Some people have noted my relative absence from community events and performing over the last two years. There are rumors that a few even miss me. Where have I been?
I have been writing. I have two books coming out over the next half year, Staying Alive: The Signs that You Have to See a Doctor Right Now (and the Ways to Avoid Having to See One Again), comes out in January 2017, and Distracted: How Regulations are Destroying the Practice of Medicine and Preventing True Health Care Reform (both have kind of long titles, I know) will be out in June 2017. Both are being put out by Skyhorse Publishing.
The big problem is that writing books, at least for me, takes a lot of work and a lot of time. But with my very active medical practice, time is not something I have a great deal of. So, my writing takes place primarily in weekends, but also early morning and after work in the evening—hence, my absence.
But what triggered all this, you might wonder? I decided to try and write a book in November 2014 as a way to recover from that year’s elections. I had done a great deal of work to help an independent candidate run for the U.S. House of Representatives. He was soundly defeated. We knew that this was the likelihood when we undertook the campaign, but felt it was the right thing to do, nonetheless. Despite that, I was demoralized by the experience, but even more by the general direction of American politics, which were so obviously circling the drain.
But rather than despair or pout, I decided I needed to do something positive—sulking is not my style. So I decided to write a book (actually, it was two books at the time) about a couple of topics I had been thinking about for some time.
The working title for the first was Staying Alive: 62 Medical Complaints That Should Never Be Ignored. The initial inspiration for this book was an incident that took place at a well-attended 4th of July party that took place shortly after I began practicing. As can happen at such social events, some of the party-goers partook in a certain substance, legal in some states now, but still illegal in most. But, for whatever reason—maybe they had a little too much, or maybe it was the heat that day—one of them became dizzy and then passed out briefly. I was quickly called to the scene. I got my medical bag and began to assess the patient. However, seeing what was going on, another party-goer, who I believe had also partaken in the same substance, became upset and they also became lightheaded and then passed out briefly. So, now I had two patients to assess…at a party!
Both turned out to be fine. But shortly thereafter a number of patients came to see me who had witnessed the event, and were concerned because, under similar circumstances, they had experienced similar (though less severe) symptoms. They had all conferred, I believe, and were concerned that these incidents meant that they were at risk, or even about to have a stroke. Dizziness was one possible symptom of stroke, they had heard.
At the appointments, we discussed the symptoms of stroke, and when and how quickly one needed to respond if stroke were a real possibility.
Oddly enough, periodically, at other get-togethers (none of which I attended, mind you, just so you don’t get the wrong idea) where people were partaking in this same substance, similar things happened a number of times, and after each episode, a wave of patients, other attendees at these gatherings, would consult me to discuss the signs of a stroke.
I began to think that I should put together a community lecture regarding the signs of stroke, as well as a few other important medical signs of which people should be aware, and prepared to handle.
In addition, over the years, I had seen any number of cases where patients complained of a classic symptom, an obvious sign of serious illness, that they had been experiencing for a prolonged period. Unfortunately, they had waited to come in, not knowing the significance, or maybe denying the significance, of their symptoms. Too often the diagnosis came too late. Had we caught the illness earlier, it may have been treatable. So, this was an issue that had been on my mind and that which became the basis for book number one.
Something else that has been on my mind over the years is what a doctor can do to effectively get patients to take better care of themselves—to eat better and to exercise more. As a family doctor, I spend a substantial portion of each day in the office dealing with the profound effects of chronic diseases such as type 2 Diabetes and cardiovascular disease, both of which are largely preventable conditions. Despite the fact that these conditions are preventable, they remain among the top killers in the nation.
I had used many techniques and approaches over the years to encourage patients to take better care of themselves, and even organized a number of community programs that focused on the same things. With time, I developed an approach that enabled me, in very little time during an appointment, to identify a patient’s main eating and exercise issues and barriers, which we then turned into a simple plan for improvement. This approach was quite effective for many of my patients. Patients liked the simplicity of the plans that I developed for them. The approach was so simple that I guessed that it was also something that, with a little guidance, patients (maybe with the help of their physicians), could do on their own. This idea became the Be Healthy! Workbook.
So, during late 2014 and then much of 2015 I worked on these two separate books. When I felt they were ready, I shared them with publisher friend, Beth Rowland. She felt I had something, helped me with editing, and agreed to pitch the books to Skyhorse Publishing, her husband Tim Rowland’s publisher.
Beth’s response was so positive that I ran an idea for a third book by her. More and more, my staff and I do battle against a health care system that keeps us from taking care of our patients. Between the burgeoning requirements of a government health care bureaucracy gone mad, and a health insurance industry essentially designed to limit patients’ access to necessary care, doctors and other health care professionals find themselves dealing more with distractions than actual patient care. The situation is dangerous and demoralizing for doctors and their patients. Telling that story, one that I believe too few are familiar with, in addition to common sense ways we can do far better (as opposed to current government plans), is the idea underlying Distracted.
Beth liked this idea, as well, and pitched the two already-written books, along with a one-page summary of Distracted, to Skyhorse. Much to my surprise, they were interested in all three books. They asked me to combine Staying Alive and the Be Healthy! Workbook into one book because both were a little short on their own. With a little work, this became Staying Alive: The Signs that You Have to See a Doctor Right Now (and the Ways to Avoid Having to See One Again). I am very proud of the work, and I think the book has the potential to save many lives.
Skyhorse gave me about nine months (January to September 2016) to complete Distracted. I found writing this one incredibly challenging. But the process (and the struggle) informed my thinking about the subject of health care reform, and what resulted is actually far better (and a far more entertaining read), I think, than the book I had originally conceived. It is a unique take on what is wrong with health care, as well as what we can do to fix things. It is also very different from any other take on the subject that I have read before. It has also been a very therapeutic process for me, making me feel that I might be able to contribute in some way to fixing the broken and dangerous American health care system.
So, in case you were wondering, that’s where I’ve been for the past two years.