I trained as a physiotherapist nearly thirty years ago, and worked in acute medicine and neuro rehabilitation in New Zealand and the United Kingdom. I ended my clinical practice about seven years back, and strangely I don’t miss it terribly; one moves onto other things.
I moved into business management and fiction writing. Rather unexpectedly, my clinical experience has proved extremely useful in my writing. Writers, you see, love healthcare. Hospitals provide dramatic opportunities, and a dramatic illness creates a chance to show something about a character. It’s not an accident that best-sellers feature terminal illnesses or genetic diseases.
Publishers tell me these books do well. “What we need,” said a London-based acquisitions editor, “is more stories about kids with incurable illnesses. Not in a voyeuristic way, of course. Tastefully done.”
How can you make illness tasteful? I can’t write material like this; I’ve seen the reality too often to ever try and fictionalise it.
However, what I can quite happily do is provide advice to other writers. I’ve joined a wonderful Trauma Fiction Group on Facebook. This group has a variety of writers with healthcare experience, from first responder to radiology, and together we try and answer questions. We make it quite clear that this is not medical advice, merely an educated opinion for fictional purposes only.
Writers ask disturbing questions. Some (only slightly altered) examples:
How can I kill my main character’s mother so he might be suspected of the murder?
How might my character kill someone and not be caught?
My character is a diabetic time traveller. What should she have in a medical kit?
If my character were in a coma, would the ED staff cut his clothes off him?
Where in the chest could someone be shot and survive?
Television shows a hospital full of glamorous medical staff saving one life after another. But this group teaches the reality: nurses spend most of their time doing charts. They are really tired by the end of shift. First responder work is highly technical. Communication can be problematic, and frequently there are processes that just do not make sense.
Hopefully, this group will lead to better, more accurate fiction. And sometimes, this group makes me nostalgic for my old hospital life.
Rachel Stedman: Award-winning author Rachel Stedman lives in Dunedin, New Zealand with her husband and two children. Her first novel, A Necklace of Souls, won Best First Novel at the New Zealand Post Book Awards 2014. In 2012 Rachel was the winner of the Tessa Duder Award and was shortlisted for the Tom Fitzgibbon Award. Rachel enjoys hiking, cycling and running. And reading, of course. www.RLStedman.com