Writing a medical memoir

Regular readers of this blog will know that in 2015 my husband Brian had a near-fatal heart attack, and that this was followed by a whole series of medical and surgical emergencies affecting our family. I had spent many years working on the medical staff of hospitals and hospices, but experiencing serious illness from the perspective of patients and relatives was very different.

After recovering from the traumas I decided to write a short memoir about them, and this is now available on Smashwords, Amazon US and Amazon UK under the title Across a Sea of Troubles. The first part tells the story of what happened, and the second part is a review of various topics including life event stress, the mind-body connection, post-traumatic syndromes and the role of  the carer.

I wrote this partly for myself as a way of coming to terms with things. Whether it has actually been therapeutic I am not sure – revising the manuscript involved rather too much focus on painful memories. So even if it still not a perfectly finished book, I have decided to publish it and move on. I hope it will hold some value for people who are coping with illness, whether as patients or relatives or health care professionals. But as always when publishing something new, I feel apprehensive about its reception: have I revealed too much personal information about myself or others? does it come across as morbid and self-pitying? is the medical information accurate?

A memoir can be defined as “a record of events written by a person having intimate knowledge of them and based on personal observation”. In contrast to an autobiography, it describes one particular aspect of experience rather than a whole life. Naively perhaps, I have always tended to assume that both memoirs and autobiographies are historically accurate. So I was a little shocked to be advised on one on-line site that it is acceptable, even desirable, to alter the facts to make them more interesting or inspirational for the reader. Although I did wish there were more positive aspects to my own story I resisted any temptation to embroider the truth, and wrote it exactly as I remember, checking all the dates from my diaries. So, rather than one of those books about “illness as a precious gift that transformed my life” it is an honest account of a rather gruelling sequence of events. Here again are the links for Smashwords, Amazon US and Amazon UK. I will share a short extract in my next post.

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A story about the long shadow of war

I’m pleased to announce that the ebook version of my second novella Blue Moon for Bombers was published today. Set in England 2007, with flashbacks to the 1940s, the story explores the psychological aftermath of World War Two interwoven with a modern romance.

The ebook is available from Smashwords, Amazon Kindle and various online stores. Amazon also carries a paperback version, which readers outside America can probably buy more cheaply through other websites, for example Fishpond and The Book Depository for those of us here in New Zealand.

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Here is a short excerpt from the opening chapter:

 

 

Chapter 1: Multiple pathology

“I killed him!”

“Please be quiet, you’re disturbing the other patients,” said Phyllida. She reached out to give her father a soothing pat on the hand, but with a violent jerk he moved his hand away, and shouted louder than ever “I killed him!”

“What are you talking about? Who have you killed?”

“Leo. Leo.”

“Who’s Leo?”

“I killed him!”

Phyllida did not know what to do or say. She rang the bell above the bed and while waiting for it to be answered she turned away to look through out the window at the rain steadily falling onto the sodden flowerbed outside the ward. She was greatly relieved when a nurse, a young woman with a bright and confident manner, came in and asked her to wait outside the room while they gave her father an injection.

The drug was obviously fast-acting, for when Phyllida went back in she found that the old man had stopped shouting, though he continued to mutter and groan as he tossed his head from side to side on the pillow. He did not seem aware of Phyllida’s presence, and she thought that perhaps it would be alright to go home.

On her way out of the ward she was waylaid by the nurse, whose name badge read SALLY. “Can you pop into the office for a minute?”

It was more like a command than a request and Phyllida obeyed, though with reluctance. She felt afraid that she might be held to blame for her father being such a difficult patient and making so much noise. She was also worried about driving home in the wet weather, about being late with preparing dinner for her husband Barney, and about the guests coming for the weekend, not to mention the fear that the somewhat forward young woman might mention genetic testing.

“I’m your Dad’s named nurse today, and I’ve been reading up on his case,” said Sally.

Phyllida winced on hearing her father referred to as “Dad”, for she never used that familiar term. She called him by his first name, Desmond, when she had to call him anything at all. Sally went on “It must be hard for you, seeing him so distressed. What’s it all about, do you know?”

“No, I’ve no idea,” said Phyllida.

“From what the night staff heard him saying we wondered if he served in the war at all?”

“Yes. He was in the Air Force.”

“What, a Spitfire pilot or something like that?”

“I’m not sure exactly,” said Phyllida.

“My boyfriend’s making a model Spitfire,” Sally told her.

Although Phyllida realised that the girl was only trying to put her at ease, she considered this remark somewhat unprofessional.“Really,” she said.

“Well, whatever,” said Sally. “There’s obviously some stuff from the war which is playing on your Dad’s mind. He’s been too confused to tell us what’s troubling him but I’d say he’s got Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.”

“Well, I’m afraid I don’t know really anything about his war service,” said Phyllida. “He never talked about that aspect of his past.”

If you enjoyed reading this, please help my marketing campaign by sharing this post with your contacts. Here again are the links to the Amazon and Smashwords sites.