Looking to write your first book as a physician?
“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages.”
So wrote Ralph Waldo Emerson in “Self-Reliance.” Those words published in 1841 have reached out to me over the past several decades and led to several publications:
- a song (later a book) about DNA: “the DOUBLE talking HELIX blues” (a Vertebral Disc, the flip side of which is “The Battle of Gross Anatomy”)
- a textbook on the interface between medicine and psychiatry: “Pediatrics, Neurology, and Psychiatry: Common Ground” (with N. Paul Rosman, M.D.)
- a diet book: “The Popcorn-Plus Diet” (featured in a People Magazine story)
- a book on depression in childhood: “Is Your Child Depressed?” (which I wrote because far more children and adolescents in my practice had headaches due to mood disorder than to the much-feared brain tumor)
- a song pertaining to sexual abuse: “Tell It Again” (which received airplay on National Public Radio)
- a book of original limericks: “For Better or Verse” (quite clean; reviewed favorably in limerick form in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch)
- a play based upon a Berton Rouché piece from the New Yorker: “Twisted: A Mind-Body Mystery” (which I presented in a solo dramatic reading in Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, and Heidelberg, Germany – the last in German), and most recently
- a book about a very important, largely unrecognized health problem: “Swallow Safely – How Swallowing Problems Threaten the Elderly and Others. A Caregiver’s Guide to Recognition, Treatment, and Prevention” (with my wife, Roya Sayadi, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, as first author).
Was I an English major in college? No. Actually, I majored in music at Princeton, taking premedical courses on the side.
Do I have a background in theatre? Hardly. Not unless you count an unsuccessful tryout for “Frosty the Snowman” as a fifth-grader in Bloomington, Indiana.
Emerson’s words have been a further inspiration and goad. For he goes on to say (in the same essay): “In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.”
That feeling does not sit well with me. And I agree with Emerson that “The eye was placed where one ray should fall, that it might testify of that particular ray.”
Sometimes this ray is simply an awareness of my own ignorance. Let me give you an example. It was years before I realized that (1) my wife, a speech-language pathologist, spent a large part of her practice dealing with swallowing problems and (2) she knew a heck of a lot more about swallowing than I, as a pediatric neurologist, ever did. I figured — if I’m lacking this kind of information, there must be plenty others in the same boat.
Fifteen months later we were the proud parents of “SWALLOW SAFELY: How Swallowing Problems Threaten the Elderly and Others. A Caregiver’s Guide to Recognition, Treatment, and Prevention.” My wife is the first author. We have self-published the book and made it available for $14.95 through www.SwallowSafely.com, Amazon.com (including a Kindle version), and as an iBook.
It has been received warmly by patients, family caregivers, professionals, and independent reviewers. A towering figure in the field of swallowing and its disorders, Dr. Jeri Logemann, a professor at Northwestern University and Medical School, felt that our book “will be very helpful to dysphagic patients, their families and all of us who love to eat.”
An independent reviewer, ForeWord Reviews, called the book “…a well-researched, informative guide for those caring for the elderly or the ill.” It concluded: “This book will save lives.”
The good news is that “SWALLOW SAFELY” is the first (and only) book for the general public that deals with this very important subject. The bad news is that, while many people these days know about the dangers of falling in the elderly, they may not realize that swallowing problems, too, account for tens of thousands of lives lost annually in this country. Deaths come about through choking, aspiration pneumonia, and malnutrition.
Now that the book has been written and published, we spend our time wrestling with the 800-lb. gorilla known as marketing. After all, books gathering dust in the garage or basement will not save lives or recoup our out-of-pocket expenses.
We’ve been active with the media, made presentations at public libraries, Parkinson’s disease support groups, and senior center meetings. My wife and I have greatly enjoyed doing this project together. We’ve had our challenges, but fewer than anticipated. But then again, our relationship survived — indeed, was fortified by — a two-year home remodeling project.
About: Joel Herskowitz, M.D., is a member of the Boston University School of Medicine faculty, a staff pediatric neurologist at Boston Medical Center. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.