This is a guest post written by Don Stewart, author of Past Medical History.
I used to be a doctor. Now I draw pictures for a living. Funny pictures, with an intellectual bent, humor warped by prolonged exposure to the effects of higher education. There ought to be a story in there somewhere, I often thought.
Turns out there were a lot of them.
It took me nearly thirty years to write Past Medical History, a collection of stories that follows a curious kid along his journey through medical training – a path that ends the day he earns his license, and his freedom.
I’ve been telling some of these stories for much longer than that, and began trying to commit them to paper as soon as writing was no longer an academic obligation. The advent of word processors and personal computers made that job easier, allowing me to file my memories away in neatly labeled virtual documents, conveniently categorized in iconic folders.
I write in the winter, mostly, in January and February, after the seasonal rush of holiday gift sales (the busiest time of the year for a retail artist), and before the onset of the spring craft show season. The studio is quiet. The phone seldom rings. I have the time then to sift through an accumulation of handwritten notes recorded days, weeks and miles apart in show booths and hotel rooms, between sales pitches, picture sketches, take-out dinners and late night movies on someone else’s free cable TV.
Some day I would publish these stories, I told myself, year after year. Some day when I had more experience, of course, and enough material to actually fill a book.
“How many stories have you got?” my friend the writer – a real writer, a writer of books, plural – asked me. I had no idea. A quick click on the folder marked “Past Medical History” surprised me. There were over a hundred. “That’s a good start,” he said. “Maybe it’s time to think about doing something with them.”
Hoping to knit them all into one cohesive narrative, I arranged these literary experiments in chronological order, threw half of them away, and suddenly found that the remaining stories formed the arc of a tale on their own – and revealed for the first time not only why I felt compelled to leave medicine behind (the reasons for that were apparent at the time), but also why I chose to pursue art as a second career. It was an odd choice then, and remains so in retrospect; something chosen (I always thought) as a matter of convenient coincidence rather than a part of my personality that reaches as far back, and springs from the same deep root as my interest in medical science.
Perhaps Past Medical History is not so much a story of a doctor who lost his way, as it is the tale of an artist who stayed in the hospital just long enough to get over his distractions. Either way, committing to a lifetime of art therapy turned out to be the best clinical decision I ever made.
To learn more about the author and his book, please visit www.dsart.com and pastmedicalhistorybook.com