Little Ms. Weird, Part I

I used to think I wrote for everybody. You know, we all love books. We are are all one.

Then I realized that Code Blues, the first Hope Sze mystery, opens with a swear word.

Code Blues is character-based and contains a sex scene, sarcasm, and a reference to racial injustice before Black Lives Matter. Cue the angry reviews. Cue even more because it’s free at the moment.

Okay! Well, Notorious D.O.C. sticks much closer to the mystery genre. Hope tackles a cold case on psychiatry after a woman asks her to investigate her daughter’s death. Not controversial at all, right?

Shoot. Maybe not everyone wants to read about poo on the first page.

Most readers immediately grasp the gravity of Stockholm Syndrome, where a kidnapper targets Hope and a woman in labour. But I don’t hold back on my description of the obstetrics ward, and one agent told me his assistant almost threw up after reading my first paragraph. I thought that was was pretty impressive considering that the first paragraph is literally two words: Birth smells.

Guess my writing ain’t for everyone after all.

When Kristine Kathryn Rusch first read my stories, she said, “They will have to create a new category for you. You’re so direct, you’re almost scary.” She paused. “You’re not supposed to compare writers, but Bob Jeschonek is the same way, for another reason. If you ask him to write a story about a space ship, he’ll write from the point of view of the space ship.”

Which may explain why I’ve always been fascinated by Robert Jeschonek’s writing. I hoover up stories in all genres, but he always does new things that had never occurred to me. For example, in A Pinstriped Finger Puppet’s My Only Friend, he starts off a section called Tomorrow.

Mind blown. How can you start in tomorrow? But he does wild things all the time, wandering in and out of the R-rated section, constantly inventive and challenging.

That’s why I’m honoured to take part in the Weird Bundle he curated at Storybundle. For once, my strangeness becomes a feature, not a bug.

Pay what you want. If you choose $20 or more, you unlock all the books, including Robert Jeschonek’s exclusive Dog & Pony Show and my own Dog Vs. Aliens, Grandma Othello & Shaolin Monks in Space, and you can contribute to the charity Able Gamers. Only available for 21 more days, right here.

Let’s do this!

Stockholm Syndrome debuts in Montreal! (CBC’s Homerun & Paragraphe Books)!

Yo yo yo!

The first four Hope Sze books take place in this creative, crazy, multicultural bouillabaisse known as Montreal. I’d really love to get the word out in Hope’s hometown. But how does one accomplish this? 

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It’s surprisingly difficult to take a cool selfie with Stockholm Syndrome and Paragraph Books. I had to take a dozen to be sure.

<cue the fanfare of trumpets> Richard King of CBC Radio’s Homerun will review Stockholm Syndrome tomorrow, October 19th!

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In honour of this monumental occasion, Librairie Paragraphe Books is now carrying Stockholm Syndrome for the next three months. Please run over and snag a copy!

In honour of this, I’ll be celebrating Montreal throughout the next quarter. Stay tuned for inside tips where to eat, hang out, and do yoga in la belle province!


While I was at Librairie Paragraphe Books, I bought a copy of Jessica Hagy’s book, How to Be Interesting (preview here).

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Even if you don’t read, you need Empower-mints or Manly Mints, right?

It feels fantastic to support an indie bookstore in the heart of Montreal. They’ve got kid books, travel books, gift books, literature, Louise Penny’s latest novel, pre-orders for other people that you’ll want to touch but have to be instructed to leave alone (oh, maybe that’s just me)…

I could’ve stayed there all day, except my parking meter was about to expire. Support your bookstores!

Just don’t buy the Jessica Hagy book for Alexandra Beauregard–it’s my gift to her. 😉

When you come, here are some Montreal travel tips.

Construction is terrible. Use your phone or GPS. Get a parking space and walk if you have decent legs. As I strolled down Sherbrooke, I spotted not one, not two, but four police cars crowding down the single remaining lane of traffic. You can update your parking slip through an app, and be vigilant: they love to give parking tickets.

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Finally, I checked his screen. It says “Steve Jobs is dead.” Sobering reminder.

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I met a fellow writer, even if he was a statue.

So why show up, aside from hitting up the bookstores? Well, I love the incidental art.

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Everyone wanted a picture with this guy.

 

 

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Restaurant Park’s bar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOOD:

Restaurant Park (in Westmount). Just look at those orchids. I chose the bento surprise lunch to go. I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy tempura vegetables, including a piece of squash that showed they were using seasonal vegetables; maki sushi; a refreshing beet salad; and tofu with ground pork, all fresh and delicious, for about $20. Wow!

The chef, Antonio Park, has a Korean background, but grew up in Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, and Montreal before he trained formally in Japan.

I look forward to going back. Honestly, I felt like the beet salad spoke to me. It was so simple and so good. I tried to get my kids to eat it, but they’re scared of anything unusual. I was selfishly glad to polish off every bite. I’m not generally a tempura fan (is the frying worth the calories?), but this tempura was light and intelligent, if that makes sense.2016-10-05-14-22-07

2016-10-05-14-00-54 Momesso (NDG area): I used to bring my parents here. We’d descend into the basement, stuff ourselves with 14 inch subs, and feel good about the world afterwards. Check out the decor: old-style NHL hockey pucks. That’s what I’m talking ’bout.

This time, I was working a bunch of shifts, so I bought three subs. The best was the steak and sausage ($15.25 for a 14 inch sub before tax or tip).

Cash only & closed on Sundays.

Shopping

I didn’t buy any clothes that day, but Paragraph Books is the Golden Square Mile, so enjoy:

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2016-10-05-13-26-13 This one is from Westmount, but I was like, who decides which Canadian art is important?

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Before I bid you adieu, remember that your Thanksgiving/Christmas shopping can include Stockholm Syndrome at Paragraphe Books! In case you’re wondering, this is a slightly different picture that I like better (looks like a sky-scraper in the background, slightly reddish hair my hair in the face). I fit right in on the Golden Square Mile.

And tune in tomorrow to CBC Radio One’s 88.5 for Homerun with Richard King‘s review of Stockholm Syndrome. I’m working, so please let me know if you hear it!  Thank ye kindly.

Top 5 Moments at Writers Police Academy 2016

What’s the Writers Police Academy? A hands-on conference teaching you about law enforcement, forensics, and emergency medical services.

I’m a doctor, which means I expect conferences to teach me something (it took me a long time to realize that other people go to “network” and “hang out with friends”). I can’t waste a lot of time on useless retreats. So was WPA worth flying to Wisconsin in the middle of August? You can judge for yourself, based on my top 5 teachable moments.

Trigger warning: #3 has a staged but disturbing photo.

5. Talking about Killers

Most of us know that psychopaths lack empathy and remorse. I also knew that they’re easily bored and seem to need more stimulation. But I never fully understood the difference between sociopaths and psychopaths until this lecture by Katherine Ramsland.

Both types can kill. But here’s a thumbnail version of the difference:

From the notebook of author JC Andrijeski http://www.jcandrijeski.com/

Lecture notes from the notebook of author JC Andrijeski. ASPD is antisocial personality disorder.

SOCIOPATH: I may be absolutely ruthless with outsiders, yet care about people within my group. I’m like the mafia. I can have a brotherhood or sisterhood.

The key is the word “social” in sociopath.

PSYCHOPATH: it’s all about me. No one else matters. I might pretend to care, if there’s a benefit to me. But otherwise, back to me.

The great thing about Katherine Ramsland is that she based her talk on evidence. For example, not all serial killers are psychopaths. Not all psychopaths are serial killers. Although people like to believe it’s a direct relationship because it’s simpler, you should go with science. And always keep an open mind. If you jump to conclusions too soon, it will often be the wrong one.

4. Native Gangs

This vehicle was seized from a drug dealer. Photo courtesy of author Terry Odell.

This vehicle was seized from a drug dealer. Photo courtesy of author Terry Odell.

It’s always inspiring to meet real-life heroes. Arguably, I work with them every shift in the emergency room. But it’s a different type of heroism for someone like Officer Matt, who might have to break down the door of someone from his own tribe, looking for drugs, while the kids in that house sit blank-faced, staring at the armoured police, because it’s just one more thing they have to endure. But Officer Matt comes back later to bring them a Dr. Suess book so that they remember him for that and not just the violence. He also participates in the group blanket-making every Christmas

A per capita payment is the money that each tribal member receives from casino income. It can be minimal, like for the Oneida tribe, where they pool their money for health care, education, and other services, or it can be $10,000 a month. It sounds wonderful, especially for babies who are born into the system and have the money held in trust for them until they’re 18—except that gangs have sprung up to prey on underage kids who’ll turn over their “eighteen money,” without question.

3. Blood Spatter

2016-08-12-10-12-10We spent the first part of the class talking over real-life cases. The first took place in a remote cabin. Two children, 6 and 8 years old, went down to the beach without their mother for just 15 minutes and came back crying. The cabin owner called for help, but he was hysterical and couldn’t explain what was wrong except “She needs help, she needs help.” The police officer came in with his gun out, and his job was to clear the cabin. Even if he saw someone who needed help, he had to say only, “Stay there” and keep moving from room to room, making sure that the perpetrator wasn’t lying in wait.

Once done, he could circle back to the master bedroom, where the mother had been attacked, and determine if she had a pulse.

We spent the next part of the talk reviewing the fictional staged death scene in the next room (above), trying to piece together clues.

Hint #1: always think of blood spatter in three dimensions. Don’t forget to look at the ceiling and the walls as well as the floor.

2. Shoot/Don’t Shoot

Stand up. Pick up your modified gun, which uses a CO2 cartridge to fire a laser at the screen projecting the scenario. You are now an officer on duty.

You’ve been called to a domestic disturbance. An officer meets you in front of the house and says, “We heard a woman screaming. I’m going to take the back door. You take the front.”

Walk up the front door steps. You can hear your own breathing and hear your own footsteps.

What’s that in the front window?

You see a man standing and the woman on the couch. The man turns around, and what’s that he has in his hands—?

Shoot or don’t shoot.

Now, officer!

1. K-9

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Officer and K-9 Pal, as captured by author Terry Odell, who also wrote about WPA here.

I love dogs. I love their commitment to putting their pack above themselves. I love their shagginess and their sloppiness and their big, big hearts. I will always pick werewolves over vampires.

So no wonder I enjoyed reading Robert Crais’s Suspect and the sequel, The Promise. And no wonder I jumped on the K-9’s.

Meet Pal. Purebred German Shepherd direct from Germany. Four and a half years old, 92 pounds. His officer spent six weeks in Albequerque training with him, but now every day is training. Pal can sniff out drugs, but he most loves to track people. When he gets the command to bite, he will latch on to any available body surface area, and he will not let go until you choke him off.

He lives in a $2000 kennel that Dernbach built him out of his own money. The kennel is so large that he has his own couch, which he tears up. When the couch is completely shredded, Dernbach puts it out on the curb and picks up the next curbside couch for Pal.

He is not a pet. Do not pet him. He will, in fact, attack the officer’s other, personal dogs. He stays with his officer/trainer on duty and goes home with him as well. When he’s outlived his ability to serve, there are two options: euthanasia, or the officer/trainer takes him home. Fortunately, they never choose euthanasia.

Pal is a tool. And yet, he’s still a dog. He wags his tail. He loves the chew toy, and when Dernbach gets distracted by questioning, Pal chews the strap off the chew toy. He sneaks toward Dernbach when possible. He’s independent, not cuddly. “When other guys in the station would be lying on their dogs, Pal stayed five feet away from me. But it’s good that he’s bull-headed. Other dogs will start searching and then come back and keep checking with Daddy. Pal will keep going.”

Bonus: another dog! I also loved, loved, loved Ted, the PTSD dog. If Paul, the retired cop with PTSD who became a police counsellor himself, takes off Ted’s vest, Ted knows he’s off duty. He just wanted to explore the room, taste my friend Eleanor’s coffee, and trot up and down the aisles. At one point, when students surrounded Paul with questions, Ted came up to Paul, reared up on his rear legs, placed his paws on Paul’s shoulders, and looked him in the eyes, grounding him.

We were surrounded by bullets and bombs, both literally and figuratively at this conference, and more and more in real life. That just makes me love dogs even more.

The bottom line: was Writers Police Academy worth it?

Me and Tami Hoag. Would you like to know what I learned from her? Blog here.

Me and NYT bestseller Tami Hoag. Would you like to know what I learned from her? Sleuthsayers blog here.

I go to conferences for three reasons: so I can learn, so that I can meet people, and so I can write more and better stories. I learned a lot at WPA, and it was super easy to make friends. In fact, I hung out with the guests of honour an almost indecent amount as well as making new Facebook pals and deeper friendships. I even sort of crashed a birthday party on the last night.

Want to take $100 off your $395 tuition? If you join Sisters in Crime for the first time ($50 fee) and immediately sign up for WPA for the first time, WPA will take $150 off your tuition, a net benefit of $100. Sold.

Any cautions? Obviously, this conference is oriented towards law enforcement, and most people were also vocal gun advocates. Your political views may not overlap, but in general, most people are hard-working and good-hearted.

But in the meantime, WPA is an awful lot of fun.

My little white dress

My little white dress

Click to buy.

Now available at Montreal’s Paragraphe Books!

P.S. Stockholm Syndrome–CBC’s pick for one of the best crime books of the season–is now on sale in Montreal at Librairie Paragraphe Books, thanks to the magic of CBC Radio Homerun’s Richard King! More ecstatic raving to come.

Dr. back POD front cover 5x8 72

The Emergency Doctor’s Guide to a Pain-Free Back e-book is ON SALE, 50+ percent off! $3.99 U.S./$4.99 Canadian, until October 10th. Happy Canadian Thanksgiving!

Secret stories from my Ontario Morning/Ottawa Morning interviews, 50% off sale, plus 3 Quick Tips to get *you* on CBC Radio

First of all, thanks to everyone who listened to my Stockholm Syndrome interview with CBC Radio’s Ontario Morning on January 27th. You can listen to the replay here:

Ottawa Morning has scheduled my interview for today, February 2nd, at 7:45 a.m. Depends on the news, though, so stay tuned. Literally.

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Now I’m going to geek out about the coolness. I did my interview with Ontario Morning in studio 39, a small, tech-less booth in the hallway. Karine did a sound check for me before the technician in Toronto, Mike, added the audio to my earphones. At 8:20, Wei Chen asked me cool questions, including if I would ever quit medicine. Then Karine led me through the newsroom to the Ottawa Morning studio. I was agog at the 360 degrees of television.

Ottawa Morning was just finishing up its live program. I sat in a comfy chair in the hallway, listening to host Robyn Bresnahan read out people’s Tweets on Lebreton Flats while I surreptitiously took pictures of all the goings-on.

Robyn Bresnahan came out to shake my hand, but she’s so friendly that I felt like hugging her, so we did. She’s good friends with Christina Peeters, my hair stylist, which is only one degree of separation. Robyn admired my boots, and I told her we were boot twins because she had nice black ones.

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Full outfit. I know you can hardly see the knee-high red boots, but they’re beautiful and made in Canada!

(When I came home, my daughter, Anastasia, was very excited. “Did you wear your red boots?” She’d wanted me to wear them for Daytime Ottawa on Rogers TV.)

IMG_7017 Robyn led me into the studio with a round table, chairs, and multiple microphones, while the technician stayed behind glass in the next room. I’d never been in such a big recording studio before, with one side all windows. Just beautiful.

Robyn asked interesting and perceptive questions. She’s a very expressive interviewer, widening her eyes and nodding encouragement as you speak.

Here’s the interview!

After we turned off the mike, because we’d just talked about the hostage-taking in Stockholm Syndrome, she mentioned that the BBC takes reporters for hostile situation training. During that week, she was riding in a van when a bunch of ex-special forces guys pulled the ten of them over at gunpoint and threw them in a building with a tin roof. They were braced for a fake kidnapping, but it was still scary.

A lippy Greek reporter kept posturing and telling the “kidnappers” where to go. Robyn was worried because he kept drawing attention to their end of the hut.

They shot him. With blanks, but it still meant they dragged him out.

Meanwhile, Robyn’s strategy was to tell them she was pregnant. “I know your culture respects family.” She ended up as one of the five hypothetical survivors.

IMG_7019In real life, while she was working with the BBC, Alan Johnston was kidnapped in Gaza. Every day, on the news, the BBC would announce, “Just so you know, it’s been 100 days since he’s been gone…” They weren’t optimistic about his fate, but it turned out that his kidnappers actually let him listen to BBC’s World Service, and them remembering him was one of the only things keeping him going.

After 114 days, the kidnappers released him, and Robyn said she learned a lesson. You never know what’s going to happen. You can read Alan’s own account of his ordeal here.

Are you a writer/artist/entrepreneur who wants to be on Ottawa Morning?

Here’s the inside scoop. Robyn said it’s a tough sell. They’re more a news show. However, it is possible if you…

  1. Have an interesting personal story
  2. Send a short pitch. She emphasized the short part because she gets 200 e-mails a day.
  3. My addendum: pitch to the producers. Producers seem to schedule the guests. Robyn is the host and will interview you, but you need send your concise pitch to the producers.

Click to buy.

Click to buy.

Good luck! And thanks to anyone who picks up Stockholm Syndrome. If you grab it at Kobo here, all my titles are 50 percent off, until midnight only, using the code JAN1650. Hooray!

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Buy Local: R&L’s Book Nook

I’m sold out of Stockholm Syndrome for the moment (yeah! Fist punch! Running man dance move! Wish I’d had another one for Melissa B), so now it’s time to turn the spotlight on our hard-working local stores. ‘Cause I, for one, basically haven’t done my shopping yet.youth-570881_640

Kobo director Mark Leslie Lefebvre first suggested I reach out to my local bookstores when Terminally Ill (Hope Sze #3) got traction. I felt shy, since I used to be a shy kid until I trained myself to be more extroverted. But I took a deep breath and called R&L’s Book Nook, the only bookstore in Alexandria.

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Even though this photo is blurry, it has the most genuine smiles, because the photo-taker said, “Say ‘sex’!” I replied, “Are you French?” She lowered the camera to say, “Yes.” “I knew it! French people talk about sex all the time.” French Canadians, anyway. Not sure about France-French.

Roena and Loretta, the R&L who own the store, were lovely. Someone had already asked for Terminally Ill based on my CBC Ontario Morning interview, so they took the Hope Sze series, as well as all my other books. They hosted the my Books and Bodies event in September 2014 (belly dancing pic with Joseline Beaulieu below), and made a huge window display with a dancing skeleton in my scrubs in honour of the event (Terminally Ill=skeleton, Student Body=dancing). I can’t find the pics right now, but trust me, it was spectacular and an author’s dream come true.

They make their own gingerbread and sell crafts, used books and new books, including books by local authors like Jennifer Debruin.

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They make gingerbread, too. Houses, cookies, and lollipops. So all you non-readers but eaters, start salivating now.

#supportlocalbusinesses 10592670_735822413137606_5759031422990646708_n copy

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Books & bodies with Joseline Beaulieu, Sept 2014

So get thee to R&L Book Nook! You can park at Gaetan’s Chip Stand and fill your mind and body with literature, gingerbread, and French fries!

 

 

 

 

 

 

As an aside: an hour ago, Pat Larkin bought my fifth-last trade paperback of Stockholm Syndrome. In fact, he bought the entire set for his daughter, Amy, a vet student in Calgary.

IMG_9307 Pat really went the extra mile here. He couldn’t get the Hope books in Williamstown, so he contacted me through my website. Then we played telephone tag until Amy flew back to Calgary. But Pat still drove to my house today, theoretically on his way to Cornwall (which is the other way), bought the entire series, and then inspected my electrical wiring and generator to give me tips on how to get my house wired up properly in case of another ice storm. (Summary: I will probably set up an automatic generator in the New Year. Our generator is too small, and we need a transfer switch.)

It doesn’t get any better than that.

But if you go to R&L’s Book Nook, you can make up your own story. Hey, I was there twice yesterday.

As the French Canadians also say, Gogogogogogogo!

R&L’s Book Nook in Alexandria58 Alexandria Main/Alexandria, ON/K0C 1A0/(613)525-9940

rlbooknook@eastlink.ca

And I’m embedding the Cogeco interview because I wasn’t able to post it until late yesterday:

Being a bestseller is *sick*

The good news: Stockholm Syndrome hit the bestseller list on Kobo less than two weeks after its debut.

NUMBER ONE IN ESPIONAGE!!!!!!!! highlighted & craziness

The bad news: I was willing to grind myself to powder to get there.

Most people hit the brakes before they get to either point. They’re smarter than me.

Me? TL; DR: I got the flu, then pneumonia, then side effects from medications that landed me in the ER as a patient for two nights with palpitations while raving on dexamethasone. My colleagues were worried about me. And I’m still heading back to the hospital for another work-up today.

Meanwhile, I was still trying to do it all. So far this year, I hit Utah, Oregon, New York (twice), Los Angeles, Boston, Kingston, Ottawa, and Montreal. Drive to Boston solo with my kids? Sure. Make a two-layer homemade birthday cake for my daughter’s fifth birthday party? Of course. Stay at an acting class in Montreal despite getting assaulted with the flu? No problem.

Yeah, baby!

Us wrapped in Rush Couture

Max in Kingston

Max in Kingston

<–I bought this dress when I was pregnant with Anastasia, and now she can get inside it with me because it has peek-a-book cutouts on the sides. It’s from Rush Couture. This dress is popular on Facebook.
It looked weird on me when I was pregnant. Here it looks normal. 😉
BTW, at one of my Stockholm Syndrome book launches, one woman told me I had love handles. “Or maybe it’s your shirt.” As an author, I tell you, NEVER say mean things to a writer at a book launch.
Natalie Goldberg always brings someone who tells her she’s beautiful. Doesn’t matter if she messed up. Tell her she rocked it hard. As a fashionista and a physician, I present this dress as evidence that I did not detect love handles. If I had love handles, I would not choose to wear a peek-a-boo dress. QED.

I was doing it “all.” Except I ended up so sick, I couldn’t work the ER any more. I had to ask for help. And one of my colleagues started lecturing me how much I was burdening the group, and I’d better not take more than a week off.

I started yelling at that doctor. Which made him worry about my mental health. Which is a whole other worm-can.

In truth, I am not the best doctor right now. Not only on December 7-8th, when I was high on dexamethasone and short of breath with palpitations of up to 200 (my husband was upset that I couldn’t figure out how to dial the phone. In my defence, it was a new phone, and I was more interested in getting my clothes together for my scheduled appearance on Rogers TV the next morning). That night, the doctor kept telling me I shouldn’t go on TV. I was like, “I’m supposed to be on TV! That’s why I took the dex at night, to heal my vocal cords enough to sing! I’ll take the train if you really want, but geez. I also have a recording for CBC’s White Coat Black Art scheduled for the afternoon.” I was all set, even though I couldn’t find the Imovane they’d just given me to sleep, but RN Rebecca stopped me. She said, “You look pale. And sick.”

Suddenly, I was shocked into cancelling. I can’t be ugly on TV. That would be bad. It was like, if you want to get young women to quit smoking, you can try and reason with them about how it’s expensive, and selling out to the man, and giving you lung cancer and emphysema, but the real money is in telling them they’ll get wrinkles. No way!

I knew I needed to sleep. My husband was mad at me for getting up in the middle of the night and working. I knew, logically, I’d never get better that way. And yet I couldn’t stop.

I tried to work with the flu until I was seeing double and forgetting to order chest X-rays, and the other doctor sent me home. Then I made myself pick up my Stockholm Syndrome books and ended up dehydrated and nearly delirious when they detained me at the border for 1.5 hours (hint: if the government sends you the wrong business number, you’re screwed. If the border guards are chasing after illegal cigarettes and the remaining guard has no clue what to do with you, you’re screwed). Even yesterday, when my friends and colleagues are like, “Are you much better now?”, I’d have to say that not only did it seem like my pneumonia came back with a vengeance after we stopped all antibiotics for a few days, but I’m not completely compos mentis–at the children’s Christmas party, I answered a page from the neurologist and forgot my purse on a bench in the hallway. RN Annie was too tactful to say anything, but I knew she’d noticed I wasn’t right.

The good news is, I managed to get to Ottawa to record an interview with Fresh Air’s Mary Ito, and it was pretty cool. You can listen to it herehttps://soundcloud.com/cbc-fresh-air/final-melissa-yuan-innes-6287325-2015-12-12t04-21-11000. They’ll keep it up for two weeks.

CBC Fresh Air main w- soundcloud Screen Shot 2015-12-14 at 2.21.58 AMI was able to put a good game face on for the 3 h drive and the recording, although I did lose my parking pass immediately.

I was taking selfies in the booth. Scared the heck out of the next group coming in to record.

I was taking selfies in the booth. Scared the heck out of the next group coming in to record.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I hadn’t checked Kobo recently–too nervous that I sucked, especially since they hadn’t mentioned the free code during the interview–but I nerved up and did it.

And guess what I saw?

#8 IN MYSTERY! highlighted

#8 in mystery overall. Not just #4 in thrillers. All of mystery and suspense, people. Maybe you’ve heard of Tom Clancy or Lisa Jackson? Or James Patterson?

But, greedy Gus that I am, I wondered how I was doing overall. I was euphoric when Mark Leslie Lefebvre told me Terminally Ill (Hope Sze #3) had broken Kobos’ Top 50 after my interview with Wei Chen on CBC’s Ontario Morning. Terminally Ill ended up hitting as high as #27 for all of Kobo’s books. Not segmented by genre. Every. Single. Book. On. Kobo.

Could Stockholm Syndrome repeat the magic? Even if Fresh Air hadn’t given out the time-limited magic Kobo code of STOCKHOLM100 during the interview, only on Facebook and Twitter?

#12 overall BIGGER cropped

NUMBER TWELVE, PEOPLE. That’s better than Terminally Ill.

I was freaking out, didn’t sleep (again), high-fiving Max.

OMG. Look at it. Fifteen Dogs just won the Giller Prize. Mary Ito interviewed Andre Alexis, too. NFW.

Should I not tell you about the bad stuff? Probably. But for those of you who already know my protagonist, Dr. Hope Sze, we’re pathologically honest. I could pretend to be perfect, but I’m no good at lying. So here you go.

In other words, it’s the best of times, it’s the worst of times. And I’m my own worst enemy. But mostly the best, because my husband, my friends, and my colleagues are rallying around me. And because I feel like telling near-strangers, I love you.

Because I do. Because we’re alive. Including me, despite myself.

Take care of yourselves. I care about you.

Love,

Melissa

“Each patient carries his own doctor inside him.”

Norman Cousins, Anatomy of an Illness

“A person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn and not easily mended.”

Ian McEwan, Atonement

“The loner who looks fabulous is one of the most vulnerable loners of all.”

Anneli Rufus, Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto

“The need for change bulldozed a road down the centre of my mind.” —Maya Angelou

“I can paint a barn with someone else’s blood. I just can’t stand to see my own.” ―Colonel Henry Blake, a surgeon on M*A*S*H Episode Guide Team, M*A*S*H EPISODE GUIDE: Details All 251 Episodes with Plot Summaries. Searchable. Companion to DVDs Blu Ray and Box Set.

“Some people should not be allowed to see beyond your surface. Seeing your vulnerability is a privilege, not meant for everyone.” Yasmin Mogahed

“Being an open and vulnerable doesn’t mean you are weak..” Jayesh Varma

“A heart that can break is better than no heart at all.” Marty Rubin

“There is more hope in honest brokenness than in the pretense of false wholeness.”

Jamie Arpin-Ricci, Vulnerable Faith: Missional Living in the Radical Way of St. Patrick

People who cannot find time for recreation are obliged sooner or later to find time for illness.

People that go through serious illness – you can either go one way or the other. You can either become despondent about it all. Or it kind of rejuvenates you, makes you focus on what’s important.~Jack Layton

Stockholm Syndrome, Chapter 3

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stockholm pic-defenseless

“I can get you Casey Assim,” I said, since at this point, I would have promised both my grandmothers. Not that I’d actually deliver them to this madwoman. But I’d lie up and down Main Street if it would buy me a few seconds. All was fair in love and at gunpoint.

“They just brought her in,” said the killer. “She’s in labour. It’s her due date. I know it’s her.”

Faulty logic, but my shoulders jerked as my hindbrain calculated, That’s a man’s voice. This is a man, not a woman. A man dressed in a burqa.

He was crazier than I thought.

I was deader than I thought.

“Okay,” I said.

“Get me to her room, or I’ll kill you, too.”

He wasn’t that much taller than me. Maybe five foot eight, but stocky, like a wrestler, with wide shoulders and firmly planted feet. And did I mention that gun?

“No problem,” I said, an expression my dad hates. He says, There’s always a problem. Why would you say there’s no problem? He had a point, especially when I was nose to nose (okay, back of head to nose) with Mr. Death.

Dad. I’m sorry. I love you.

I felt Mr. Death jerk his head toward the doorway. He knew that was the main entrance to the case room. He knew how to get there, but he wanted me to lead him, like a little Dr. Gandhi, while he kept the gun trained on my temple, the thinnest area of my skull.

He wanted me to play hostage.

Part of me thought, No. Run.

If only I’d run in the first place, when my subconscious brain must have recognized that the way he moved and the breadth of his shoulders didn’t jibe with a pregnant woman.

Now it was too late to run. The emergency department and hospital front desk had security guards. Obstetrics had nothing.

I must have glanced or somehow turned left, toward the elevator, because the bastard cocked his gun, and I felt as well as heard the hammer shift.

I don’t know guns, but I’ve seen enough TV shows to figure out what’s fatal.

I froze in place like an Arctic hare dropped in downtown Tokyo.

stockholm-runners-373099I’ve actually listened to a podcast about what to do when an active shooter enters a hospital. Running is your best option.

But running with a bullet in your brain? Not possible.

Without taking my eyes off the gun, I took a step toward the doorway. Toward triage.

“That’s it, bitch,” Bastard whispered.

I gestured at Stan’s unmoving body, which lay five feet away from us, blocking the doorway. I could smell Stan’s blood.

I have a strong stomach, but I had to hold my breath and not-think, not-think, not-think if was going to survive even the next few minutes.

Bastard didn’t answer, except to keep his gun pressed against my cranium.

I walked.

I walked with Bastard’s body cemented against my back. Have you ever had an unwanted guy grind behind you on the dance floor? Like that, times a billion.

I had to glance down as I/we stepped over Stan’s body, carefully picking my way to avoid his sprawled arms and the ever-widening pool of blood.

Stan’s yarmulke clung to his curly hair a centimetre above the bullet hole. I scanned the green felt for dots of blood and possibly brains. Then my eyes slid south. Was it possible that I glimpsed the pale, folded surface of cerebral cortex under the pool of blood dripping from the entry site?

stockholm-blood spatter file000666127574No. Probably my imagination. I clung to the fact that his religious symbol remained intact. Maybe he and I would, too. I sent a brief prayer toward Stan and any available deity: Please.

People have survived gunshot wounds to the head. I’ve never seen it, but I remembered a neurosurgery resident explaining to me, in detail, how a high-velocity bullet could hit a non-critical area of the brain and come out the other side, necessitating surgery, ICU, and a lot of rehab, but not a one-way ticket upstairs/downstairs.

The bullet had hit Stan in the occiput, so bye-bye occipital lobe. But I thought it was higher up than brainstem, which would have spelled instant death. So it was possible, if not probable, that he might pull through. But the longer he lay on the ground, the lower his chances of any meaningful recovery.

At least by drawing the gunman away from Stan, I was allowing the emergency crew to make its way toward him.

On the other hand, it meant I was drawing the gunman toward a bunch of defenseless pregnant women.

I might have yelled for them to run, but the fire alarm was doing all the screaming for me. The sound invaded my head, made it hard to think anything except Shut up.

My body walked anyway, with the diaphragm of my stethoscope banging a drum beat against my chest. I held my hands up in the air, both to calm down the gunman and so that anyone looking at me would immediately compute that something was wrong. Flee. Now.

The case room hallway looked deserted.

It didn’t feel empty, though.

First door on the right. Triage. I imagined all those exhausted pregnant women and men, plus the triage nurse, holding their breath and barring the door. I walked a little faster, hoping that Bastard wouldn’t pause and knock on that door.

He didn’t.

Now we’d reached the nursing station on our left. The long, white counter hung with tinsel, which the elderly ward clerk usually sat behind, answering the phone with her crystal-studded acrylic nails, and which I stood in front of to write my charts or answer my pages: empty.

Behind the counter, the communal wooden table and small alcove, where the nurses sat to chart and to watch the fetal monitors mounted to the wall, under Christmas balls dangling from the ceiling: empty.

Everyone had taken off. Or was at least out of sight, for the moment.

Bastard exhaled.

I tensed. He could easily yell, “Bring me Casey, or I’ll kill this chink!”

And then, if no one answered, he’d shoot me out of spite.

The alarm screeched on. Overhead, the hospital operator intoned, “Code Black, Fourth Floor. Code Noir, quatrième étage.”

Bastard’s left hand relaxed on my shoulder while he held the gun to my right temple.

Was he letting down his guard? I could try to break away from him now.

But which way should I run? Back toward the elevators and Stan? He’d shoot me before I got ten paces.

Around the hallway’s U-shape to the OR and then the ward rooms? Much, much farther. And at least fifty feet of hallway, where I could get shot.

Under the desk, so I could hole up like a mouse before he executed me?

So many bad choices, so little time.

The only thing I didn’t consider was running for a case room or triage. He’d whack me, then take potshots at anyone and everyone else in the room.

But he didn’t want me. He wanted Casey Assim.

The fastest way to figure out her location was by circling behind the desk to view the whiteboard linked to the desktop computer, which faced away from the hallway to protect it from prying eyes. That information would lead him right to her room.

So many women are killed by their partners and ex-partners. Should I aid and abet a murderer, plus get caught in the crossfire?

Um, no.

“Where is she?” Bastard said. He was still so close that I could feel the shift of his head as he glanced up and down the hallway.

Hiding from you, you maniac.

The fire alarm cut off suddenly, leaving my ears ringing.

That, too, was strange. Usually, the alarm goes on forever, and everyone has to close the exam room doors until the Second Coming, or at least until the operator says, “Code Red, all clear. Code Rouge maintenant terminé.

Were the police on the way?

“I don’t see Casey,” I said, which was true. I couldn’t see any living soul. Maybe if I acted useless enough, he’d leave me alone.

Or shoot me. This was turning into a Choose Your Own Adventure where 90 percent of the endings left me unconscious and bleeding. I was not a fan.

“Go get her,” he said.

How could I delay him?

Light bulb moment. I pointed to the beige phone sitting on the counter, its receiver slightly blackened and greasy from numerous hands. Less than ten minutes ago, I’d been answering Stan’s page on that phone.

That phone could be my lifeline to make contact with the outside world, if he let me.

My cell phone buzzed twice in my pocket. I couldn’t answer Tucker or Ryan or anyone else right now, but I wished them safe and far, far away. Tucker was just one floor above me, tending to his internal medicine patients at this exact moment. Strange to think of the fifth floor as a world away, and that I might never see him again.

“What if I called locating and asked if Casey’s registered?” I asked. “They might be able to give me a room number.”

I didn’t have to give him the room number. Well, maybe he’d rip the phone away from me and threaten the operator to get it. But first, I might be able to speak to someone who could call the cavalry, if they hadn’t already. And the more I delayed, the higher the chances that the police could storm in here.

Bastard shook his head. “I already tried that.”

Right. And he’d created enough of a ruckus that the clerk had asked for Casey in Manouchka’s room. They never do that. My first tip-off that something was awry.

“I’m a doctor,” I said. “They might give me more information, especially since I’m calling from within the hospital.”

Bastard snorted and glanced up and down the corridor. “I know she’s in here some place. I should just bust down the doors and shoot everyone.”

My heart thumped in my throat, but I tried to speak calmly. “You might hurt Casey by mistake.”

He stopped to think about that. I could tell from the stillness in his body, even though I was facing away from him and he was still covered in a burqa.

He took a step back from me. My heart leaped, but he just repositioned the gun from my head to my T-spine, between my shoulder blades.

Still. He was giving me some space. That had to be a good sign. Also, my mother would be proud how straight I was now standing, trying to edge a few millimetres away from certain death.

“If she’s registered, we can just go to the right room. That’s all we need. Right?” Now I was promising him Casey’s head on a platter again. I could hardly speak, my mouth was so dry.

I could hear Bastard’s glower through his voice. “I don’t want you calling the police.”

“You can do the dialing. You can even hold the phone, if you want.” The more non-gun things he used to clutter up his hands, the better.

Then I thought I heard a sound. Was it from Manouchka and June’s room?

I tried to glance over my left shoulder, at their closed door opposite the nursing station, but the muzzle boring a hole in my spine reminded me not to move.

Nothing to see, anyway. June had probably hurled the door shut at the first sound of gunfire. With any luck, she’d barricaded it.

The gunman noticed my head twitch, but instead of blowing me away, he said, “Is she in there?”

“What? No. Not the woman you’re looking for. It’s someone else.” I stared straight ahead at the wall above the nurse’s table, petrified that even a quick look could sentence someone else to death.

“You’re lying.”

“I’m not. That’s the one patient I saw before you. Her name’s not Casey.”

“Casey. Casey Assim. That’s who I want.” He grabbed my left arm and jerked me sideways, walking me the few crucial steps so I was now facing the first case room door. Obviously, all he heard was Casey’s name and nothing else. He was like a missile locked on detonate. “Get her out of there. Or get me in. I don’t care. She’s gonna have my baby.” He placed the gun at the back of my head now, which made me think of Stan.

Stan. Dead Stan.

Don’t think that way. He might still make it. Come on.

At close range, I finally recognized that insistent stink emanating from Bastard’s pores as marijuana. Lovely.

I forced myself to speak in a low, well-enunciated voice. “She’s not there. Let me call the operator. I’ll find you Casey.”

He pushed the gun a little harder against my occiput. “Open. That. Door.”

I stared at the edging etched into the white wood of the first case room door. If he shot me, could the bullet drive right through the wood and hit Manouchka or June too?

My hand dipped toward the metal door handle, but a sound caught my ear.

Not just any sound. A whistle.

On our right, echoing off the empty hospital corridor walls.

Someone whistling in the midst of blood and terror. It was as startling as if a bluebird had launched itself above our heads in this hospital hall of horror, singing a tale of joyful spring in mid-November.

I knew that whistle. My nails cut into my palms to stop myself from yelling. My breath rasped in my throat, and I know this sounds strange, but my nipples hardened.

I even recognized the song, “What a Day for a Daydream.”

It was the stupidest, most inappropriate song for this scenario, and that would have told me the whistler’s identity even if I’d been blindfolded and gagged.

It was one man I didn’t want trapped with me.

I wanted to scream, Run, Tucker.

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Chapter 2 here.

Stockholm Syndrome, Chapter 2

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I screamed. It happened so fast. I’d never seen anyone use a gun, except my dad fooling around with a BB gun in our back yard, and now Stan dropped to his knees before he caught himself on his hands, gurgling.

Behind him, the blonde woman and her husband ducked into triage and slammed the door behind them. Suddenly, only me, Stan and the gunwoman stood in the hallway.

“Call 911!” I yelled in the general direction of the nursing station, ignoring the gunwoman. The triage nurse had probably seen or heard enough to call for help, but it never hurt to sound the alarm.

Meanwhile, I’d focus on the A, B, C’s of resuscitation. Especially the airway and breathing. My eyes fixed on the bloody hole in Stan’s back, just below the point of his left scapula. Probably too far from the midline to cut his spinal cord, but right in “the box” where shrapnel could pierce a heart or lung or both, depending on the trajectory.

Stan dropped on to his stomach, still breathing, so his heart probably hadn’t been hit. I have zero experience with gunshot wounds, but they say that after a heart attack, if you have myocardial rupture, and the heart bursts open, the person dies in a few beats. He’d already made it past that.

I fell on my knees beside Stan, who was barely sucking air into his lungs. Did he have a pneumothorax? The hole in his chest could still kill him within minutes.

My first instinct was to turn him on his back, because that’s how patients always roll into the emerg on a stretcher, face up. Also, the exit wound in front of his chest would gape more than the relatively neat hole in back.

I stopped and grabbed the stethoscope hung around the back of my neck. Even with Stan face-down, I could listen to his breath sounds.

“Don’t touch him,” said the burqa woman.

I looked up.

She trained her gun on my face.

My hands stilled, slowly relinquishing the navy rubber tube of my stethoscope. It wasn’t that I’d forgotten her, but I had a higher calling here. I lifted both palms in the air. “Look. I’m a doctor. He’s a doctor.”

“I need Casey Assim,” the woman said. Her voice had descended into growl territory.

It took me a second to process that. Casey. That was the name the ward clerk had buzzed us about in Manouchka’s room. So Casey Assim must be a patient, a new one who hadn’t made it on the whiteboard yet. The one Stan had been on his way to deliver?

Stan tried to cough. He choked instead. The breath rattled in his lungs before he boosted himself on to his hands and started crawling on his hands and knees toward the open doorway. Toward the case room. Or the closed triage door. Or the nursing station. Any way you sliced it, civilization.

He knew where to go. His brain was still clicking. He had the strength to crawl. Should I try and distract the burqa woman? Maybe try and wrestle the gun away from her?

But that was an insane Hollywood move. And also, I couldn’t help noticing that Stan was deserting me while this woman held us at gunpoint.

I could distract her for the few crucial seconds while Stan got away, but I wouldn’t jump her.

I heard a nurse scream from further down the hallway. She tried to stifle it, which made it sound even worse.

From my view, at least thirty feet away, I could tell that they’d sealed all four case room doors, but the nursing station was an open desk area. The counter might protect you a little, but not the open table.

Maybe the staff would run toward the OR and back out the other side of the U, toward the ward. But could the patients run that fast?

The overhead paging system blared, “Code Black, Fourth Floor. Code Noir, quatrième étage.”

Then someone pulled the fire alarm. The high-pitched bell made my ears cringe.

“Is Casey the person you’re looking for?” I asked, raising my voice above the alarm. My arms quivered in the air. “I—”

The burqa woman looked down at Stan crawling and shot him in the back of the head.

The sound of the bullet echoed through the hallway.

His body flopped on the floor.

Blood coursed from the back of his skull.

I couldn’t make a sound.

I’d met murderers before. But they’d never killed anyone in front of me.

This was like an execution. And what had Stan done? He hadn’t broken patient confidentiality. He’d done the “right thing.” Now he was probably dead.

I didn’t want to die.

I really didn’t want to die.

I gazed down the case room hall, now empty of obvious human habitat, although I knew the triage room must be packed like Sonic dance club on the night of a full moon, and at least three out of four women labouring in the case room hadn’t made a break for freedom.

It was just me and the burqa murderer now.

The fire alarm shrieked overhead, a piercing scream that made my jaw ache and my arms tremble.

This couldn’t be happening.

Oh, yes, it could. I’d survived enough tight situations to know that real life could surpass any nightmare.

They call me the detective doctor. But it’s one thing to try and figure out any wrongdoing after the fact. It’s quite another to have someone a) pull out a gun, and b) shoot your senior resident in front of you.

“How may I help you?” I said, trying to sound civil, like this was normal. Like I wasn’t about to get whumped. I thought of my main man, Ryan. My first runner-up, Tucker, who made my toes curl. My little brother, Kevin. My parents. My grandmothers.

I love you. I’m sorry I never told you enough.

The burqa woman detoured to grab me from behind, her body a solid presence behind mine while she drilled the muzzle of the gun against my right temple. The muzzle was still cool after shooting Stan.

She’s right-handed, I noticed with the back part of my brain. Maybe it would make a difference, maybe it wouldn’t. But my shocked brain insisted on memorizing facts like this and noticing that she smelled like beer, tangy sweat, and something unpleasantly familiar.

“Get me Casey Assim,” she said. “Now.”

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Stockholm Syndrome: Chapter 1

Two doctors. One killer. One woman in labour.

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A killer infiltrates the obstetrics ward of a Montreal hospital just before Christmas, taking one pregnant woman and one resident doctor hostage at gunpoint.
Dr. Hope Sze struggles to deliver her patient’s baby with blood on the floor and death in the air.

And when Dr. Tucker tries to rescue their tiny crew, only to end up hostage material alongside them, Hope’s heart just might break, even before the kidnapper drills a bullet through her skull.

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Chapter 1

Birth smells.

I’m not saying it stinks—well, to some people, it does. I remember the classmate who finished our med school OB/gyn rotation without ever delivering an infant. He delivered half of the head, and then the look on his face was so horrid that the obstetrician delivered the rest of the baby.

I’ve got a stronger stomach than that classmate, but when I stepped into the delivery room at Montreal’s St. Joseph’s Hospital, it only smelled like sweat and a little blood. The odours would grow more intense once the amniotic fluid broke and the afterbirth emerged, but for now, I didn’t hold my breath.

My eyes adjusted to the darkness. The nurse had turned the lights off, except for a small fluorescent lamp beside the bed. The baby’s heartbeat chugged along on the fetal monitor. Whump, whump, whump at 162 beats per minute.

Most of obstetrics is nice and normal. Even our C-sections tend toward planned events instead of crash OR’s. They screen out congenital abnormalities at our small, Canadian community centre.

“This is the only happy area of the hospital!” an obstetrician told me on my first day. “Everybody’s smiling!”

The black woman labouring in the bed wasn’t smiling. She was sweating. Which made sense. “That’s why they call it labour,” the nurse often says, while the woman recovers from the latest contraction. That’s normal, too.

So I was pretty surprised when my obstetrics rotation transformed into a bone-chilling bloodbath.

IMG_4074But that evening of November fourteenth, I didn’t suspect anything except the fact that I might not get to eat the lentil casserole I’d stashed in the residents’ lounge for supper. I smiled at my newest patient, Ms. Beauzile. The nurse had cranked the back of the bed up so that the patient was half-sitting, squinting at me from her pillows, with her legs bent at the hips and knees, and her thighs spread over a foot apart. Can’t say I’m looking forward to the indignity, should I ever get the chance to procreate. Especially if I had to labour solo, like this lady.

According to the electronic whiteboard posted in the nursing station, Ms. Beauzile was 28 years old, or only a year older than me. This was her first baby, and she was at six centimetres, or sixty percent en route to pushing out this passenger. She also had a low-grade fever of 38.1 Celsius, but the med student had noted that they weren’t giving her antibiotics, because she had a runny nose and they figured it was a cold. Good call.

“Madame Beauzile, I’m Dr. Hope Sze. I’m the resident doctor on call for obstetrics.” I glanced at the top right hand corner to find the stamp with her first name. It was one I’d never heard before, and sounded Russian to me: Manouchka.

Now was not the time to inquire about how she got such an unusual name. Not when she clutched the white plastic bed rails, dragging herself forward with both arms, heaving herself to 90 degrees, and started to huff.

The nurse grabbed her hand. “Yes, Manouchka! That’s it!”

I took a step forward and said, “Yes! Keep going!” I felt silly, since I was crashing their two-person party and didn’t really know how to encourage her.

But after half a minute, the patient sighed and settled back down in the bed. The dim, yellow light reflected the sweat on her deep brown forehead. The baby’s heart rate, which had only slowed down to 139, climbed back up again. The mini-contraction was over.

“Next time,” said the nurse, studiously ignoring me. OB nurses generally hate medical students and residents. You have to prove yourself. They’d rather you left them alone while they coach the patient through labour and handle, well, just about everything else.

This Asian nurse was shorter than me, which always gets me excited, since I’m only five foot two and a quarter. (The quarter makes people laugh, but it adds up to 158 centimetres instead of 157, and I’ve got to treasure every millimetre.) Her hair was a short bob, not unlike the cut I’d sported over the summer, until I decided to grow my hair down to my shoulders. Like me, she wore glasses. When I’m on call, I’m all about the glasses. Not only do they dry out my eyes less than contact lenses, but they’re also a built-in eye shield from bodily fluids.

However, the nurse was probably twenty years older than me, wearing fashionista-frightening purple scrubs covered in owls, and scowled like she’d rather push my face into a newly-delivered placenta than shake my hand. Too bad. Sometimes, I’ll meet another Asian and we’ll nod at each other in recognition, but not this time.

The speaker built into the wall at the head of the bed crackled with static. “Do you have a visitor in there?”

The nurse pressed the red button mounted on the wall. “No, it’s just the resident.” She had a way of biting off her words that sounded maybe Filipina.

“The junior obstetrics resident, Dr. Sze,” I called out. I tell people to pronounce it like the letter C.

The nurse snorted. Her flowery name tag, clipped to her already-blinding purple scrub top, said JUNE, but she seemed more like a porcupine, to me.

The intercom crackled, and the unit secretary’s voice quavered, “We’ve got a woman here saying that her friend is in one of the case rooms. Casey? Maybe she’s with Dr. Beeman?”

“I can’t help you,” said June, letting go of the red button and turning back to Manouchka.

My pager beep-beep-beeped.

IMG_4066I had a feeling it was Dr. John Tucker, so I grinned even before I turned the pager so that its little plastic face could tell me who called. I shouldn’t have been smiling. I should’ve been keeping my distance from him, since I’d officially contacted the University of Ottawa about transferring so that I could finally move back to my hometown and back to Ryan Wu, my past and present boyfriend, ideally before the end of 2012. And I usually yell at Tucker for paging me when I’m on call, when I’m already pulled in ten million directions. But he was also on call, albeit one floor up, and I could use a friend plus or minus benefits.

It wasn’t Tucker.

It was 3361. My senior resident, Stan Biedelman.

I’d have to answer it back at the nursing station, since the phone in the room belonged to the patient, and I didn’t want to use up my iPhone battery or my personal minutes. St. Joe’s was too cheap to give every resident a hospital phone. “Excuse me, Ms. Beauzile,” I said. “I’ll be back.”

She turned her cheek away from me, her face puffy with pregnancy. Her hair tufted against the pillow.

I hadn’t even had a chance to check her cervix. I don’t always, because the fewer hands travelling up the va-jay-jay to contaminate the amniotic fluid, the better.

Luckily, the delivery rooms, or case rooms, are lined up one after the other, on the right side if you’re heading down the hall, and mine was directly opposite the nursing station on the left. So it was less than ten strides to the nearest beige phone sitting on the counter. I punched the four-digit extension in and introduced myself.

“There’s a consult in emerg,” said Stan, who’s only a year ahead of me in the family medicine program. “Vag bleed at ten weeks.”

That was slightly unusual. Nearly all our emergency consults are for vaginal bleeding at five to seven weeks, from women who may be miscarrying. Ten weeks is a bit late.

“It’s Dr. Callendar on, so you know what that means,” said Stan.

I did. It meant that he hadn’t done a vaginal exam. Theoretically, the emergency staff should do a complete physical exam, but if they’re lazy like Dr. C, they’ll slog it off on the specialty service. Tonight, that meant me. The rash on my ankles started to itch under the cuff of my socks. I started playing with the tinsel on the desk so that I wouldn’t scratch myself or say something I’d regret.

“Page me when you’re done, and we can talk to her together.”

“Thanks,” I said. Still holding on to the phone receiver, I walked around the counter to eyeball the whiteboard mounted above the clerk’s head. They keep it inside the nursing station for patient privacy. We only had three patients, including Ms. Beauzile. If I was going to deliver any babies before supper, she was my best bet. I grabbed the mouse, right-clicked her name, and added my name beside Ms. Beauzile’s, so Stan or the medical student shouldn’t try to swoop down and steal her.

I’d only delivered two infants as a medical student—not so many more than my queasy med school friend—but I had to liberate at least fifty this month, because St. Joseph’s has an unofficial quota. For every month on OB, you’re supposed to check off at least fifty newborns. If it’s a less fertile month, tough. Elbow the medical students out of the way and try and get the other resident to take over the wards while you run to the case room a minimum of fifty times.

So far, I’d delivered two babies in my first two days. Not bad, but I’d have to step it up if I was going to make quota before December tenth. I remembered something else to tell Stan. “Oh, by the way, the clerk said someone was looking for you. I assume it was you, anyway. Dr. Beeman?” Sounded kind of like Biedelman. I’m used to people massacring my last name.

“If they need me, they know where to find me.”

“Three-three-six-one?” I said, citing his current extension.

“Yeah. You got my cell phone, too, but don’t give it out to strange men.”

“Strange women okay?”

“Yeah. Just don’t tell my wife.”

We both laughed, and I hung up, forgetting to tell him not to steal my delivery. Oh, well. He was probably too busy eating Cheetos while I slogged away, but it didn’t bother me. Much. The junior always does all the work. Or, as Jade, a second-year resident, pointed out after a particularly terrible emerg shift, “Shit rolls downhill.”

IMG_7732The ER is kind of the mosh pit on the ground level where every man, woman, and child in Montreal ends up before we sort them out, and also where I want to work when I grow up. First, I had to get out of the labour and delivery area. I’m not sure why we call it the case room, because it’s basically a series of four rooms along the hallway, across from the nursing station. Up to four women can labour at once. If you continue past the case rooms to the end of the hall and turn left, along the bottom of a U shape, you’ll come out at the OR for emergency C-sections.

Instead, I forged a straight line in the opposite direction, toward the elevators. I passed a pregnant woman in a black burqa shuffling in the same direction. We often see women who wear head scarves—actually, I’m the one who gets them, because they invariably ask for a female doctor, and I often smile when I spot the trendy clothes underneath—so maybe this one would be my second delivery of the night. She was moving a little oddly, though. Not quite waddling, but kind of stiff-legged, although it was hard to tell because the fabric covered her from head to toe. The hem swept the floor, and the material hung over her hands, with only a letter slot opening for the eyes.

I turned sideways to pass the two couples waiting for triage. The women’s glazed eyes flickered past me. They were already tired, even before going into labour and actively pushing. Neither of them wore that eager, first-time relish. These women and men probably already had a kid or three at home, and wanted to get this over with so that they could start a new routine.

Triage is a doleful spot at the top of the corridor, because patients are waiting for one nurse to decide if they’re far enough along in labour to warrant being assigned to one of those four rooms, or if they’re going to get told to walk around and come back later. We also do non-stress tests here, or NST’s. Sounds horrible, but it just means a pregnant woman is strapped up to a monitor and we check the fetal heart rate for twenty minutes, to make sure it’s okay.

Usually, I’d sweep straight down to the emerg, the better to catch more deliveries. Instead, I glanced over my left shoulder. My potential new patient wore the most extreme sort of burqa, with a type of fabric grille over the eye opening. I couldn’t make out her expression, which freaked me out a little. Still, she was pointed toward triage, which was probably the right place for her, although it was hard to tell under all that cloth.

One lucky couple entered the triage room, leaving just the other couple in the hallway. Instead of queuing behind them, the burqa woman slowly passed them, following in my footsteps.

My eyes followed the burqa lady. My gut was trying to tell me something, although I couldn’t exactly tell what.

I had to finish the emerg consult before Manouchka delivered her baby. I should have shot right downstairs, but that nagging feeling made me wheel back toward the burqa woman, and I found myself saying, “May I help you?”

The figure in black turned toward me without speaking.

The same uneasy vibe made my scalp tingle and my voice rise. I said, “Were you asking for Dr. Biedelman? He’s a male physician. If you want a female physician, I can help you. I’m the junior resident on obstetrics and gynecology.”

The woman in black looked me up and down, still silent.

I was trying to peer through the grille of the veil. I figured I had to be able to look in so that she could see out, yet all I could make out was a bit of pale forehead and some deep brown eyes. The eyebrows seemed a bit bushy to me, which could’ve been a cultural thing. Or she didn’t have time to groom her eyebrows while she was in labour.

IMG_7730The triage nurse called out from her room, “It’s okay, I already paged Dr. Biedelman for another case.”

“Okay,” I said. I didn’t know why I was trying to save Stan more work. I was already doing the emerg consult for him.

I spun on my heel, toward the wider hallway in front of the elevators. I narrowly avoided running into a pregnant woman with bright blonde hair, a well-cut navy coat, and enough bling on her hands to blind an army. She clung to her husband’s arm. He was wearing a good-looking suit and surveyed the queue in front of him, his forehead already pleated with exasperation. They looked like money. You don’t see that often at St. Joe’s. Not that we don’t have middle class, but a lot of people are immigrants adjusting to a new country, not the Kennedys slumming it.

A set of elevator doors binged open to my right, and Stan stepped through the candy cane-stickered doors, coming toward me. He’s a big guy, probably six feet tall, made a few millimetres taller by a yarmulke. I’m not good at gauging heights. For me, most adults fall into the category of “tall” and “taller.” Anyway, Stan’s hilarious. I prize anyone who can make me laugh when I’m on call.

I started to wave at him. He said, “If I don’t answer my page, it’s because I’ve got a woman in labour.”

“Who?” I said. “The one at six centimetres, I’ve got my name down on her.”

“Mine just came in. She’s full term and fully dilated.”

“I want her!” I said.

He smirked. “Not a chance. The nurse called me about her directly. She’s gonna push. And you’ve got the emerg consult.”

I clenched my hands into fists. He glanced down at them with a little smile, so I forced my hands to relax as I asked, “Stan, how many women have you delivered so far?”

“Let me see.” He pulled out his phone and pretended to check. “Oh. Eleven.”

“I’ve only got two. Let me have her, and then I’ll go right down to do the emerg consult. Please.”

“Forget it. I’ve got to get to fifty.”

“But you’re already over 20 percent of the way there! And we’re on day three. Come on, Stan.”

He waved. “Hey, enjoy Dr. Callendar. I did, when I was the junior. Now it’s my turn.”

Right. His turn to cherry-pick the women in labour. I steamed.

“Your turn will come. You said you had your name down on the six-centimetre one. All in good time.”

With my luck, Manouchka Beauzile would deliver while I was in the emerg, at the exact moment when Stan miraculously stepped into the room. Then I could end up with zero deliveries during my night on call. I took a step toward him. “Stan.”

He waved me away. “See you later, Hope. Look, the elevator’s already open for you. Just ride it on down.”

As if on cue, the usually molasses-slow elevator doors slipped closed. Stan chortled.

I wanted to hit him. He was so smug. And anyway, I usually took the stairs, at least at the beginning of the night, while I still had some juice. The stairs were around the corner, closer to the ward rooms where moms cuddled with their newborns and a few women lay on bed rest, trying not to give birth to premature twins. I started toward the stairs, but the burqa woman said, in a muffled voice, “Excuse me.”

She stood before the single doorway to the case room, blocking Stan’s way in toward triage and the labour rooms.

Stan hesitated. “Yes?” He gazed over her head, down the hall, clearly already ticking off number twelve in his mind.

She didn’t have an accent, exactly, but she pitched her voice low. “What is the name of your patient?”

That was an odd thing to ask.

“Sorry, I can’t disclose any patient names,” said Stan, glancing at the triage line-up behind her.

“It’s important,” said the woman, crossing her arms over her shoulders, like she was cold and giving herself a hug.

“Just ask at the desk, if you’re a friend or family,” said Stan, starting to brush past her. I could already hear the triage nurse’s voice, raised in irritation at the blonde couple trying to cut ahead in line.

“Tell me,” said the burqa woman, louder now, with a strange note to her voice. The fabric billowed around her arms and chest.

“No can do,” said Stan, head down and bustling toward the case room and his next delivery.

The burqa woman pulled a big, black gun out of the folds in her robe and shot him in the back.

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Read Chapter 2.

Killer openers: the first seven paragraphs of Stockholm Syndrome

Birth smells.

I’m not saying it stinks–well, to some people, it does. I remember the classmate who finished our med school OB/gyn rotation without ever delivering an infant. He delivered half of the head, and then the look on his face was so horrid that the obstetrician delivered the rest of baby.

My name’s Hope Sze. I’m a female resident doctor in Montreal, and whether I like it or not, I’ve become a detective too, during my copious free time.

I’ve got a stronger stomach than that classmate, but when I stepped into the delivery room, it only smelled like sweat and a little blood. The odours would grow stronger once the amniotic fluid broke and the afterbirth emerged, but for now, I didn’t hold my breath.

My eyes adjusted to the darkness. They’d turned the lights off, except a small fluorescent light. The baby’s heartbeat chugged along on the fetal monitor. Whump, whump, whump at 162 beats per minute.

Most of obstetrics is nice and normal, except the occasional C-section. They screen out congenital abnormalities at St. Joseph’s, our small community hospital. “This is the only happy area of the hospital!” an obstetrician told me, on my first day. “Everybody’s smiling!”

The black woman in the bed wasn’t smiling. She was sweating. Which made sense. “That’s why they call it labour,” the nurse will say, while the woman recovers from the latest contraction. That’s normal too. So I was pretty surprised when my obstetrics rotation transformed into a bone-chilling bloodbath.

___

stockholm syndrome pregnant

So Rob Cornell asked me to post the first seven paragraphs of my work in progress. For me, that’s Stockholm Syndrome, now available for preorder at Kobo and Smashwords!

You may notice two different covers because my naked cover got censored. More on that later.

If you want to start with the first Hope Sze novel, Code Blues, it’s now available for free until March 16th exclusively at Vuzehttp://blog.vuze.com/2015/02/24/new-medical-thriller-book-bundle-melissa-yi/

I’m experimenting with posting chapters on Wattpad and WriteOn, so you can get the first five chapters there. I don’t know if I’ll post the whole book, even though posting a partial can be seen as a dick move. On the other hand, giving away my book permanently could be a stupid move. What do you think?

Fifty Shades of Grey’s Anatomy will make its official debut at the Williamstown Library on April first at 10:30 a.m. That’s right, my latest book is an April Fools joke. Come laugh!

This is the most downer essay in the book. The rest are about medicine and, er, the naughty bits.

If you preordered, I might distribute the books tomorrow, if I have enough juice after my night shift. Pay me tonight and I’ll drop the books at the emerg on my way home to sleep, so you can spend your March Break reading about penile fractures, scrotal lacerations, and other yuk yucks.

NanowriME (Or, how I hurt myself by writing thirty thousand words in nine days)

It’s NaNoWriMo!

Wha’s that?

You know, when people try to write a 50,000 word novel in a month. National Novel Writing Month.

I never picked up the gauntlet until now. I was like, I’m busy. I’m in the middle of a novel already—why should I stop and write one ’specially for November, just because some other crazy cats are doing it?

But people told me I could just sign up anyway. 50K is 50K of fiction. “Just call it book two or something.’

And so I said, okay.

And, being me, as soon as I saw my “writing buddies” accumulating wordage, I started racing them. I’ve been writing like a fiend. Like, 25,000 words in the first week. Writing around my emerg shifts. Crouching over my laptop and trying to type one-handed while Anastasia clings to my other hand for the hour plus it takes her to fall sleep. Whatever it takes.

Enough that I pulled a muscle in my back and had to teach two yoga classes while doing sphinx pose instead of cobra/upward dog for the second class.

(Word to the wise: don’t hurt yourself writing. It’s dumb. But if you do, yoga really does help reduce back pain. At least, I can offer myself as anecdotal evidence.)

stockholm syndrome pregnant-200

I’m still going for it. I finished the first draft of Stockholm Syndrome and now I just need to make it, you know, readable. So now I’m going to noodle along, just write a bit each day, piecing it together. I only need to write something like 888 words per day for the rest of the month to get to 50K. I can throttle back, let my buddies race ahead/catch up, and get ready for Kingston.

I’m teaching a seminar on creativity in medicine at CUCOH on Saturday. And they just asked me to teach the intubation workshop as well.

I said, Sure.

Should be interesting.

P.S. Buddy me as dr_sassy on Nano, if you want! I’m at 32,576 right now.

How ’bout you? Do you have any tips? Have you ever hurt yourself doing something stupid? Will I see you at CUCOH? Right on!

What I’m Working On Now: Hope, Noir & My First #Walkcast [#MyWritingProcess Blog Tour]

First up, props to Rob Brunet. I first got to know him because a contact at Ellery Queen mentioned he’d sold a story to the magazine, so I Tweeted a hi and congratulations, and Rob was like, “Uh, hi. So…who are you and how did you know that?” Only much more polite, because Rob and I are Canadian, yo.

1-StinkingRichx2700_2

Rob, a.k.a. Canada’s Carl Hiassen, will launch his debut novel, Stinking Rich, in September. Meanwhile, he’s beavering away at the sequel, Ka-boom, “a story about a bible camp gone bad.” Love it. Read more about him and his process here.
Rob tagged me in What I’m Working On, a writing blog tour where we each answer four questions:

What am I working on?
I’m mostly wearing my mystery hat right now. I was invited to submit to two anthologies, Jewish Noir and Montreal Noir, so I just finished two Hope Sze medical mystery stories for them. And I’m 12,000 words into Stockholm Syndrome, the fourth Hope Sze book, but first, I want to finish editing a fun cozy mystery, The Goa Yoga School of Slayers.

Early cover which will need fixing. Feel free to critique.

Early cover which will need fixing. Feel free to critique.

Non-fiction-wise, I should polish the next collection of Unfeeling Doctor medical humour essays, Breaking Bones.

breaking bones cover

We just finished editing the audiobook for The Most Unfeeling Doctor in the World, which I hope to distribute on ACX. And I just started doing walkcasts (walking podcasts), thanks to Michael La Ronn. So. Bref (as the French would say), I’m juggling a few different balls in the air.

My first #walkcast is about multitasking: Secrets of Highly Efficient Writers Tip #1: Make Writing a Habit. We’re called the Creative Doctor & Dog because I generally walk with our dog, Roxy. Anastasia appears in later walkcasts too.

My first #walkcast is about multitasking: Secrets of Highly Efficient Writers Tip #1: Make Writing a Habit. We’re called the Creative Doctor & Dog because I generally walk with our dog, Roxy. Anastasia appears in later walkcasts too. This is a photo of a different doctor & dog, by David Mark.


How does my work differ from others in the same genre?
I’m such an oddball, I don’t worry about sounding the same as everyone else. But I like to make jokes, and I’ve been told I’m very direct, maybe not at the same time. For example, when I wrote about a patient giving birth and passing stool, my editor commented, “Is this necessary?” I was just like, “It happens.” I call ’em as I see ’em, which is part of the reason not everyone gets my writing. But when they do, heaven.

Why do I write what I do?

For fun. Or profit. Or both. If I’ve had a bad ER shift, it helps to write about it, even if I never publish it. Fantasy, science fiction, children’s books, and YA are even more of an escape. Mystery means delving into the worst of human nature, but also seeking justice. And who doesn’t need a little more romance in life? So I just kind of spin from one thing to the other, which amuses my hummingbird brain, but does add to the chaos.

How does my writing process work?
My rule of thumb is that I do 500 words a day if I’m working in the emerg, 1000 words a day if I’m not working. Small but consistent goals. I like to wake up and write right away, before working in the ER and/or before my kids wake up. Then I can relax because I feel like I’ve done my homework. Otherwise, it weighs on me. My kids are like, “Mommy, I’m a train,” and I’m like, “I haven’t even broken 200 yet! Go play by yourselves!” But if I’ve done my words, I’ll say, “Choo choo.” I do try and get one day a week to myself to write and do yoga, which means that I rely heavily on our babysitter, Aly.

Thanks to Rob for tagging me. Next, I’ll pass the baton to Steve Steinbock, the Jury Box reviewer at Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine who introduced me to Rob and invited me to Bloody Words. See? Full circle. Take it away, Steve.

Rob Brunet & Steve Steinbock, eager to tell you about their writing process.

Rob Brunet & Steve Steinbock, eager to tell you about their writing process.