I planned to be a doctor from when I was a young child until the end of my junior year in college, when I made the crazy switch from being pre-med to being pre-law. While it was the right decision for me, I think there's a small part of me that clings to a picture of me wearing a white coat.
Fortunately, I've had the pleasure of reading two debut novels written by and about female physicians this year, and that clingy pre-med part of me has glowed in appreciation. Earlier this year, The Queen of Hearts, by ER doc Kimmery Martin, brought vibrant literary wit to the drama of the ER and the operating room. Now, Bedside Manners, by radiologist Heather Frimmer, approaches the sobering reality of a breast cancer diagnosis with sympathy and medical insight that only a medical professional could. By pairing a relatable cancer patient who is somewhat in denial of her diagnosis with a daughter launching her own medical career while grappling with challenges in her personal life, Frimmer weaves a story of growth and compassion that will resonate with readers. I got to chat with Heather about both her novel and her job.
Jennifer Klepper: You work in breast imaging, and Bedside Manners takes an intimate look at dealing with breast cancer. Have any colleagues or patients read the book? What has their response been to your book?
Heather Frimmer: Several of my breast imaging colleagues and patients have read the book and their comments have been overwhelmingly positive. I did my best to make the story true to life and I think people like to see their reality reflected on the page. I also asked a few surgeons take a look. Since they haven’t come back to tell me I got the surgery parts all wrong, I’ll take that as a good sign.
JK: One thing I really loved about your book is that while it was completely accessible, you allowed yourself to use medical terminology, and not just generally recognizable terms like EKG or MRI, but technical terms I can’t even spell. Did you get any pushback on that in editing? Why did you decide to take this approach?
HF: I got no push back on this issue during the editing process. Hollywood versions of the medical world drive me crazy. On one of the early episodes of "Gray’s Anatomy," McDreamy goes from operating on a brain to taking out an appendix, something that would absolutely never happen, and I never watched that show again. I wanted Bedside Manners to be a real depiction of how a breast cancer diagnosis affects a woman both physically and emotionally and how a young doctor learns the necessary skills to care for patients. Taking out the medical jargon would have dumbed down the story and made it less authentic. I knew my readers could handle it.
JK: On behalf of your readers, thank you! Does being a radiologist present any particular challenges to being a novelist? How do you handle those?
HF: Since I work and commute 50-60 hours a week, and I have two kids and a husband, the main issue is finding the time to sit down and get the writing done. As an introvert (as most radiologists are), spending time alone is where I feel most comfortable. It’s just getting my tush in the chair that poses the challenge.
JK: What superpowers as a writer do you have because of your training and experience as a radiologist?
HF: During my typical work day, I am often pulled in many different directions. Having to juggle interpreting images with questions from technologists or patients, procedures, and phone calls from referring doctors has made me a prize-winning multitasker. If my writing time is interrupted by questions from my kids, emails or phone calls, I’m able to get right back into the story and keep writing.
JK: While I know you love your job, if you could do a Freaky Friday swap with someone for a week to try out a different job, what (or who) would that be?
HF: I’ve always had a fantasy about working in the publishing industry, probably on the editing side. A lifelong bibliophile, I’m intrigued by the idea of helping to create books. I guess I’m doing my small part by bringing my own book into the world!
You can learn more about Heather and her books here.
Heather Frimmer is a radiologist by day specializing in diagnostic radiology and breast imaging, and an avid reader and writer at all other times. She enjoys all types of books and writes book reviews for Books, INK. She lives in Connecticut with her husband and two sons.