Sunday, April 29, 2007

"Why Do You Write?"

It was an interesting question that someone asked me the other day as she bought my book. She was standing in front of me at the checkout line at the bookstore and had my book in her arm. While reading the back of the cover, she happened to look back at me. Getting an eyeful, she knit her eyebrows and looked back at the book. While she did the double take, I tried very hard not to wet my pants. I mean, come on, how many of us have that kind of thing happen? I'm not John Lescroart (my hero) or anything. It was a huge honor, and all I could think about doing is rushing home to call my mother.

My immediate thought to her question was to get all self-important and hand out some esoteric pile of dribble. But then I stopped because I could see she really wanted to know – not in a challenging way – but a, “I really want to know what drives someone to sit on their butterks for hours on end and bang out a story.”

I told her the truth – that I had a story burning inside me that wouldn’t go away, much like the tax man. But I went home and really thought about it. Why do I write? And why do I write what I write?

I had the basic groundwork for my first book for about ten years. Why did I chose docs, especially surgeons? I have no flipping idea. I know it’s an admiration thing since docs have this mystique thing going on by the merits of their jobs. To this day, it still boggles my mind to think that a surgeon can open someone up, rummage around, cut and snip a few things and close the person back up. And they live! I mean, I always have left-over pieces when I finish a project, don’t you? I’d be the type that would close up and discover I forgot to put the liver back in.

It’s a noble profession. Despite patients who hurl invectives that would peel paint off the wall, docs still go in and do the job. I have to admit that in my day job, if a submitting writer is a total snot bag to me, I have the luxury of finding a rejection slip pretty darn fast. So this world of walking dichotomies intrigued me, and I wanted to get inside their heads to see what they feel – if they feel. I’ve been very pleasantly surprised and honored to be allowed into their world to see their vulnerabilities, their fears, their heartbreaks, and their triumphs. Because of their openness, I was able to create a foundation upon which to build the story that had been burning inside for a long time.

Gee, I suppose in retrospect it would have been easier to simply point the woman in the bookstore to my blog, huh?

Photo: Special thanks to Dave Page, M.D., author of Body Trauma: The Writer’s Guide to Wounds and Injuries. He returns all the body parts where they belong, too.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Keep Your Calculator Off My Stethoscope

“People need to take a close look at why this physician is frustrated if they want to understand the major threats to quality medical care in the US.”

I saw this comment on my blog, and it really jarred me. Of course, I knew this to be true – that docs are growing more and more frustrated every day – but when I took this simple remark down to its lowest common denominator it scared the crap out of me. We are the most powerful nation in the world, and our lives are being eroded by the bureaucracy – those bean counters with calculators in their pockets and accounting degrees on their walls.

I’m not a doc, but I write at great length about them, their lives, their vulnerabilities, what makes them tick. Because of this, I have a great affinity for their ability to tuck their uphill battles in their front pockets and get on with the job of helping people. But it shouldn’t be any great surprise that at some point those front pockets get too stuffed, and the frustrations come pouring out. What is the next move; continue on or quit? It’s an idea I’ve given thought about inflicting on one of my main characters because its social relevance affects us all.

Charity Doc, in his goodbye post (though I’m beyond giddy that he’s resumed posting again) said that he’d had it with being told how to treat his patients. If this is going to continue, and there’s no reason to believe that it won’t, what’s to become of the quality of our medical care? Will this be a case where only the clinically insane decide to become doctors while the truly smart ones opt for occupations that allow for more autonomy?

And what of us? The patients? Are we destined to be butchered or misdiagnosed by those with fewer firing synapses? From where I’m sitting, those who have their fingers on the carotid artery of health care are tying docs’ hands and forcing them out of their jobs. Those of us who have viable brain cells understand that the future picture is growing bleak. You cannot continuously kill the cash cow and expect it to continue to give milk.

At any rate, after I finish Book 3, I’m going to revisit this idea. And you know what saddens me the most? I’ll have a very ripe research pool.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Brevity At Its Best

As writers, we’re always told that an economy of words is most effective. This highlights what I mean:

A college class was told they had to write a short story using as few words as possible. The story had to contain the following criteria:

  1. Religion
  2. Sexuality
  3. Mystery

The A+ student out of the entire class wrote:

“Good God, I’m pregnant; I wonder who did it.”


Saturday, April 07, 2007

Medicine Takes A Loss

I’m so sad today. In the course of drinking my morning cuppa, I saw that one of my favorite medbloggers, Charity Doc, has called it quits. His posts made me laugh and cry as he detailed his life as head of ED at Crack City Medical Center. He’s leaving for the most tragic of all reasons – the hospital administrators are telling him how to practice medicine.

The day a doctor is told what tests he/she is allowed to run by someone wearing a suit and calculator is the day we should all start asking ourselves, “Who is John Galt?” Ayn Rand, I’d like to think you’re turning over in your grave to watch our country wither from within. The engineers who work todilute everything that made America strong have taken over without firing a single shot. Dollars and power now take precedence over human value.

As a writer of medical fiction, I wonder if future generations will pick up my book and wonder what a surgeon or an ER doc is. I suddenly feel as irrelevant as Charity Doc now feels.

Charity, you don’t know me from Adam, but I’ll miss you. Worse, yet, your patients will miss you. Thank you for touching my life with your humor, pain and wit.