Friday, May 25, 2007

Angels On My Shoulder

I’ve already admitted my hopeless addiction to med blogs. I read them for many reasons – filling my basic Peeping Tom needs, to have a great laugh, to hear about the ever-changing and politicizing of medical care, and to learn.

Their technical information has no rival, and I depend on this to keep my own characters real. Face it, watching Grey’s Anatomy for medical authenticity would be as big a disservice to my writing as my giving up eating Twinkies would be to the Hostess’ bottom line. I depend on these good docs’ stories to prevent me from looking like an idiot – a feat I can accomplish with my eyes closed.

When I sit down to write, my med blog buddies are little angels on my shoulder. Sid is the doc to go to when you need to know how to do an operation or what it feels like to hold an organ in your hand. From the laying of knife on skin to the poetry of a surgeon’s thoughts when opening up a patient – Sid’s your man. In fact, I have a folder in my writing folder labeled “Sid’s Tomes,” and it consists of bits and pieces of his blog I don’t want to forget when I’m writing.

Panda…a very intelligent man and a wonderful writer. I’ve told him that should the doc thing fail to work out for him he’d better become a writer. He’s an interesting mix. His anti-integrative medicine position is of particular value in helping me validate one of my main characters, but his refusal to open his mind a squidge frustrates me as well. Such is life, right? I admire him nonetheless. Panda’s a straight-shooter and his insights to the ever-growing political arena of medicine are of great value to my plot development.

Fingers is a wonderful angel whose stories of the ED at Crack City Hospital are beyond belief. Fingers is adept at showing extreme irony, humor, abject anger, and frustration. I’ll miss him greatly if he ever closes his blog. In fact, I’ll probably yank out a black armband and play dirges all day long.

I found M.D.O.D. fairly recently, and they’re fast becoming a major angel on my shoulder as well. They’re great for writing about the inane and amazing.

Medblog Addict. Okay, she offers zippo to my writing. She simply makes me laugh my fool head off. This helps a great deal when I have a tough scene to write. I’d love to have a pitcher of margaritas with her. She’s as crazy as I am.

They and others sit on my shoulder and whisper gently in my ear when I’m writing a scene. “No, Lynn, the patient wouldn’t be conscious if you’ve got his chest cracked open.” Okay, even I’m not that big of an idiot to write a scene like that. It’s the subtle things, like when my main character talks to a group of med students about what it’s like to do the initial incision. These angels help give my characters a soul, and I adore each and every one of them.

Serious Schmerious

I’ve had a couple really good posts started regarding the integrative medicine debate, but I’m feeling too saucy right now to finish them. Talking about serious issues requires serious thoughts, and I’m not in the mood for serious. For the first time in my little life, I’m an award-winning author. Despite how this must sound – like an ego driven scud – I’m savoring the moment because a group of important people decided my work was the best, and, damn, it feels real nice.

But it’s more than the accolades over my style, dialog and plot. It’s knowing that this story will be read and people will have the opportunity to think about medicine in a whole different way. I wrote it, but it’s Kim’s and Erik’s story. Sure, they’re fictional, though any writer will tell you they feel as real as your best friend, but the idea of them is very real and being played out in hospitals all over America.

So I’m going to go to New York and accept my gold medal. I have a fancy schmancy new outfit that even my 20 yr.-old daughter approves of. I’m going to hug my hubby and my two kids, accept the back-slapping "atta-girl" from our company's distributor, drink some champagne and have a great time. And after the long week of showing at the BEA is over, I’m going to come home and finish Book 2.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Final Results for the IPPYs

Wow. Just plain wow. I won an IPPY.

Donovan’s Paradigm won an IPPY.

The IPPYs are the big kahuna of the independent publisher’s award competitions, and I won the Gold in my category of Visionary Fiction. I’m still in shock about it all. When I think of the journey this book and I have taken and the crap I took to get to this point, I get a little faint. From scam publisher, to fighting for my rights, to rewriting it, to republishing it, to an IPPY – this book has done it all. And it’s all Mom’s fault. She’s the one who told me I should write a book.
Ma, sorry it wasn’t the book you thought I’d write, but I think we did okay. J I’m drinkin’ to Kim and Erik tonight!

What the hell Visionary Fiction? “Visionary fiction” is fiction in which the expansion of the human mind drives the plot.

What’s really cool is that these guys throw the very best parties to boot – first class all the way. New York, here I come.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Integrative Medicine - Quakery or Viable Inclusion?

Playing devil’s advocate in a work of fiction is a luxury because you can allow your characters to assume all kinds of biases. This luxury is also a double-edged sword because there’s always the risk of the writer’s personal bias to sneak inside. I kept that in mind when I read Panda Bear M.D.’s blog about integrative medicine. Reading his words, I thrust my arm in the air and yelled, “Yes! I so got the part of my character right.” I was thrilled. I’d nailed the arguments against integrative medicine perfectly. I wanted a controversial and substantive plot and couldn’t have chosen a better subject than integrative modality’s advance into allopathic medicine.

But then I lowered my arm and sobered up. Panda’s words cut into me like a knife, and I felt like he was calling me a fraud and nutjob. I’ll accept that I may be a nutjob, but I won’t accept that I’m a fraud. I respect the hell out of Panda’s vast intelligence, his writing skills, and his thorough treatment of every subject he discusses. Reading his blog is one of the highlights of my day. I’m not upset that he hates integrative medicine –that’s his right, and I’d never try to dissuade him or anyone else.

My sorrow stems from the fact that he refuses to entertain the notion that integrative care could have some validity, and he lumps virtually all integrative approaches into the same basket – which I’ll also grant is his right. But is it correct to do so? Are all forms of integrative medicine bad or are some modalities actually good? Many docs’ opinions are that none of these types of healers make a difference and therein lies what I see as a gaping hole in medicine. Is there no wiggle room to be had?

I know my fictional character of Erik Behler offered zero wiggle room in his views and took every opportunity to ridicule integrative medicine into the ground. His lack of respect was something I needed (and knew existed) to maintain balance in my story about two passionate docs who have vastly differing opinions about medicine.

My own beliefs are that anything leaning too far to any particular side excludes potentially important and legitimate arguments. How can medicine deal in absolutes when we don’t have all the answers? Should we blithely agree that docs and scientists have a totalitarian view with respect to healing and no one else is allowed a viable opinion? And if so, who decides what’s viable? Do docs really have all the unimpeachable answers on how and why the body heals? Are we convinced beyond the shadow of a doubt that the mind plays no role whatsoever in healing? If not, how do we know this? Just because we can’t measure it doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. If that’s the case, how does this compare to what cardiologists have been saying for years – stress kills. Is that not a mind/body connection?

And what of those cases when medicine loses the fight and the patient should have died, was supposed to die, and didn’t? One of my doc friends calls those BTFOOM cases (Beats The Fuck Out Of Me). Is it fair to assume that there are no other factors other than medicine at play in terms of healing? A few of my doc friends admit that a patient’s strong family ties or that inexplicable will to live help supersede death’s best efforts – they simply didn’t have the answers. They agreed that there are times when remission happens and isn’t because of anything they’ve done. Cardiovascular surgeon, Dr. Mehmet Oz, wrote Healing From the Heart , and it talks about these enigmatic aspects of healing.

Most scientists’ derision about integrative care is that it can’t be tested under a microscope, and they’re right. Is it unreasonable to require this? After all, medicine has these standards, so why shouldn’t integrative medicine shoulder the same burden? My answer is that you’re dealing with something intangible, like love. The only way to quantify its benefits (or lack thereof) is in patient results. But because it can’t be measured, does this make the treatment any the less potent or practical? Does this mean the possibility of healing through holistics doesn’t exist? It’s like being patriotic. You can’t do a CAT scan and say, “Yep, there it is, unequivocal proof that patriotism exists…it’s right next to the diaphragm.” There are some things we accept on faith because enough people experience the feeling. It’s part of our paradigm. But what if the paradigm needs to be updated to ponder and possibly accept previously ridiculed ideas?

I can’t argue on the same level with Panda because he’s a scientist and I’m a writer. Sure, I’ve done a ton of research and, in fact, came into researching integrative medicine with anything but an open mind. My skepticism was the fulcrum to both sides of the integrative seesaw. It was never my goal to write an agenda story, but to present two compelling arguments and allow the reader to make up their own minds. That I wrapped the whole thing up inside two appealing characters was icing on the cake. I sought out the most strange, weird ass integrative modality I could find, and this led me to Reiki – I can see Panda rolling his eyes now – and I came out so impressed with it that I ended up studying it into Mastership.

After a few Reiki sessions (if I was going to write about it, I had to experience it), I found that I couldn’t tolerate my medications. This was like flipping a light switch. Within a month of those sessions, I was off my meds. Blood tests proved that I was fine. Seven years later, I’m still fine and off meds.

My doc’s reaction? “BTFOOM.”

Docs ask for proof, as they wisely should. I have none to offer other than I’m healthier than I was before and am off all meds. In fact, I have nothing of persuasive value other than I feel better than I’ve ever felt before. If I get sick, the first place I go is my doc. I’d never give up going to doctors. If I needed surgery, I’d have it. My beliefs are that of true integration. I think it’s important for patients to have a participatory hand in their healing.

So many times people get really sick and they’re whisked off to chemo or radiation. The docs are busy concentrating on the tumor. But who’s concentrating on the patient? Patients need to have a participatory role regarding their convalescence, and this is where integrative medicine comes into play. Have the chemo, the radiation. But also have the Reiki, hypnotherapy, biofeedback or green tea. In order to have a healthy body you have to have a healthy mind. I’d like to think that given these parameters, even Panda could find some wiggle room.

I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind. My sole intent is to offer what I hope is a balanced response to a controversial issue.

Monday, May 07, 2007

IPPY Semi-Finalist? Moi?

I just found out my book is a semi-finalist in the IPPYs. I entered several of our stronger new titles ages ago, one of which is also a semi-finalist (Body Trauma), and tossed mine in at the last moment on a lark. Wow. I think I'll go howl at the moon, drink some wine and hug my husband. He's the one who would take a dirty dish out of my hand or take over the laundry and tell me to go write.

This is a thought-provoking book as well as controversial, and it was always my hope that people would be enlightened as well as entertained. But it's a long thing - 454 pages - and I never dreamed it would catch the notice of a group of judges. When I got the notice yesterday, I sat back and ran my fingers along the book cover and thanked my two characters. Kim, Erik, even though you two are always at each other's throats, you guys rock.

Friday, May 04, 2007

The One That Didn't Get Away

Tomorrow is our anniversary. I know, Cinqo de Drinko…that’s what everybody tells me. When we set our wedding date 28 years ago, I had no idea it was anything special other than my father-in-law’s birthday. Hubby figured he’d never forget our anniversary that way. Smart man - he never has. I, on the other hand, have been caught with my synapses misfiring more than once. You know how hard it is to fake like you haven’t forgotten your anniversary? It’s not like I can accuse the dog of eating my anniversary card because hubby knows the dog would deposit it on his side of the bed.

People seem genuinely shocked that we’ve been married this long. I simply reply that the man is habit forming. Actually, it was an arranged marriage. By my dad. In Saudi Arabia. Okay, not really. In a prior lifetime hubby worked for my dad in Saudi Arabia back in the oil heyday. I came over for the summer, dad introduced us. Seemed pretty goofy to fly 10,000 miles to meet a guy from Long Beach – thirty miles from where I grew up. Anyway, we got married ten months later. I shudder when I think of the giant leap of faith I was taking. After all, three of those ten months then-boyfriend was still in The Land of Sand. But I figured my dad would never introduce me to an idiot.

I’ve blessed my dad’s interference with my love life for 28 years – he picked me a good ‘un. Hubby has always believed in me, respected my opinions and encouraged me to follow my dreams. He learned early on that I was missing the domestic goddess gene and could burn water at the drop of a hat. He’s made me laugh and made me think. I’m a better person for being married to this guy. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

Happy anniversary, Fredster. You rock.

Gee, guess my mind wasn’t blank after all.

There Are Times When Fiction Can’t Compete With Reality

I work very hard at insuring my writing is clever and realistic and understand there are some things that medicine simply cannot do – like a complete brain transplant. I leave the brain transplants to my science fiction writer friends. But every now and then reality dares to slam up against stuff that makes one roll their eyes and say, “Uh huh, yeah. Sure. Do I look like an idiot?”

Case in point: I was reading M.D.O.D.’s medblog today and he has this post about a benign ovarian tumor the size of a small car. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but not by much. What impressed me is that the woman had no idea this extra passenger was on board. I mean, come on, I can tell when I’ve eaten one too many Twinkies, so how does one miss a 65 pound tumor? It’s one of those nagging questions that haunt me at 2 am.

I’m not a doc, so I have the luxury of grossing out at the thought of massive amounts of blood and flotsam surrounding me. But I will admit to being damned intrigued as to how surgeons remove a behemoth like that. Do they use cherry pickers? I can see it now:

Dr. Cutsalot: “Okay, Bart, y’all back up that thar cherry picker…come on, boy, don’t be shy, it ain’t gonna jump out and beg to marry your next ‘o kin.”

I’m in awe of the human body’s tolerance levels that can allow such an invasion of something that clearly has no business being there. I’m equally in awe of docs who can remove it. But, boyo, I’d give my stash of Twinkies to hear their conversation.