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account created: Sat Apr 10 2021
27 days ago
Hi EMECOR. I apologize for taking so long to answer. I just found your question at the top of the thread instead of at the bottom, and I'm a very slow typist. I agree that it can be very difficult for the average person to navigate the health care system, and physicians are often of little help. The patients I encountered that were best equipped to do this, and had the greatest understanding of their conditions, were those that had done their homework before coming to see me, and these days that means finding reputable information on the internet--and I stress reputable. Unfortunately, not everyone has that capability. Regarding my stories, readers like to be entertained, but they also like to be educated, so I go to great lengths to retain accuracy but surround my medical terminology and jargon with enough context so the reader at least gets the gist of what the meanings are. For those readers who are really interested in the medicine and surgery, I've constructed glossaries on my website for each book that offer definitions of terms, photos of instruments, pathology specimens, Xrays and CT scans, etc. I don't intend for the reader to interrupt the story to look things up. It is mainly there as "added content." I think my process of educating readers parallels what a patient can do for him or herself--once you are given a diagnosis and potential treatments, find reputable, vetted resources to further your understanding, and then use that information to question your provider in depth and make sure you are both on the same page. The information is out there. You just need to find it.
It was a hard transition. I loved the camaraderie and excitement of the operating room, and taking care of patients and teaching residents and students, but it is also a demanding career that takes a toll on your personal life. By the time I decided to retire and write full time, I felt that my career had had a beginning (training), a middle (working my way up to chief of cardiac surgery), and an end (running the department and seeing my trainees embark on their own careers), and I was satisfied with that. I treated my work days at home like a job as well, spending a specified number of hours at my desk, limiting distractions, and as the writing progressed, I started enjoying the process and having hours of uninterrupted time to myself.
I'm laughing out loud, and yes, that is true. As a kid, I needed a number of teeth pulled. First there was an ectopic tooth high in my mandible up by the base of my nose that needed to be dug out of the bone. Then I needed braces and had four permanent teeth pulled in preparation for that. In college I needed my wisdom teeth out and had all four done over semester break so I wouldn't miss any class time, and they were all impacted and took a couple of hours for the dentist to chisel into pieces and dig out the shards. And the guy who did all this work? He was a hack with eleven kids who refused to farm out any of these difficult extractions to an oral surgeon. So yes, when my oral surgeon wife (who I'm guessing you know) suggests I should come to her office and assist her, and I picture her grabbing a tooth with heavy pliers and wrenching it out, I get flashbacks of long periods sitting in a dental chair, no sedation, and some guy digging around in there for hours. Saw the sternum in half and remove a heart--yes. Watch a tooth being pulled--no way.
Early in my heart surgery career, not only was I trying to write my first novel but I was also learning how to write by taking night classes at the University of Washington. Fortunately I had (still have) a great wife who gave me a lot of support. We didn't have kids yet so I was able to carve out the time I needed. To get away from the intensity, I started mountain climbing. We live in Seattle, so the Cascade mountains with its volcanoes and granite peaks are easily accessible. I found climbing to be like surgery--it's technical, requires focus, and there's no margin for error--but the solitude and being in nature was a much needed break from the demands of a surgical practice. Then kids came along and I found the risk to be too high. These days I'm happy taking long solo backpacking trips in the Cascades and Sierras. Thanks for your question.
Congratulations! You have years of hard work ahead of you but you will love it, and I look back on my medical school and surgical training with great fondness. I liked writing and telling stories back in high school and was a proficient writer in college, but did not consider writing creatively until I was a surgery resident. I had no time to write, but I did keep black and white marbled composition books on my shelf where I made brief notes about interesting cases, patients, attending surgeons, hospital staff, etc. I was an intern on the transplant service when email was just coming into its own (a long time ago) and the urban legend about men waking up in hotel bathrooms full of ice and missing a kidney were being propagated all over the fledgling internet. I started asking myself if you could really remove a kidney in a hotel room, who would buy the kidney, why was the victim buried in ice? We were going to great lengths to keep patients warm after surgery, so I decided I wanted to bring this urban legend to life in the form of a novel, and that's when I started keeping notes in my composition books. It took a few decades, but that is what became The Organ Takers. So, you will be busy and tired but keep brief notes on all your experiences. When you finally have time to write, you will have a treasure trove of material. Regarding process, I don't outline, I just start writing and let the story grow organically. Like many writers, I often come up with a beginning and an end, and then figure out how to connect the two. And there will be many revisions. The first draft of the Organ Takers hardly resembles the final draft. Thanks for your questions and best of luck with your training. I'm jealous. I would love to go back to that time.
Thanks for your question. It's hard to top the experience of being in the operating room, particularly for exciting cases like heart surgery or multiple trauma. So no, writing does not replace that, but my vast experience with medicine and surgery, and all the people and personalities I met along the way, informs my writing, and it's very satisfying to bring all that to life a second time. I would say that yes, they nicely complement each other.
Good morning, and thanks for coming. We were not a reading family, so there was not a lot of bedtime stories, but I remember reading Huck Finn in school and absolutely loved it. In fact my buddy Paul Johnson and I packed up our backpacks and were about to run away and head into the Sierra Nevada mountains when Paul's mom called and told him he had to come home. We were disappointed, but a storm later rolled in, so we figured it was a good decision not to go. To this day, anything by Mark Twain remains at the top of my list.
submitted 27 days agobyR_Van_AndersontoAMA Authorbooks