Some books come about because the author feels a compelling need to put something down on paper. My journey along the writer's path has been, at least with this first book, The Thief of Moments, the result of an ethical and moral discussion that has rattled around in my mind for the past twenty years, never leading to any resolution. I've practiced medicine for the past thirty years. From 1987 until 2006, I spent most of my time working with either developmental disability patients with very severe cognitive problems as well as physical problems, or with end-stage dementia patients in a hospital setting. Let me emphasize here that none of my formal training prepared me for the medical niche I suddenly found myself in. I came from an emergency medicine background, where things happen quickly, and the problem is solved quickly--one way or another. Emergency Medicine is a sprint. Caring for people with cognitive problems is usually a marathon, and a very frustrating marathon at that. I occasionally had a patient who fell under the definition of severe cognitive impairment, but nevertheless didn't seem to belong in the category of "the lights are on, but nobody is home". While all patients with a slowly developing impairment can be heartbreaking and difficult to deal with emotionally, these few patients with some apparent "self" left were the most wrenching. I never, ever got used to it. Eventually, I think the cognitive dissonance I felt was a big factor in my decision to leave that sort of work behind and go back into a more immediate area of medicine.
So, like Doctor Kester Grayson in the novel, I solved my personal dilemma by running away from it. I make no apologies for this. It is the way of things. But I know the problem still sits out there, and that we, as a society, have never really dealt with it. My hope is that this book will help to generate some discussion about how we care for our elderly, especially those with Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia.
In addition, I hope the novel presents a pretty good story.
I've been asked by several book clubs to add a list of questions that may be used in discussions of The Thief of Moments. You can view my list at trhull.net.
Interview with TR:
What are your favorite humor books? Carl Hiaasen (all of his books), Mark Twain, Dave Sedaris.
--How much of your humor is based on real life experiences? I've written a bunch of short stories based on my experiences in emergency medicine.
Do you feel being digitally epublished allows you to be more creative with your writing choices? No gatekeepers? Fabulous!
--If they made a movie out of one of your books, what actors would play the main characters? Drew Barrymore can play any part she likes.
What should readers expect from a TR Hull book?
--To be transported to a magical land of enchantment and entertainment. Barring that, at least something in a light paperback that's easy to hold in the bathroom.
If people judged your books by their covers, what hijinks would they miss out on?
--If they just look at the cover, they might miss the $100 bills I've hidden inside each copy. Keep looking. I'm sure it's in there. Really.
What's the funniest part of your everyday life?
--You wouldn't think dealing with sick people in a clinic would be funny, but it is, sometimes.
If www.theonion.com wrote a fake headline about your life, what would it be?
--Humor Author Accused of Plagiarism Found to be Channeling Ghost of Bennet Cerf.
If you weren't writing humorous books, what would you be doing for a living?
--Probably living in quiet desperation, like the rest of you poor, hack writers who aren't pulling in the kind of money I'm making off my writing. But okay, let's say I wasn't hauling in twenty or thirty bucks a week on my writing (That's right, a WEEK), I'd probably try to teach an online writing course. They don't look too hard.
Why don't you think there's more humorous books out there?
--Humor writing is one step up from regular writing, when it comes to risk. Everyone seems to have a different take on what's funny. Get it right and you might only get it right for a few people. Get it wrong, and you can wind up looking like the dork of the century. It helps to be good, but it helps even more to be shameless.
What's next for your fans?
--I alternate. One serious book, one funny book. I'll be finishing a serious book over the winter (The Cow People), and then another "funny" one in the spring. The next funny one will be set in Idaho, like Elixir Six. It deals with a man who decides to live "off the grid", as we say up here in the panhandle. Lots of independent thinkers in these parts, so it's great for interesting, funny characters. It will be titled "The Epiphany of Eubie Newcomb."
Sample from "Elixir Six"
Okay, Give Me the Chin
If the world ever decides to give up drinking and fighting, emergency rooms everywhere will have to find something else to do. I blame part of the problem on our popular entertainment. In the movies, people hit right in the kisser with fists or baseball bats or some other hard object act like they’re in a pillow fight. They may stagger a little, but the only blood you’ll see is that little trickle at the corner of their mouth. They casually wipe it away with the back of their hand.
In reality, even one good pop from a fist can leave a face looking like somebody dropped an anvil on it.
The guy on the first gurney in the trauma room had that look. One eye was swollen shut, the skin enfolding it a deep shade of purple. Dried blood around his nose…the nose itself bent at an angle to the right. When he grimaced with pain, he exposed white teeth outlined with bright red blood.
The smell of fresh blood mixed with alcohol fumes will forever remind me of bar fighters. It doesn’t matter what kind of alcoholic drink is involved, the smell is always the same. If the injured fighter/drinker is not too intoxicated, and not too injured, he’s always vocal. He may be zero-for-one in the fighting arena, but he’ll give you a glowing prediction regarding his next match.
“I’m gonna find that son-of-a-bitch and kick his fuckin’ *ss,” the drugstore cowboy announced, emotionally somewhere between bravado and blubbering. His cowboy boots hung over the end of the gurney. He was a big guy, but that never told you anything about the size of his opponent. I’ve seen a little guy swarm all over a big one, like ants stinging a lizard to death.
“Let me have a look,” I said. I tilted his head to the right and gently pried open his swollen eye. “Let’s make sure you didn’t do anything to your eyeball.”
The emergency room was usually neutral ground and the doctor like a United Nations observer. Our surgical scrubs and stethoscopes identified us as non-combatants, allowing us to get in and attend to the wounded. But sometimes patients were too drunk or too upset to appreciate this. The big guy bunched his fist.
“Jesus, Doc, be careful!” he yelled, jerking his head away from me. “I’ll kick your *ss too!”
At this point I had two choices. I could try the gentle “here now, let me help you” routine, or I could go with the “I am your father, and if you think you have the balls to take me on, well let’s get it on” routine. I opted for a variation of the second.
“See that little dude over there?” I said, dropping my face down so I could glare into his one good eye. I pointed to the side. Rob, our five-foot-two, fireplug male nurse bounced lightly on the balls of his feet and stared at the patient like a crazed dwarf. “I’m gonna call him over in a minute and he’s gonna get psycho on your *ss if you don’t shut up and let me take a look!” That did the trick. We cleaned the hapless fighter up and shot some x-rays, and then I fixed his nose and sent him home with his friend.
Hand injuries from fistfights were, by some unwritten agreement with the local bar patrons, handled according to a strict schedule. The first shift of Rocky wannabes reported to the emergency room shortly after the bars close at 2 A.M. This group was reserved for the young studs still sober enough to notice that the bones in their hand weren’t in a particularly pleasing and comfortable arrangement after connecting with somebody’s jaw. The ten Budweisers with tequila chasers were starting to wear off too, and the tiny, drunk nerves in that hand were waking up and frantically sending urgent messages of displeasure to the brain. These guys were soon on their way with new plaster splints, which they would remove in a couple of days against medical advice.
The second shift of hand injuries started wandering in about ten o’clock in the morning, usually on a Saturday or Sunday. These comprised the bar fighters who awakened in the morning with a molten-lava headache and discovered the Reverse Tooth Fairy had visited during the night and embedded a human tooth…generally someone else’s…in their knuckle. These guys got a tooth-ectomy, a good wound scrubbing, and a prescription for antibiotics, which they would forget to take. It was a very efficient system of treatment and patient non-compliance.
Cowboys are no-nonsense fighters. I mean real cowboys, not the young, rowdy guys we called “Drugstore Cowboys” who drove into town for the annual Frontier Days Rodeo. The Drugstore cowboy wannabe’s favored spotless “Bullrider” hats, tight jeans, and fancy boots. The only time Drugstore cowboys got close to a cow is at the meat counter at Safeway.
One night four drunks hauled their friend into the trauma room and tossed him onto a gurney. He writhed in pain. Once we removed his pants, we could see what appeared to be a large purple grapefruit between his legs. It was his severely battered manhood. He’d picked a fight with a real cowboy, and had begun the ritual by pushing the cowboy around like kids do on a playground. The real cowboy, fresh from the ranch and still smelling of saddle leather and horses, didn’t understand that this was the preliminaries, and proceeded to the main event. He caught the Drugstore cowboy in the groin with five quick kicks of his un-fancy, cowshit-covered boot. Real cowboys, it turns out, are frugal and efficient with their time.
Most of the fighters we saw were young men, but sometimes the women mixed it up too. One night the ambulance crew brought in a beefy young woman with a bloody towel held against her chin.
“What did you bring me?” I asked Brian, the ambulance driver.
“Twenty-six-year-old female involved in an altercation with her girlfriend”, Brian said. “Her girlfriend was messing around with another woman and Tina here found out tonight. They’d been drinking, and her girlfriend bit Tina on the chin.”
“Let me take a look,” I said to Tina. She lay on the gurney with the bloody towel held firmly against her jaw. I’d seen hundreds of human bites in the past. Ears, fingers, and the meaty portion of the upper arm were the preferred areas of attack for most biters. I’d never seen a bite right on the chin before. I gently lifted away the towel.
The entire tip of the chin - an area the size of a silver dollar - was gone. A large patch of shiny bone was visible in the wound. This wasn’t going to be a simple sew-up job.
The usual procedure when a finger or some other appendage is bitten off is to collect all the parts and bring them along to the emergency room. Most of the time they can be re-attached. I didn’t know about chins.
“OK, Brian,” I said. “Give me the chin.”
“Uh, we don’t have that right now, Doc,” Brian said. “The girlfriend bit it off and spit it out.”
“So why didn’t you pick it up and bring it in?” I said.
“She spit it in the toilet,” Brian answered.
“Did she flush?”
“No. It’s still there. We didn’t think it would be any good after floating in the toilet.”
“Well if I don’t have a chin to put on her, this girl’s going to look like a real bad imitation of Kirk Douglas for the rest of her life. Go get the chin, Brian.”
The ambulance crew went back and found the chin. A plastic surgeon came in to see Tina. He cleaned up the chin a bit, and decided it was okay to put it back on. A few stitches did the trick, and the chin looked fine. I don’t know if Tina and her girlfriend stayed together after that. If someone spits your chin into the toilet, it can’t be good for the relationship.