Short Stories About Diseases, Disabilities and Sickness

The stories on this page will have characters with diseases, ones who are sick, or people with other health problems.

Sometimes the effect of the disease on others is explored.

See also Depression | Mental Illness

See also Death

The Sacrificial Egg | Chinua Achebe

Julius Obi sits idle at his typewriter while his boss sleeps. They haven’t had a customer in a week. When he looks out the window at the Nkwo market, he sees it’s empty. An outbreak of smallpox has sent the people into hiding.

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The Masque of the Red Death | Edgar Allan Poe

Prince Prospero and his nobles are gathered in an abbey to avoid a deadly plague that is decimating the general population. The prince holds a masquerade party to entertain his guests and pass the time.

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The Sky is Gray | Ernest Gaines

James is an eight-year-old black boy in the 1930’s South. He has a bad toothache but didn’t tell his mother about it, not wanting to be a crybaby and knowing they can’t afford to have it pulled. After he tries  aspirin and a prayer cure with his aunt’s help, without success, his mother discovers the problem.

The Way We Live Now | Susan Sontag

An unnamed man is showing symptoms of a disease, which turns out to be AIDS. His friends visit him in the hospital. They try to cheer him up, and they talk about his progress and behavior among themselves.

Read “The Way We Live Now”

The District Doctor | Ivan Turgenev

A doctor makes an urgent house call where a beautiful young woman is in a bad condition. He tries to reassure her family even though a recovery is unlikely.

Read “The District Doctor”

Saboteur | Ha Jin

Mr. Chiu and his new wife are having lunch at a train station when a police officer throws some tea on the ground, getting some on their feet. A disagreement ensues and Mr. Chiu is arrested. He’s held in prison without his medication even though he tells his captors that his hepatitis could flare up again.

The Use of Force | William Carlos Williams

A doctor makes a house call to examine a young girl. He finds that she has hidden the severity of her illness and she resists the examination, leading to a battle of wills.

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To Everything There is a Season | Alistair MacLeod

The narrator recounts a time when he was eleven, living on a farm, with Christmas approaching. His father hasn’t been well for over two years. The family is eagerly awaiting the return of the eldest brother, Neil, who works on a boat.

Silence | Leonid Andreyev

Father Ignatius and his wife try to find out what is wrong with Vera, their daughter, who stays in bed. She has recently returned from St. Petersburg, a trip her father didn’t approve of. Her condition has a powerful effect on everyone.

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Souvenir | Jayne Anne Phillips

Every year, Kate sends her mother a Valentine’s Day card, timed to arrive exactly on February 14th. This year she has forgotten. She calls her mother that evening instead. The next day she finds out that her mother is in the hospital.

Cathedral | Raymond Carver

A woman and a blind man have kept in contact for ten years, mailing tapes to each other. His wife has recently died, so he’s going to visit her family. On the way, he’s going to spend a night at the woman’s place with her new husband. Her husband isn’t looking forward to the visit.

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A Day’s Wait | Ernest Hemingway

A young boy has a temperature of a hundred and two. The doctor leaves three different pills and a schedule for taking them. His father attends to him while he stays in bed.

Read “A Day’s Wait”

A Man Who Had No Eyes | Mackinlay Kantor

A blind beggar comes down the street as Mr. Parsons comes out of his hotel. He feels pity for blind creatures and reflects on his own success. The man speaks to Parsons, and takes out an item that he’d like to sell.

“A Man Who Had No Eyes”

A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease | Jonathan Safran Foer

The narrator explains the meaning of many different unusual punctuation marks that are used in communication, mostly with family.

Read “A Primer for the Punctuation of Heart Disease”

In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried | Amy Hempel

The narrator visits her friend, who is dying of cancer, in a California hospital. The friend wants to talk about trivial things. They seem to have lost some of their closeness.

Read “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried”

One Reader Writes | Ernest Hemingway

A woman writes to an advice columnist about her husband. He returned from his military service with some kind of malady and she isn’t sure what to do.

Read “One Reader Writes”

Five-Twenty | Patrick White

The Natwicks like to sit on their veranda to watch the traffic. They are getting on in years. The husband, Royal, is in a wheelchair with a hernia, heart trouble, and severe arthritis. The wife, Ella, is still able to get around. They get used to seeing a man in a pink and brown Holden at five-twenty. We’re told about their earlier life, how they got together and the dynamic of their relationship.

Read “Five-Twenty”

Ghost Boy | Elinor Nash

Jake is a young teenager who is focused on the sounds in his home. He views his mother, father, and sister in an unusual way. He suffered a bike accident which has affected him a great deal.

Read “Ghost Boy”