I’m honored to have had the chance to interview CJ Lyons, past pediatric ER doctor and now full-time author extraordinaire. If you haven’t checked out CJ’s books, now is time time, particularly if you’re a fan of medical thrillers.
Today we’re going to focus on aspects of medicine in writing. On Wednesday, we’ll focus just on the writing craft.
Jordyn: Thanks so much for stopping by. It’s my great honor to have you here. Redwood’s Medical Edge is all about dispelling medical myth. Along those lines, what do you see as the most common medical mistakes perpetuated in fiction writing?
CJ: The most common (and irritating) mistakes I see deal with the characters. For instance, the popular TV show Grey’s Anatomy has interns, who’d be maybe 25 years old, sleeping with “world renown” surgical attendings…well, to be a “world renown” neurosurgeon you’d have to have 12 years of primary education, 4 years of college, 4 years of medical school, 7 years of residency, probably another 3 year fellowship, and then be in practice a long time, at least 5-10 years…so the 25 year old intern’s love interest would be old enough to be her father! Gross!
Not only that, a surgical intern doesn’t have time to sleep or bathe (interns eat on the run) so sex isn’t the first thing you think of doing when you finally do make it to a call room.
Don’t even get me started on stories where a “doctor” can do everything from take x-rays (99.9% of us wouldn’t even know where the “on” button is) to diagnose rare diseases from glancing into a microscope to doing brain surgery one minute and heart surgery the next…while I love the idea of doctors being heroes, let’s at least make us human.
Oh, and I’ve only met two physicians who drove Porsches, both orthopedic surgeons, freshly divorced and shopping for new wives. At the community pediatric practice where I worked, the guys who plowed the snow were paid more than we were. So just because a character is a doctor doesn’t mean they’re rich.
Jordyn: What about the most common medical myths?
CJ: Those magical “blacked out” incidents. Where the character is hit on the head and wakes eight hours later in perfect condition, ready to chase after the bad guys…or the Taser hit that instead of lasting the five seconds it does in real life, knocks someone out for a prolonged time.
Sorry. In real life, your guy with the head injury would probably be dead or dying of a brain bleed and people who are Tasered don’t black out at all (although they might wish they did)—in fact some of them stay perfectly functional while being Tased, much to police officers’ dismay.
Jordyn: I read with interest that you had worked with a community group of pediatricians that served an Amish community. Amish books are selling briskly on the inspirational market. Do the Amish have any medical beliefs that differ from western medicine? What are some of the unique aspects of working within the Amish community as a doctor?
CJ: We had a variety of patients when I was working at a community pediatric practice in Pennsylvania, including Amish. But also Chinese, Russian, Pakistani, Turkish….and every demographic from the very poor to millionaires who kept their family home in our idyllic mountain setting and flew their privates jets to and from their offices in DC or NYC every week. It was a great experience, because like the ER, you learned very quickly not to judge anyone because of their appearance or accent or attitude.
Jordyn: You spoke once about how you had a fascination with ghost stories. Speaking as a physician, do you have any thoughts on near-death experiences and what they might mean?
CJ: I think there’s more going on in the universe than we understand or can imagine. It’s hubris to think we have all the answers—or ever will. As for near-death experiences, I actually used one in Borrowed Time to set things up for the main character. She’s a cop, shot and killed in the line of duty on page 3, and brought back to life by a trauma surgeon. But she’s now seeing things, visions of other people’s deaths, and suddenly everything she once had faith in: her abilities as a cop, her trust in herself and her fellow officers, even her sanity is questioned.
Jordyn: What are three things you’d like President Obama to know about the healthcare system after serving families for seventeen years as a physician.
CJ: Not just the president, but everyone. First, just because kids don’t vote shouldn’t mean that their health care is put last. It should be top priority along with education and feeding them. Without healthy kids energized to learn the skills they need to take us into the next century, we have no future.
Second, there is no universal formula doctors can follow. Yes, we need evidence based medicine to help us tailor our choices, but it can’t be about cost, it has to be about effectiveness, about what’s best for the patient in front of us here and now.
Third, from my point of view as a physician on the front lines, the HMOs already cut all the fat from the medical field and put that cash into their own pockets decades ago. The only place left to cut now is trimming the bureaucracy. Which would not only save money but improve health care quality because then doctors would have time to spend with patients instead of wasting it arguing with administrators.
As a pediatric ER doctor, New York Times Bestseller CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge Thrillers with Heart.
CJ has been called a “master within the genre” (Pittsburgh Magazine) and her work has been praised as “breathtakingly fast-paced” and “riveting” (Publishers Weekly) with “characters with beating hearts and three dimensions” (Newsday). You can find out more about C.J. by visiting her website: http://cjlyons.net/