Monday, July 7, 2008

Speak Medical?

As I prepare to sit down and start revisions on THE HEALER'S HEART, I'm going over the suggestions/comments/questions from my Tyndale House editors. One comment that made this author's heart go pitter patter with glee (and a distinct measure of relief) was something like: "Ooh, yes. Give us more medical scenes--we love those."

The editors were referring to action scenes that are set in my fictitious Gold Rush ER and depict events like: the aftermath of a propane explosion at a daycare, cardiac arrest of a 60-year old teacher, a toddler's critical asthma attack, and treatment of a nurse nearly killed in an auto accident. Plus a few "walk-ons" by a tattooed drunk with wounds from a broken bottle brawl, a two-year old with a blue plastic Lego stuck up her nose . . . you know, the usual. Wait. I should qualify that: Usual for ME. Because I lived in scrubs for over 30 years, and the hospital--the ER--was my second home. A home with iodine-stained flooring, inhumane flourescent lights, bad coffee, sirens, screams, shouts, nervous laughter, truly funky smells, moments of serious danger . . . and where the primary language spoken is Medical. Sometimes with foreign accents, granted, but still Medical. In fact, I speak, write, and even sometimes still dream in this curious language.

Which presented an interesting dilemma when I first decided to use my medical background in my novels. (The old "write what you know deal.") The heroine in my comic mystery series was an ER nurse. So I faced the challenge (beyond planting clues and planning murders) of giving my readers factual medical details--and jargon--without committing either of two ugly sins: 1) getting too technical and "losing" my readers in confusing medical detail, or 2) talking "down" to my readers by assuming they know nothing. Which isn't fair to them, and makes my characters sound like folks you wouldn't trust with your appendix. ("Hey, Darcy, hand me the thingamajig to fix her whatchamacallit, wouldya?")

Thank goodness for TV.

With the huge popularity of shows like ER, Grey's Anatomy, House, Scrubs, and now Hopkins, (not to mention the CSIs in all their gory glory--yipe!), viewers (and readers) have become quite medically savvy. I might even go so far as to say, they pretty much speak Medical.

Just to be sure, I always run my work (including and especially the medical scenes) by my critique partner Nancy Herriman. She's a fabulously *talented writer *and very educated woman, yet still a layperson when it comes to medical things. Even better, she rarely watches TV. So she's a perfect "test" for my medical scenes. She'll tell me where I need a bit of clarification ("Why is that oxygen percentage worrisome--what's the normal range?" "Do we need to know the sizes of all those needles?").

This is why I was very happy that my two editors had "no problem at all" understanding the medical scenes in THE HEALER'S HEART.

So now it's your turn. Try your hand at this Medical Trivia Quiz.

1) What is meant by, "Get a line in"?
2) By, "I'm going to have to tube him"?
3) What is Code Three?
4) How do scrub pants fasten: zipper, elastic, drawstring, snaps, velcro?
5) What is the thread used for stitching a wound called? What's it made out of?
6) Do ERs really have the local pizza delivery on Speed Dial?

How'd you do? Easy? Confusing? Never even thought of that? Well, my goal with The Shift in Faith Series is not only to entertain my readers--but educate them as well. Not only in medical lingo, but with an "inside glimpse" into the white-jacket (and sometimes white-knuckle, trust me) world of emergency medicine. And also, into the hearts of those people who answer the call to serve in these professions. As you may recall, I began my writing career after a near fatal accident that landed me as a patient in my own ER: I've been on BOTH sides of the stethoscope. So I know how much we need these dedicated people! Am I recruiting? Sure. It's an incredible way to serve your fellow man and your God. I don't regret for a single moment--even those scary, sad, and frustrating moments--my decades long career as a nurse. Plus, now I have endless quirky and heartwarming stories. A win-win all round.

So, on to those revisions. And . . . study up, folks. The next Medical Trivia Quiz is harder.

1) Start an IV 2) place an endotracheal tube (breathing tube down the throat to aid breathing)
3) Refers to an ambulance displaying lights and sirens, denoting a life and death emergency
4) draw string 5) suture; usually nylon 6) Absolutely--and Chinese, Baskin Robbins, Starbucks, Krispy Kreme . . .


Jessica Nelson said...

Even if I don't understand the lingo, I love medical scenes. Some stuff you can explain and some you don't have to. I think your editor is on the right track!

CandaceCalvert said...

Thanks,Jessica--the ER does indeed have a life of its own. So it makes sense that it should "breathe" almost as if it were a character.
One I know pretty well.

I hope you'll scrub up and join us--I'll save you a slice of pizza.

Thanks for stopping by! :-)

Jessica Nelson said...

Yum, pizza? I'm there.

CandaceCalvert said...

Heh, heh. Okay then. Glove up. Then slip a patient gown on to protect your scrubs . . . we don't want to worry our patients with any sloppy tomato sauce stains. ;-)

And I think you're going to like the hero in the first book of this new series-- Doctor "McSnarly" does LOVE his pizza.