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Elayne Wells Harmer
Well, Doc, It Seemed Like a Good Idea At The Time
Elayne Wells Harmer, editor (anthology)
In 1976, Paul Waymack began chronicling his experience as a third-year medical student, and for the next 20 years, he kept a journal filled with crazy stories of unusual patients, maladies, and international espionage. Some of them, he’s the first to admit, seem unbelievable--like chasing a naked patient around the ER parking lot in the middle of the night . . . or constructing a horse sling for a 700-pound patient . . . or treating a patient who swallowed a cigarette lighter . . . or serving as a major in the U.S. Army Medical Corps during the Cold War, on orders of the president and with a KGB agent hot on his tail in the Soviet Union. In his wildest dreams, Dr. Waymack could never have imagined most of what he experienced as a doctor, but these stories are all true. He couldn’t have made them up if he tried.
In this comic debut, Waymack, clinical surgeon and founder of Kitov Pharmaceuticals, serves up memorable snapshots of his most implausible and amusing moments in the medical field, such as the priceless story of giving mouth-to-mouth to a cherished lab rat. From his first night in emergency room rotation to serving as the lead on an Army burn team in the Soviet Union, he offers entertaining anecdotes from years of experience–and doesn’t shy away from the unpleasant side of medical practice. Reminiscent of diary entries with an emphasis on recording the lighter side of human behavior, the unlikely tales cover both serious challenges alongside the more outlandish memories in an endearing, self-deprecating style.

When recounting the wild events of his first nights in residency, for example, when he still held to the naive belief that “of all the days I will practice medicine, the most insane will be the first,” he fondly recalls the “number-one most used expression” among medical students—“I’ll go get the doctor.” Readers will laugh along at the confusion caused by Waymack’s misinterpretation of an X-ray: A patient’s abdomen appeared riddled with buckshot, and when Waymack, justifiably concerned, asked her when she had been shot, he learned the truth: She had simply enjoyed a dinner of freshly shot squirrel the night before.

This merry memoir delves into more solemn topics as well, covering Waymack’s stint in the U.S. Army and president-ordered mission to the Soviet Union, complete with photographs of the author’s adventures. But, in true Waymack style, he describes being followed by KGB agents and training “Soviet proctologists” to be burn surgeons with an arrestingly light touch. One standout story: Waymack’s habit of posing complex medical questions (““Comrade, what would be a normal white blood cell count for a burn patient in this hospital?”) to the Soviet doctor he suspected was actually a KGB agent. Equal parts incredible and hysterical, this medical mayhem will delight fans of real-life comedy.

Takeaway: A sidesplitting medical memoir, alive with smart comedy and commentary.

Great for fans of: Adam Kay’s This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor, Doron Amosi’s Tell Me Where it Hurts.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: N/A
Editing: A
Marketing copy: A