From Anton Chekhov to Arthur Conan Doyle and W Somerset Maugham, the list of doctors spinning off fiction is quite impressive. Two recent additions to the genre are Dr Bob Bear’s Sorrow’s Reward and Dr Harbhajan Singh Rissam’s The Scalpel . As social comments on the contemporary medical world, they mark a departure from the tradition.
Sorrow’s Reward underlines the “highly politicised culture” of Canada’s healthcare system. Bear’s fictional Compassion Health System runs a dialysis clinic with lofty principles, but there are many agendas at play in this room while patients lie hooked up to machines three times a week.
Rissam’s The Scalpel is about the medical community cavorting with the mafia. A pretty Indian princess based in Paris, on a visit to India, is intrigued by a mysterious character in a five-star hospital. From there on she trails him and exposes a criminal-terrorist-medical-mafia nexus, finally coming face to face with the Prime Minister and the President of India.
Significantly, both novelists are men with impeccable professional reputation. A senior cardiologist with 30 years experience in premier hospitals, Rissam is currently a member of the board of governors of the Medical Council of India. Beer is an internationally renowned nephrologist, who has held several senior management positions in healthcare organisations of Canada.
Maiden literary ventures by two of the world’s leading medical practitioners, these novels give an insider’s fictional look at medical politics. Unlike most other medical novels, they do not confine their work to using hospitals or nursing homes as settings for their characters, but portray the social reality of what goes on in the world of medicine and surgery and how this world relates to the wider socio-political milieu.
“I have tried to provide an accurate, honest reflection of the healthcare system as experienced by patients,” says Bear, adding: “Hopefully people will advocate with their politicians to make it better.”
A similar motive prompted Dr Rissam to combine his profession with his passion and take to the pen. “While being a doctor is my profession, I am passionate about literature,” he says. According to him the idea was to explore the medical profession’s underbelly. “I chose a fictional work to discuss what is going wrong in the world of medicine and how it can be rectified.”
The phenomenal success of his maiden venture has now encouraged Dr Rissam to write more novels. “The Scalpel is the first of a planned trilogy and Scalpel 2 would be about a Post Graduate Institute of Medicine,” he informs.
In contrast, Dr Bear pokes under the surface of modern medicine—the courage and quiet anger of patients, doctors’ variable compassion, limits of technology for healing and the mostly unacknowledged presence of death in the unit. He fears doctors are losing their healing touch and compassion, as they mistakenly assume that technology is the practice of medicine.“I wanted to contribute, albeit indirectly, to the ongoing discussions our system and how to make it better,” he explains.
In his view, the Canada Health Act contains lofty principles but they are routinely violated. “This act doesn’t address current issues such as preventive care, quality of care and accountability,” he says.
In both cases, the narrative might be fictional, but the content has a serious objective. What makes them different is that these two medical novels mirror the prevailing loss of ethics in the respective national healthcare systems and seek ways to address the issues.