Friday, August 23, 2013

PMHx Update: The Critics, Part 1

We are getting very close to submitting the final version of Past Medical History to the printer. 

The long wait has produced a few new, positive developments, including the addition of a handful of drawings to illustrate each section of the book, and the layout and design process has revealed a few telltale typos that needed to be buffed away.

And we’re still receiving some helpful comments from a select group of previewers. 

I may have mentioned this before, but it is remarkable how differently MDs and Non-MDs have responded to the manuscript, and the results, however unscientific, are holding true to form:

Non-medical readers really seem to like the hodgepodge of stories in this anthology, and appreciate the sometimes dramatically different writing styles and story lengths that vary from piece to piece.

Docs are proving to be more technically critical of the changing formats within the collection, and have suggested various ways of homogenizing the text, such as eliminating the shorter sections altogether and expanding the larger stories, or coalescing them all into a single narrative. One suggested that I hire a ghostwriter to turn my story into a novel. (All good, constructive input, certainly - just not in line with how this project has developed, and not the way the author cares to present the material.)

The majority of the physicians who have perused the manuscript also agree that I am perhaps a bit oversensitive in recalling my medical training, suggesting that I have used the occasion of these memoirs to somehow ‘justify’ my decision to leave medicine by unnecessarily bashing the longstanding traditions of medical education.

Ironically, non-medical reviewers have taken the opposite approach, wondering how I could (how, in fact, anyone could) endure five years and more of the impersonal treatment that constitutes a modern medical education without exiting, stage right, at the first sign of trouble.

I fully expect after publishing Past Medical History to hear again the familiar litany of objections that have been leveled at me for nearly thirty years: Why did you waste this rare opportunity? Why didn't you shift to a different specialty? Why did you dare to take the place of another qualified candidate if you knew you were just going to leave?

How different might it be to consider that I didn't make a mistake at all by going through the whole process? In fact, if I had it to do all over again, I would likely follow the same path as before, and jump off the train at precisely the same moment – the moment when I realized I could not live under the conditions presented either to me or to my patients, and that there was no way, in the short or long term, that I could make a meaningful change in the way medicine was being taught or practiced.

Fortunately, medical school and a good strong taste of surgical residency were the perfect cure for my lifelong desire to become a doctor, and the perfect training for creating my own brand of multi-layered artwork. This rocky path was in fact the ideal preparation for exactly what I am doing right now, and for that I am grateful. 

There’s another story layered somewhere deep in that realization, I'm sure, the details of which will have to wait for a later blog entry – or another book.

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