Malpractice: When Writers Put Their Characters in the Hospital

My own private pharmacy.
My own private pharmacy.

This is the start of a series of posts I will be doing because I feel the need to save the world.

From what?

From stories where a character ends up in the hospital, and the medical writing is more injurious than the actual malady.

If you are going to put a character in the hospital, you need to know how to do it. You also need to know what happens inside a hospital and how long people stay. You need to know what nurses can and can’t do, what doctors can and can’t do, and why your character’s friend-of-family-doctor can’t simply take charge of her care. You need to know what happens after a character goes home in terms of when they can go home, why they are allowed to go home, and what the follow up care is.

Why listen to me? Because I’m a f*cking gold star club card holder at Massachusetts General Hospital. Here’s a list of my experience and “qualifications.”

  • IMG_0258
    Pre-biopsy? Pre-op? Post-op? Inpatient? Outpatient? Take your pic. It could be any one of these things.

    I’ve had a kidney transplant since 2007. I’m a walking encyclopedia on infectious diseases, pharmacology, and clinics.

  • I’ve had cervical cancer. Luckily, mine was caught early and completely by surgery. But, I’ve gone with my friend Jaime to her chemo treatments since day one. I know a few things about how chemo works now.
  • I have been hospitalized for infections, accidents, near-death drug interactions.
  • I’ve been taken in ambulances, taxi cabs, and driven myself.
  • I’ve ended up in the hospital in everywhere from Portugal to New Mexico.
  • I was hospitalized for pneumonia. Wheeze, cough. Cough. Ow.
  • I’ve been hospitalized for multiple infections of various kinds as a result of having no immune system (thanks, kidney transplant!).
  • I was hospitalized for a stomach infection (that had an upper GI endoscopy involved – SO much fun).
  • I’ve had miscarriages from 6 weeks to 5 months. (This does not imply I’ve got a lot of obstetrics knowledge. I don’t. I know my limits.)
  • I’ve had enough iv’s and blood draws that I could be an iv nurse. Or part-time vampire.
  • I’ve worked in hospital administration. I am surrounded by friends and family who are doctors and nurses.
  • I’ve had ultrasounds, x-rays, CAT scans, MRI’s, stress tests, bone density scans, you name it. Interventional radiology procedures like angiograms are lots of fun, too.
  • I’ve sat at the bedside of my father as he went through heart attacks, surgeries, and finally the strokes that killed him. I know what it’s like to watch someone die.
  • I know how an ICU works.
  • Blood transfusions. I’ve got a frequent customer punch card.
IV infusion of immune suppression meds? I call that Monday. And occasionally, Tuesday.
IV infusion of immune suppression meds? I call that Monday. And occasionally, Tuesday.

Basically, I am at the hospital 2-4 times every month for various reasons. Mostly outpatient appointments, but I’ve got a collection of more than 30 wristbands that tell the story of my inpatient experience.

There are things I don’t know about and won’t comment about:

  • Orthopedic stuff. I don’t know jack about bones, backs, and breaks.
  • Neurology. Closed book.
  • What happens in pathology or lab departments? Don’t ask me…though I do know someone who works in one and could probably help me out if I needed the inside scoop.
  • Colonoscopies. Another closed book.
  • While I know about ICU’s, I don’t know about NICU’s.
  • I don’t know what goes on in a psych ward, though I know a LOT about psychology itself.

I’m forgetting things I do and do not know, but they’ll pop up soon enough.

Basically, what I aim to do is for each post, take one thing that irritates the crap out of me when I read it in a story and explain what it’s really like and things that a writer should know about how and why it is the way it is. Like with iv’s. What is it with people who can’t write a decent description of having an iv? In fact, that will probably be my first post.

Obviously, I’ll let everyone know when I post a “Malpractice” blog, but if you want to make sure you get notifications for it, you can follow this blog, sign up for email (I never do email promo stuff because I’m like you and would either junk it or never open it, so it would just be an email for new post alerts), or follow me on Twitter @caitreynolds or Facebook at

If you do follow me on Twitter or Facebook, just know that I rarely do promo stuff. Usually, I like sharing things that are funny and/or interesting. I like getting to know people, not just pumping out blurbs for my books.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned!

April Fool’s for Transplant Peeps!

At the climbing gym, where else?
At the climbing gym, where else?

I had a kidney transplant in May of 2007 (almost 7 years! DV, going strong!). My uncle, Franco, gave me one of his kidneys. It wasn’t a surprise that we were a genetic match, given our predisposition for adrenaline rushes, reading, and very bad practical jokes.

April Fool’s has been a specialty of mine for years with him. I don’t always do something, so that way, he gets lulled into a sense of false security. I can go years without playing a prank. I play a long game. I wait until I have the perfect idea, and even if it means waiting until the following April to carry it out, I will do it.

Two years ago, I decided it was time to unleash my latest bit of heart-pounding brilliance. I called his home phone and left a voicemail message for him. It went something like this:

“Hi, this is Kate from the Mass General Hospital’s Transplant Unit. I’m a donation coordinator, and I just wanted to let you know that the paperwork for your second kidney donation is in the mail and should get to you by Friday. Please follow the instructions and fill out all the forms, and take the release forms to your doctor. We want to thank you again for your generous, life-saving gift of both kidneys. My number is <I listed my real phone number> if you have any questions.”

It was all worth it for the single moment of confusion and panic he had before he figured it out.

I’m still grinning. Evilly, of course.