I am a writer as well as a doctor. My heroes are Keats, Chekhov, Williams, Coulehan, Coles, and other physician writers. And those greats of medicine too, known and unknown, who have spent their lives caring for people.
My writing is short. Really short. If it isn’t poetry, it scans like poetry. And one act plays. As in The Ride, my latest collection. Someone said if you can’t write poetry, you write something else. That guy was me.
So I was on vacation and looking for ideas for a long form piece. Background, inciting event, first-act turn, the back and forth of act two, and the third act, with the climax and conclusion. Get into a scene late and out early. Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. Cut the beginning and cut the end. If you can’t tell a story with nouns and verbs, don’t bother. That sort of thing. But I was coming up with nothing.
I was soaking in the pool and in splashed a kid. Full of typical thirteen year old joy. Except he had scars from his tummy to his neck and a tracheostomy scar at the top. He offered his hand and from his speech, I could tell he was deaf. He was a good lip-reader, though his parents also signed to him.
He turned out to be the oldest living patient with his syndrome, which included Ondine’s Curse — whenever he went to sleep he stopped breathing. He had an electrical glitch in his brain. He slept every night of his life with a nurse and a breathing monitor.
The next day I went to meet a guy who made the best musical instrument of its kind in the world. In the interests of privacy, I’ll say the instrument is tiny and made of wood. Turns out neither he nor his number two guy can sleep. I told him he had sleep apnea and his number two probably had periodic limb movement disorder. Both were easy fixes.
I went back to the pool, and in jumps a seventy year old with polymyalgia rheumatica. I know his history before he told it. Though he’d had a full life, his mind was as bitter as bile.
None of these people knew I was a doc, except for the luthier, at the very end. I just couldn’t keep quiet on that one.
Lives focused through the lens of medicine will burn your eyes if you look directly at them. So I look to the side when I’m out of the office. Still, the lens never turns completely off.
So where was I? Inciting event, character …
Vernon Rowe is a neurologist and the founder of MidAmerica Neuroscience Institute who blogs at NeuroNews.
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