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Leonard Goldberg | PLAGUE SHIP: A Story Best Told by a Doctor

Most people are surprised when a doctor writes a novel. I'm surprised that more of us do not. After all, we're pretty good storytellers, aren't we?  Just think about it for a moment. Every time a doctor sees a new patient, it is the start of a new story which we narrate. Doctors are expert at weaving a meaningful tale from a variety of symptoms, signs, and laboratory tests. If the patient presents with a very difficult diagnosis, the story becomes a mystery. If violence or suspicious death occurs, it turns into a medical thriller. Thus, doctors are in fact highly trained storytellers.

And when it comes to writing medical thrillers, no one can compete with physicians. Some non-physicians try it, but their attempts are flimsy and unconvincing because they lack authentic details. Doctors, on the other hand, know a great deal about the signs and symptoms of numerous diseases, and about the human drama that happens so often in medicine. They know a great deal about these particular areas because they've experienced them, up close and personal. My upcoming novel, Plague Ship, clearly shows how important real-life experience is when it comes to writing a believable medical thriller. PLAGUE SHIP is fiction but is based on fact. It is authentic. It is what actually would happen aboard a modern-day plague ship.

To begin with, let me tell you about the history of plague ships. In the Middle Ages, people suffering from an obviously contagious disease were placed on a ship and sent out to sea so they couldn't infect others. And they would die on these boats, which were appropriately called plague ships. It was a form of deadly quarantine. This couldn't happen today, you're thinking. Right? Wrong! Given the appropriate circumstances, it most certainly could. Let me set the stage for you. A luxury liner, the Grand Atlantic, is on a Caribbean cruise when a sick goose infected with the bird flu virus crashes onto its deck at night. It's found by a young boy who loves animals and dreams of becoming a veterinarian. He takes the sick bird below deck to a secluded area and attempts to nurse the coughing bird back to health. The bird continually coughs up droplets that are heavily laden with the deadly virus. These infectious droplets fill the air and are sucked into the ship's ventilation system. Thus, the stage is set for a massive, deadly outbreak of bird flu.

Well, the reader thinks, anyone could write the story given those circumstances. Perhaps. But would it be authentic? I think not. With a writer who has no background in medicine, errors would quickly show up in the story and knowledgeable readers would shake their heads in disbelief. Allow me to give you a few examples.

1) A knowledgeable reader would know that the current bird flu virus is not highly contagious, and has poor person-to-person transmissibility. So how could it spread like wildfire on the ship? The writer would have to have the expertise to explain how the virus could mutate so that it becomes highly contagious, and easily passed from one person to the next. Otherwise, the story is unbelievable.

2) The writer would have to know that influenza pneumonia is unlike any other in its pathophysiological effects. The patient not only coughs but can't stop coughing and gradually turns intensely cyanotic. The purple-blue color of their face is so deep, one cannot tell the race of the patient. An experienced doctor could describe this in frightening detail. An amateur could not.

3) Then there is the dilemma of being only one of two doctors on the ship and having to care for hundreds of deathly ill passengers, with limited supplies and no anti-viral agents capable of combating the virus. These patients are so sick that they belong in an ICU. And since supplies for supportive measures, i.e., oxygen and IV set-ups, are so limited, how does one determine who receives treatment and who does not? Do you simply let some patients die, in particular those with serious underlying disease who have no chance to survive? A nonprofessional would have no idea how to deal with this dilemma, but an experienced doctor would.

4) A what about the nightmare of a quarantine? Since the ship has hundreds of people dying with a dreadful, highly contagious virus, the ship would be placed under quarantine and not allowed to dock anywhere. Passengers would panic and be tempted to launch a mutiny. They would do everything possible to get ashore, even at the risk of starting a world-wide epidemic. Not many doctors have been involved in a deadly quarantine, but those who have will know how to describe it in terrifying detail.

These are but a few examples of why doctors are unsurpassed when it comes to medical thrillers. Simply put, they know the territory. For a medical thriller to be taken seriously, it has to ring out authenticity and believability. Only then will the reader feel as if they are really there and involved and part of the drama. That is why PLAGUE SHIP is a story best told by a doctor.

Comment to win a copy of PLAGUE SHIP.




24 comments posted.

Re: Leonard Goldberg | PLAGUE SHIP: A Story Best Told by a Doctor

This sounds very interesting. Love thrillers. Have not read a medical one yet.
(Sue Brandes 9:09am October 15, 2013)

This book sounds very interesting and I'd love to read it. I've never read medical thriller before and would enjoy it!
(Bonnie Capuano 9:51am October 15, 2013)

I enjoyed learning about the novel, Plague Ship, which sounds
captivating and unique. The author is very talented and
creative and being a physician makes this compelling and
(Sharon Berger 10:23am October 15, 2013)

Sounds fascinating. Love that a doctor wrote the book.
(Pam Howell 10:25am October 15, 2013)

I do so love to read medical thrillers! I had not heard of this one until now. Hope I win!
(Vennie Martinisi 10:32am October 15, 2013)

Some of my best friends are Doctors, and I hear some amazing stories about what you deal with on a day-to-day basis. My hat goes off to you, on what you've chosen as such a noble profession. That being said, your book would make for an interesting read. In today's society, I believe that it would be possible to happen. I also believe that people could be placed on ships with infectious diseases deliberately, but I shudder at the thought. I hope that this is just the start of ideas that you come up with for stories, since I'm sure that your caseload offers you plenty of stories that you could choose from to write your next book. I'll be looking forward to those, too, since I love something written on a deeper level, such as the book you just wrote. Congratulations!!
(Peggy Roberson 10:59am October 15, 2013)

wow, cool - my best friend has her Masters in Nursing, so she is our first line go-to person for information - I am new to medical thrillers, also, and this book sounds very fascinating!
(Felicia Ciaudelli 12:32pm October 15, 2013)

this sounds like a very interesting book!
(Rhonda Brittingham 2:56pm October 15, 2013)

This sounds very interesting, enjoy thrillers.
(Jean Patton 3:55pm October 15, 2013)

Sounds interesting but if only a doctor knows these things, how would we,
the readers, know any different if all the facts were not correct? I agree that
Drs most likely would be the best writers of medical thrillers though.
(Vicki Hancock 3:59pm October 15, 2013)

I love thrillers, have never read a medical thriller but look forward to reading Plague Ship
(Shirley Younger 4:25pm October 15, 2013)

I have been on a dozen cruises and over the years, I've witnessed the changed ~ for the good ~ regarding sanitary procedures....hand sanitizers abound.
(Susan Coster 5:33pm October 15, 2013)

sounds like a great book
(Susan Atkins 7:43pm October 15, 2013)

Sounds like a real ture to life story!
(Barbara Wells 8:33pm October 15, 2013)

Wow, Congrats on your new book: PLAGUE SHIP. I like the book
cover too! This sounds like an exciting thriller book to win
and read this Fall. Thank You very much. Cecilia CECE
(Cecilia Dunbar Hernandez 10:50pm October 15, 2013)

Great contest, I'm a fan of medical thrillers.
(Sheila True 11:16pm October 15, 2013)

I love the comprehensive explanation about how the realism of the story would make such a huge impact. I'm one of those readers who will, in fact, subconsciously pick the incorrect details out of a book or movie instantly, without having to think about it. Too many inaccuracies instantly puts me off and can cause me to put a book down permanently. Mind you, when I'm reading true fantasy, it's easy to imagine anything is possible, so I don't have problems with that at all. If you're going to write about a realistic subject, you have to be REAL. I'm very interested in reading this book.
(Donna Holmberg 11:17pm October 15, 2013)

Wow! I'm impressed you found the time to right this. I'll have to get my hands on a copy. The only problem I can see is that my dad has a tendency to swipe books like this from me before I get a chance to read them.
(Laura Gullickson 11:27pm October 15, 2013)

This book would be a good point of view from a doctor. After all Plague Ship, one has to be able to put all medical perspective in lament terms.
(Kai Wong 1:18am October 16, 2013)

(Sakshi Agarwal 3:42am October 16, 2013)

Sounds like my kind of book. Thank you for the opportunity to be a winner.
(Melanie Backus 10:39am October 16, 2013)

It makes sense for a Doctor to write a medical thriller.
(Mary Preston 5:29am October 17, 2013)

What an intriguing book! Thanks for sharing the post on medical thrillers.
(Bonnie H 12:44pm October 22, 2013)

The Plague gives me the creeps. The author's medical
background only adds to the accuracy and drama as he knows
what's truthful and where the truth has been stretched to the
limits. I bet this book is a page-turner extaordinaire.
(Alyson Widen 6:45pm October 31, 2013)

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