Wednesday, April 24, 2013

April Secret Agent #37

TITLE: If I Don't Go Back
GENRE: Literary fiction

Fake it until you make it, they tell you. I am tired of faking it, I decide, as I knock on an empty on-call room door, then ease inside. The air is stale and smells of antiseptic and cigarette smoke. The moment my cheek scratches against the pillowcase, I’m paged for surgery.

When I first lay eyes on the patient, he is already under, his d*** limp and flopping about as we haul his body onto the operating table. There’s no such thing as privacy in an operating suite. Usually no one bothers to keep the gown strategically placed over your more sensitive bits, but I move his gown to cover his crotch. If it were me lying there, I would want someone to do the same for me.

The man’s appendix has burst, and he needs emergency surgery. I glove and gown the surgeon, a middle-aged man with hair growing out of his ears, because these lazy pricks can’t do anything for themselves. That may sound harsh, but you try spending five years with these so-called healers, who care more about malpractice insurance and vacations than they do patient care and tell me they’re not lazy. Why I have been considering medical school for the past year doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given my hatred of most surgeons. Maybe I want to give something back, to show them that you can possess both skill and compassion.

“Midline,” the surgeon says and motions for a scalpel, which I place in his hand.


  1. I like the premise here a lot - a compassionate and overworked nurse, struggling for dignity both for herself and her patients. (I'm making the assumption it's a woman here, in spite of that the narrator wants someone to cover his/her crotch if she/he was in the same situation as the male patient. Mostly, the sense of helpless fury feels more female than male)

    What I'm not sure is working is the personality of your MC. A compassionate person doesn't just feel sorry for patients, but sees the good even in people who might not deserve it. I think it's too soon for her to be so vehement against the doctor. If you want the reader to feel anger toward the doctor, let him say, do, or otherwise behave in such a way that the reader will want to clobber him. The narrator should not have to tell us he sucks, we should see it.

    For a short beginning like this, it might be more effective to set up her conflict right away - she is overworked, she is studying to be a doctor, she feels futile. Why does she want to be a doctor? (I think it needs to be a very strong reason, not 'maybe because'). Contrast that with her feelings that doctors are uncaring.

    The theme itself though is strong and it could be a very compelling story if you let the characters do their thing.

    Good luck!

  2. I think taking out a bit of the over-exposition with how the MC views doctors would allow the MC's personality to shine through more? Maybe also start with the "The man's appendix has burst, and he needs emergency surgery" as the first line to hook the reader?

  3. I don't necessarily think a MC has to be likable, but it's hard to connect with this guy. He's too full of self-congratulation and vitriol for me to believe he'd ever bring compassion to an operating room.

  4. This is a nice opening, and on a sentence level it's well written. I do find the particular observation about doctors to be a rather well-worn device. Is there a sharper insight the MC can bring to this scenario?

  5. I really like this character's voice. Great details like the cigarette smoke and stale air put me right there in this less than pristine hospital. It might be interesting to try the scene with a little less telling and more reliance on straight observation to let us experience how uncaring the surgeons are but I don't mind the MC's rant and I would definitely keep reading. This is one of the better entries.

  6. I found the anger of the MC to be borderline rage and more approproate to a serial killer in the making than a O/R nurse so it was completely off-putting to me. Also, the crudity of his/her references seemed out of place to the genre.

  7. The voice and action were intriguing, but honestly I'm still not sure if the main character is male or female, so I haven't exactly connected with him or her yet. I'm guessing male based on the voice, but I guess it could be a more jaded / angry woman, too.