Friday, September 19, 2008

The Courage of a Real ER Doctor

It takes a bold man to be an ER doc. Paul Austin works rotating shifts in a Durham, NC, hospital emergency room. His book, Something for the Pain, just out from W.W. Norton, tells not the TV version, but the real grit of what that work is like. And what it's like to have that job and a family too: wife, three kids, one with Downs.

I confess to a bias because Paul has gotten some feedback from me over the years through my consulting services for writers. I've loved this book from way back.

And this writer-doctor is astonishingly bold. If he's not telling the whole truth, I can't imagine what he's holding back.

I just met his wife last night for the first time at his debut reading at Raleigh's Quail Ridge Books. I said to her, "I feel like I know you...." She said, "A lot of people feel like they know me now."

To mention details of his story, from idealism to hard-boiled callusness and back, would almost be reductive. You need to read this, see it all in the context of sleep deprivation, with death ever near, and on long shifts in which every second makes a difference. And some of the patients are angry, some are hoping to get drugs, some are violent, some have devastated families, one had no one (even his mother wouldn't come pick him up.)

Someone from the audience asked Paul how he managed worry over making mistakes. He said he used to worry when he worked at a pizza place that he might burn the pizza. Since he was going to stay keyed-up and tense anyway, he might as well go for broke, do something where the worrying made more sense, and all that effort and angst could go toward a better cause.

Helen Keller said much the same thing: essentially, it's all risky, so get on out there and do the interesting stuff.

And read this book: Something for the Pain by Paul Austin.

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