Wednesday, March 5, 2008

My life as a star of ER... NOT!

by C.J. Lyons -- guest blogger

(C.J. Lyons, whose first medical thriller has just been published by Berkley, is a physician trained in Pediatric Emergency Medicine and has assisted police and prosecutors with cases involving child abuse, rape, homicide and Munchausen by Proxy. She has worked in numerous trauma centers as a crisis counselor and victim advocate, and as a flight physician for Life Flight. Publisher's Weekly proclaimed her debut novel, Lifelines, "a spot-on debut….a breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller" and Romantic Times made it a Top Pick. Contact her at

After spending 17+ years practicing pediatrics and pediatric emergency medicine, the most often asked questions I get aren't about how many lives I've saved (I don't know), how often I've been sued (never), or even why I went into medicine (a long story).

No, the questions I get asked over and over are: Is it really like on TV? And have you met George Clooney?

My answers are: no (thank god!) and no, but I sure wouldn't mind!

What's strange is that people don't believe real world ER medicine isn't like TV.

Yet, they assume that my novel, Lifelines (just published, yeah!!)—which IS as close as you can get to the real world of emergency medicine and still be entertaining, or at least as close as I can make it—has no relation to reality because it's "fiction."

When did TV become more believable than the characters we pour our blood, sweat and tears into?

Why would people want to think that a xenophobic drug addict with anti-social personality disorder and poor diagnostic skills (he makes three wrong diagnoses for every one he gets right!) like House is the way doctors are in real life?

Or that it's commonplace for attending physicians to seduce their 25 year old interns—grounds for dismissal, sanctions, and lawsuits in the real world—and there are no consequences?

Maybe they like to believe that us doctors really are ignoring our patients in order to have sex in the call rooms…and linen closets…and OR's, stairwells, rooftops, exam rooms, and wherever else those frisky Grey's Anatomy surgeons have done it.

Come to think of it, that would be a great incentive to go to work, knowing that these guys were ready and waiting to fulfill my every sexual fantasy and that I wouldn't have to worry about a pesky little thing called patient care to get in the way of my fun….

Then there's the most insidious TV misperception of all, one that seemed universally held by every patient who came to my ER. It's what I call the Burger King mentality—and I blame ER for creating it.

On ER, a patient arrives with a tummy ache and whoosh….thirty seconds later he's in a room, examined (without removing any clothes, these docs have x-ray vision!!!), a surgeon is found and lays eyes on him, proclaims him an appy ready to burst, and voila! An OR complete with staff, anesthesiologists, and equipment is ready for him. Right here, right now!

Talk about raising consumer expectations to an impossible level. This "have it my way, right away" mentality has grown to epidemic proportions.

Don't get me started…

So, here's the real scoop. Yes, scrubs are comfortable but they do tend to smell after you've been running around for 36 hours or more. Probably why, no, we don't get to have sex in the call rooms, stairwells, ORs or wherever. Actually, when you're working 36 on-12 off, you don't get to have much sex at all…

Yes, it's "cool" to see all the strange and wonderful things people do to themselves, like why for some reason, men always seem to change light bulbs in the nude and somehow fall on them, impaling them you-know-where….

No, it's not at all "cool" to see the reality of what people are capable of: murder, torture, rape, neglect, sheer indifference. Or the damage that a body can sustain: gunshot wounds, motor vehicle collisions, falls, stabbings, etc.

And if we need to blow off steam with a little gallows humor, it's not because we actually think it's funny or because we're jaded or callous—it's because if we didn't laugh, we'd be shutting ourselves in the supply closet and breaking down in tears, which wouldn't do our other patients much good.

Yes, we sometimes make mistakes (like House does on every show). No, we don't typically allow physicians go around disrupting everyone while popping pills.

Yes, working in the ER is fun and crazy and stressful and just about every other adjective in the dictionary.

And no, I still haven't met George Clooney—but if you see him, slip him a copy of Lifelines (on sale now!) and tell him to give me a call. Anytime. Day or night. Seriously.

For him, I'll find a clean pair of scrubs that make me look as sexy as those chicks on Grey's Anatomy….

Thanks for reading!

PS: I'm at Left Coast Crime this week, so grab me and say Hi!


Darlene Ryan said...

Welcome CJ! I can't wait to read Lifelines. I'm curious about how you became a writer. Instead of having sex in a supply closet with George Clooney or Hugh Laurie were you scribbling story ideas on the back of a prescription pad?

Bill Cameron said...


See you, well, tomorrow! Already! Wow!

Not that I think House is in any way realistic, by on Diagnosis X on Discovery Health & Science, an allegedly "true" semi-documentary show, they get it wrong a lot too until they finally get it right. Of course, unlike House, they're earnest and thoughtful and caring and kind. Is that show a buncha hokum too? Because, man, I get caught up in it and can't stop watching. Although, I admit, I find House very entertaining, even if the thought of someone like that loose in the wild is pretty terrifying.

CJ Lyons said...

LOL! Almost--I have tons of notes scribbled on orange progress notes from medical charts!

I actually have been writing all my life, but a few years ago decided it was time to "come out of the closet" and work toward publication. It's been a wild and crazy and fun rollercoaster ride ever since!

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

Great post, CJ! Amazing how people believe what they want to believe. I used to watch Doc, with the equally adorable Billy Ray Cyrus. He was always making friends with the patients and going around to their homes and workplaces to help them out. But the thing that always bugs me in hospital shows is the absence of social workers. On TV, it's always the docs who deal supportively and at length with patients' families. When they show a social worker, it's one like Tyne Daly in Judging Amy, whose job was taking people's children away, again getting emotionally involved with clients with no boundaries at all, and refusing to go into therapy herself.

CJ Lyons said...

Hi, Bill! I have a love/hate relationship with both House and DiagnosisX.

House because I can tell the diagnosis within the first five minutes (usually) and have to endure them acting like idiots for 45 minutes just to see Hugh Laurie's compelling acting.

DiagnosisX because so much of medicine is an unraveling over time--there are tons of diseases that present very similarly, so do you try to treat what 90% of the time is the right diagnosis or do you put the patient through more and more tests just in case it's one of the rare 10%???

Not to mention that a lot of diseases there are NO tests for (despite what it shows on TV), so you just need to observe over time.

Frustrating for everyone in this age of instant gratification, but no doctor walks into a patient's room with the goal of missing a diagnosis....that's why medicine is so challenging.

Infinite possibilities in infinite combinations....

CJ Lyons said...

Hi, Elizabeth!

I never saw Doc, but I can tell you that while I practiced community pediatrics in rural PA I did make house calls and often parking-lot calls--when you run into your patients at Walmart or the football game or wherever and they stop to tell you everything that's going on, just to see if they should make an appointment, lol!

Usually those conversations were preceded by: hate to bother you at work, doc, so could you just take a look....

I love social workers!!! But there seems to be a shortage--good nurses too! So we did have to do more of those "touchy-feely" jobs--both in the ER and when I worked in rural practices.

I was pretty good at it because of all my work with sexual assault victims, but most doctors aren't. We just never get the training to do that in med school.

Joyce said...

Hi CJ!

It's nice to know that cop shows aren't the only ones that get it wrong. I've pretty much given up on watching TV. At least I have more time to write now.

See you in the 'burgh next month!

CJ Lyons said...

Hi Joyce! Thanks for dropping by!

Yeah, I laugh at the cop shows, too. As long as it's entertaining and the characters are compelling, I don't mind. After all, it's meant to be entertainment.

My fav shows of last fall were Saving Grace (which gets a lot of the cop mentality right) and Life. Who could resist characters like that?

Terry Odell said...

Hi, CJ -- wish I could be at Left Coast, but I just finished SleuthFest.

I've pretty much given up on television myself. I get a lot more writing done. Only trouble is, readers want the stories to be like what they see on tv.

CJ Lyons said...

Hi Terry! Wish I could have been at SleuthFest--it's always one of my favorite conferences!

Thanks for dropping by!

Elaine Grant said...

Hi C.J.
I can hardly wait to read your book. I don't watch any doctor or cop shows (I know, I'm probably the only one in the world, but I don't). So I'll be glad to get it right the first time from you!

Hope to see you around one of the conferences this year


CJ Lyons said...

Thanks, Elaine!! Falling into a good book is probably better than watching TV least for us writers, lol!

rebecca cantrell said...

Hi CJ, Congratulations on the book!Regarding TV. I was a technical writer for a while and we weren't even considered glamorous enough to get our own show...until we did. And, MAN, did those TV folks get it wrong. :)

Hope you are living it up at LCC, Debutante Author...

CJ Lyons said...

Thanks, Becky! Having a great time so far--just did my very first ever book signings!

And yes, everyone asked about being an ER doc....thankfully I finally thought of a "G-rated" case I could share with folks.

Lonnie Cruse said...

Hi CJ! Great to see a picture of you and put a face to a name. I've seen you post often on various lists. Loved your guest post.