That’ll Be The Day

And just like that, it’s Friday again.

The thing I always get wrong about depression is I never can identify it until it’s passed–or is in the process of passing–through my mind. I’m not sure why i have so much difficulty in recognizing it when I am experiencing it; I guess because I am sort of able to function (“sort of” being the key words there), and I always tend to think of depression as being so overwhelming that you cannot function when you are going through it–to the point of being almost even suicidal. I almost always, once I am no longer in its grasp, recognize it afterwards–oh yes you were in a heavy depression–but for some reason I never can understand that is what is wrong while it is wrong. I suffer from it periodically–I think everyone does, to some degree–and while mine never goes as deep anymore as it used to (thank GOD for medication and health insurance), I’ve been lost in its throes probably ever since the power went out on the morning of August 29th. The true, tell-tale sign is that once I was in an environment with power again–the flight into Alabama–I wasn’t able to write and I haven’t been even able to do much reading. The loss of my ability to focus on something is always a telltale sign that something is wrong in my brain; and when I spend hours at the computer (like I did last night) going through hundreds and hundreds of picture files to file, name or delete them, because it is rather soothing to me…yeah, that’s really a sign. Today I feel better about things in general–even though it’s kind of an icky day outside–and have been able to get some things finished today. I still haven’t been able to get through my emails, but I am going to try to work on that once I am finished with work today.

And hopefully, this weekend I can start writing again.

My choice for the movie to watch yesterday while working from home was Coma, starring a very young Micharl Douglas, Genevieve Bujold, and Richard Widmark, with Rip Torn and Elizabeth Ashley in supporting roles (also in brief cameos were pre-fame Tom Selleck and pre-bald/pre-fame Ed Harris). This was an excellent choice for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival; Coma was yet another film of the time that took a cynical, jaundiced eye at one of the pillars of modern society/civilization: medicine. The book was a phenomenon at the time. It was Robin Cook’s debut thriller, and caught fire, like lightning in a bottle. EVERYONE was reading and talked about Coma; it was an “event book”, like Jaws had been a few years earlier. I read the book when it was released in paperback. I didn’t love it, but it was interesting; my primary problem with reading it was that Cook–a physician in real life–put too much medical detail into the book for the lay reader; paragraphs upon paragraphs about medical information which really wasn’t necessary to follow or understand the story…if anything, these medical moments pulled me out of the story completely. It’s actually ripe for a remake, honestly; I bet it could be done and made much more suspenseful and scary than the original film was. The film was a hit–it’s weird looking at young Michael Douglas, in the process of trying to transition from television star to movie star and not quite there yet–but as a thriller, it left a lot to be desired.

The story is focused on a female resident at “Boston General Hospital,” Dr. Susan Wheeler. While this book and movie was set not that long ago–within my lifetime, certainly, and around forty years ago–the rampant sexism and misogyny of that period is sometimes hard to take. Susan was dealing with it on a regular basis; she was a strong, accomplished, hardworking doctor–but she was still a woman trying to make it in what was still primarily a man’s world/profession. The way the men–especially the older ones–condescend to her and talk down to her like she’s a child is almost infuriating to watch…but that misogyny and sexism are integral to the story: no one will believe her and she is dismissed as a hysterical woman. Susan’s best friend comes into Boston General for a routine D&C–a medically necessary abortion–but never regains consciousness; slipping into an unexplained coma. While all the men agree with Susan that what happened was a tragedy, they are all too willing to write it off as a medical anomaly and drop the subject. Susan won’t, however, and keeps looking into it–Boston General has had, over the past year, a remarkably high amount of patients who went into comas after a routine procedure (eight in total–up to ten by the middle of the book, including her friend and another patient shortly thereafter; and yes, given the amount of surgeries performed in the hospital annually, eight isn’t much…but as Susan retorts when her mentor and the hospital’s chief of staff says that to her, “Isn’t one too many?” Susan keeps digging, and the further she goes it soon becomes apparent that she isn’t just risking her career–she’s onto something that could put her life at risk. The book had an ambiguous ending which, even though it’s been forty years, I won’t spoil here–but they changed the ending for the movie, which I felt cheated the story and the audience–but the book’s ending was vastly better than the film’s. I wouldn’t seek the movie out unless you have a high tolerance for misogyny; and now that I think about, the misogyny was so important to the plot that I don’t think it could be remade today–Susan would have gone straight to HR and/or gotten a lawyer and sued the fuck out of that hospital in today’s world.

Robin Cook went on to have quite the career writing medical thrillers–although my favorite of his novels was Sphinx, his second, which was set in Egypt and was an archaeological thriller–and I kept reading him for a while. I think I read his first four books, but I cannot think of the name of one of them, but I am pretty sure the last one I read was Fever, and then I just kind of stopped reading him. Not because I wasn’t enjoying them still, I think I just kind of forgot about him…but I still love Sphinx, which I would love to reread sometime.

Heavy sigh. So much to read and reread, so little time.

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