Friday, December 2, 2011

#12 Adult Fiction: A Flick of the Switch

TITLE: A Flick of the Switch
GENRE: Adult Fiction

When the hospital settles a controversial case and removes the life support systems for a viable baby, Emily, a nurse recovering from the death of her own premature baby, flicks the respirator switch back on. Relying on lessons learned from her unscrupulous estranged husband, Emily must lie, steal and manipulate to keep the baby hidden until he can breathe on his own, all the while risking her own dreams of becoming a doctor.

I have to stand by while a baby dies. He’s not mine.

I duck into the bathroom the first chance I get. The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is buzzing with activity and some well-meaning nurse is sure to offer sympathy if I grab a cup of tea in the cafeteria.
Thick heels clop on linoleum.

The door opens. I slide into a stall and sit. There's not enough time to lift my cheap brown loafers.
“Emily, is that you?”

It's Rosy, my only friend here at this hospital. “I've been looking for you. Did you see all the protesters out front?” she says.

“Yeah. News travels fast.”

Silence. I flush the clean toilet. I can’t hide forever.

Rosy follows me to the sink. “Honey, you look greener than your smock. Makeup?”

I rifle through my purse to avoid meeting her eyes.

Rosy hands me some powder, which I dab around my face. “You don't have to be in with Baby M. I can go instead.” She touches my sleeve.

“No, I was there at his birth. He knows me, better than his own so-called mother. And I've got to be able to handle this or I'm in the wrong job.”

“Give yourself a break,” Rosy says. “I'm sure if Nurse Vance knew what happened to you, she’d take you off the assist.”

My breath catches so I force the words out. “No, I’ll do it. But I don’t get why the hospital is pulling the plug on a viable baby.”


  1. I really liked this, except for the first two sentences. I would strongly suggest you cut them. They add nothing, and in fact seem to sledgehammer your point home, when the rest of the scene is more subtle and elegant. Good job apart from that and good luck for the auction.

  2. This sounds fascinating.

    I actually love the opening line. But I was going to suggest cutting the "He's not mine" which becomes clear quickly in the text.

  3. I agree with Helene about cutting "He's not mine." Let us figure that out.

    Your writing is smooth and I definitely want to keep reading. I really don't have much to add as I think it's very good.

    Good luck!

  4. Ooh, I want to see what this woman would do.

  5. Your first page is effective, because I definitely want to know what happens.

    Some of the dialog seems forced. Because of the first person POV, I think some of what she's thinking needs to be in the vernacular of NICU nurse (notice they would call it NICU), and your readers will understand what that is - trust us.

    This is a great premise, and I would certainly want to read more!

    Oh, and the logline is good - just the right amount of info.

    Best wishes,

  6. Great logline. Like the first page too. I think a lot might ride on the answer to the question the mc raises at the end, but I'd definitely want to read on.

  7. Certainly an interesting premise.

    However, I've been a nurse for many years and there are several things which don't ring true. I'm wondering if you yourself have any nursing or medical experience? If not, it might be helpful to run things occasionally by a nurse who can make sure everything is correct from a nursing and hospital standpont.

    First, if Emily is an RN in the NICU, she wouldn't be able to just leave the unit and go to the bathroom. Most babies in the NICU are 1:1, or 1:2 - usually 2 babies are the most an RN would have, and because it IS the NICU, she'd have to tell another nurse where she's going and give a quick report on the babies. She really couldn't run off to the cafeteria for a cup of tea whenever she wants.

    The "cheap brown loafers" Emily is wearing doesn't sound like something a NICU nurse would be wearing. Green scrubs, yes. Loafers, no. Any nurse who stands on her feet all day will tell you they wear the best nursing shoes or sneakers they can buy. And usually they aren't the cheapest sneakers either.

    Emily pulled out her purse. Again, that would probably be locked up in a locker, unless she had taken it out to go to lunch.

    Nurses do not call each other "Nurse Vance". That is an outmoded way of addressing or describing a nurse. Unless we are joking around, of course!

    When you get to the part about actually "pulling the plug" on the baby, make sure you've talked with people who have actually done it or have knowledge of it. I have been in a room when an adult is taken off the respirator, but never a baby or child.

    There is never only one person present. Everything has to be legally documented. It would not be a simple thing to go back into a room and turn a respirator back on. For one thing, the respirator is attached to an ET tube, and that's taken out when the machine is turned off. A nurse most likely wouldn't be able to get the new intubation set and gloves and re-intubate the baby in the few short minutes you would have before the brain completely shuts down from lack of oxygen.

    Also when you turn on a respirator, the machine makes noise and certain alarms sound and it has to be programmed. I'm not sure most nurses could do that.

    Also in a NICU everything is usually out in the open, in a big room, lots of nurses and other personnel around.

    I'm sorry to be fussy. The first three things I mentioned you can easily fix. I don't know about your actual plot premise. Please investigate this further to be absolutely sure it's viable.

  8. I agree with Bron; the first two sentences aren't really necessary.

    You have a lot of short sentences in a row ("Thick heels clomp on the linoleum. The door opens. I slide into a stall and sit."); I think you can vary sentence length and structure here so that this flows better.

    You also might want a better transition between "...some well-meaning nurse is sure to offer sympathy if I grab a cup of tea in the cafeteria" and the next paragraph.

    A side note: I feel like "...all the while risking her own dreams of becoming a doctor" seems like it's trivializing the nursing profession. And if she'd wanted to be a doctor anyway, why would she have instead gone to school to become a nurse?

  9. Due to the commas in the first sentence of the logline, I can't tell whether Emily is the name of the baby or the nurse. I'd recast that into two sentences to make it clearer. 'Emily is a nurse recovering from the death of her own premature baby. When the hospital[...], she flicks the respirator switch back on.'

    The prose feels exposition-heavy to me. There are things like Rosy being her only friend here, or the "He's not mine" that can be shown instead of told.

    If she's lying, stealing and manipulating in a hospital, she's risking a lot more than her dreams. Be careful not to trivialize either the nursing profession or the risks of what she's doing, and as mentioned above, I advise being absolutely solid on your fact-checking and the plausibility of your story. Medical professionals are usually very happy to help writers with their research for a book.

  10. I agree with Renee and Gabrielle; I'm also not convinced of your character's credibility. Additionally, this piece of writing strongly suggests to me that you're using fiction as a means of expressing your views on neonatal life support withdrawal, and I'd prefer more subtlety.

    As an aside, I'd worry that the understated title: "A Flick of the Switch," might alienate readers who have had to deal (directly or indirectly) with actual life support withdrawal.

  11. This promises to be a high-stakes, suspenseful story. I am not a medical professional but it seems unprecedented that a "viable" baby would be killed in a hospital. Has this ever happened in reality? Far smaller point--as an adult no one has ever loaned me face powder in a bathroom.

    I don't think you need the first italicized two sentences. Just go right into the story. It really pulls me in to have her inside a bathroom stall. The dialogue feels a little rat-a-tat after that and heavy on exposition. Consider tweaking.