of her lying on the bed with the two technicians standing straight over her, not bent with concern, but only standing straight, arms folded. (part 1)

Montag also realizes that he barely knows his wife, and therefore “he was certain he wouldn't cry” if she died.  He has come to fully realize how unreal his life is.

The impersonal way Mildred is treated has more of an effect on the reader than the earliest descriptions of the snake, which foreshadow Mildred's situation.  The reader sees the effect this life has on a familiar character.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

One of the main themes of the story deals with alienation. Bradbury's story shows how the society has become detached from one another.  Clarisse says, early in the story as she is talking with Montag, that no one just talks anymore.  She is considered odd, in fact, because she likes to talk and her family likes to talk with one another.  She even has to explain to Montag that at one time, people used to sit on their front porches and converse with their neighbors.  This detachment from one another, which has come about because of the emphasis on having fun, getting things done quickly, and a general emphasis away from thinking, has created a great deal of loneliness.  The technicians tell Montag when he questions why they came and not a doctor that they gets nine or ten of these cases a night.  The implication is that it is very common for people to overdose, whether it is accidental or intentional.  The technicians have a machine that pumps out her blood, filtering it along the way, and then puts it back into her.  The technicians are cleanly efficient, there is no nurturing and it is all over rather quickly.  At the end of the story, Granger tells Montag that the difference between a gardener and a lawncutter is "touch".  The same idea applies here.  The difference between a doctor and a technician, in this story, is "touch".  Mildred was tended to by technicians who didn't really have to touch her or care for her the way a doctor would.  The technicians, like the lawn cutter, merely go through mechanical motions with little feeling involved.  It all comes back to the detachment, or alienation, prevalent in the society of the novel.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Montag's society, books are burnt, creative thinking is discouraged, and people are encouraged to live vicariously through the flat entertainment on their parlour walls. In short, people are conditioned to behave like robots. When Montag talks to Clarisse and begins to awake from this oppressive, robotic existence, he becomes less robotic and more human. 

When he is in the early stages of this awakening, he considers how inhuman he has been. In thinking about his wife and how little they share, he is troubled by the fact that Mildred can not even remember how they met. Then, contemplating how the technicians came when she overdosed, the narrator describes his thoughts: 

And he thought of her lying on the bed with two technicians standing straight over her, not bent with concern, but only standing straight, arms folded. And he remembered thinking then that if she died, he was certain he wouldn't cry. 

Montag realizes that the technician's lack of concern for Mildred is similar to the lack of concern he and Mildred had for each other. This reveals a larger social problem that Montag will become more aware of as the novel progresses. He has been living in a society where human emotion and creativity have been stifled. So, whether it is interpersonal relationships or general social concern, Montag realizes that people have been treating people with the coldness of machines. It is perhaps not a coincidence that Bradbury notes that the Mechanical Hound (also in Part One) is to be checked by technicians. 

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The technicians also mention that a doctor was not sent because, over the past few years, these overdoses had become a common occurrence; a problem that would not require a doctor. They have become so common that the remedy is essentially treated like a plumbing problem. The stomach is pumped and the blood is extracted and replaced. Montag is angry at the impersonal and nonchalant attitude of the technicians but as they say, it is a common occurrence. 

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on