A medical life, in fiction

From patients hopping up off the stretcher before being put under by the anaesthetist for surgery to a doctor dealing with the loss of a patient, Red Deer general surgeon and author Dr. Paul Hardy offers a look at what a medical career entails in his book Surgical Heights.

Dr. Paul Hardy

Dr. Paul Hardy

From patients hopping up off the stretcher before being put under by the anaesthetist for surgery to a doctor dealing with the loss of a patient, Red Deer general surgeon and author Dr. Paul Hardy offers a look at what a medical career entails in his book Surgical Heights.

The novel follows main character Jim Smythe in his present day life, with flashbacks to his residency, showcasing the triumphs and tribulations of a general surgeon.

Hardy, who received his medical degree from the University of Western Ontario and did his surgery residency in Edmonton, started writing the book in early 2009.

For years, he had thought about writing about the kinds of scenarios doctors deal with on a daily basis, but it wasn’t until then that he found the time to do so.

While continuing to do his demanding career in general surgery — performing everything from gallbladder, hernia and bowel surgeries to operating on women with breast cancer — Hardy would get up most mornings at 5 or 6 a.m. and write for an hour or two before going to Red Deer Regional Hospital Centre.

He had the first draft of his book complete after four months and then spent the rest of 2009 having it edited, re-working and adding to the novel.

“I just had ideas I wanted to get down on paper. It wasn’t difficult,” Hardy said.

“The refining and editing was difficult, but I had lots of help with that.”

The book is now available at Sunworks in downtown Red Deer, as well Coles in Parkland Mall.

It will be available in Chapters by mid-May. There is a reading, signing and reception for the book set for Friday, May 7, from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. at Sunworks at 4924 Ross Street in downtown Red Deer.

Hardy, 49, has worked in medicine across the country from Ontario to B.C, and even spent a little time in Iqaluit.

The novel captures the challenges surgeons must deal with, everything from learning how to put the mask on right side up as a medical resident to having a dictation transcribing machine replace a phrase like “asked to” to bastards in a letter to a family physician.

Hardy said he expects people will think they recognize characters in the book as themselves or someone they’ve worked with in medicine, but the characters are all fictional.

Although the main character is a surgeon like himself, Hardy said he is also fictional and not a carbon copy of himself.

“I think you write about what you know,” Hardy said. “I can say quite confidently that many of his thoughts aren’t my thoughts, but some are.”

He said the book is for people who like medical fiction, including health care workers, but also those who enjoy watching medical dramas.

He sees the book as offering a story, but believes it could also be educational for the general public.

It gives a feel for the kinds of hours doctors work and also some of the issues they have to deal with including confidentiality, medical politics, physician wellness and how the education of residents is changing.

“It was kind of fun because writing fiction I can have two people arguing about something. I don’t really have to take a side and you may not be able to guess if I’m on one side or the other, but at least you get the discussion going,” Hardy said.

In the time since Hardy started his medical career he has witnessed a dramatic shift in how many surgeries are done.

When he started gallbladder surgery was always done as open surgery, with many days of recovery for the patient in hospital. Now the procedure for an uncomplicated case of gallbladder surgery is often laparoscopic, with surgeons doing a small incision and using a telescopic rod lens and a video camera to perform much less invasive surgery.

Hardy printed up the book on his own, creating 850 copies so far, of which most have already sold.

He hopes a publisher may pick up the book so it has a wider distribution.

He has lived in Red Deer since 1997 with his wife Janet, who the book is dedicated to, along with his son and daughter.

More information is available on the book at website www.surgicalheights.com.

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