On my recent tour of indie mystery bookstores, several readers asked whether I missed practicing medicine. My answer was to the effect that my head has always known that trying to help people with medical problems is more important than putting words up on a computer screen, but my heart and gut just don't get it. I'm now into my eighteenth year of full-time writing, and have never looked back with regret.
Still, during the tour, I had a couple of poignant reminders that my time in medicine did have rewards beyond providing background material for murder mysteries.
For the past twenty-seven years, I've scrupulously avoided releasing the name of my patient who delivered the Pacific Northwest's first in vitro fertilization baby - but there she was at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop Debut Signing, dispensing hugs to all of us who'd participated in her success, and saying "I was Number One!" to anybody who didn't already know. Well, okay. Her prerogative.
Another customer at SMB was a patient who'd suffered several mid-trimester pregnancy losses, but was finally able to carry a baby to term after a surgical procedure to strengthen her cervix. More hugs, more happy exclamations.
Then, at the Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, who should come by but a couple who had just retired to Arizona. Thirty-four years ago, the husband's brother, a medical colleague, had asked me to keep a lookout for a newborn that his brother and sister-in-law might adopt. I told him I thought the odds were mighty low, so of course, the very next week, I got word that a single teenager on the Family Practice Service had given birth, and wanted to put her baby up for adoption. I called the prospective adopters, and they contacted a lawyer, who had some concerns regarding the birth mother's mental capacities. He worried that the baby might be similarly affected. "What you're seeing is depression," I told him. "If you were 16 years old, single, and had just had a baby you were giving up for adoption, you'd be a little depressed yourself." He agreed, and the adoption went ahead. The baby now has a family of her own, and holds a job that requires pretty high-level brainwork.
My patients' outcomes were not always good. But some of the victories were spectacular, and even after all these years, they make me feel that those days, nights, and weekends on call just might've been worthwhile. But when someone at one of the bookstores asked whether I might ever go back to medical work, the head went with the heart and the gut. My headshake was prompt and firm.