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Margaret Dilloway, American Housewife

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Writing Wednesday: How to Write a Query for a Memoir

While I was at BlogHer doing the Path to Publishing workshop– in the MIDDLE of Path to Publishing, actually– it came to my attention that neither I nor my co-leader knew how to write a query for  memoir. I thought it was nonfiction and therefore out of my area, so I hadn’t even looked it up.

I tried to find out on ze Internets, and got conflicting results. No one concrete answer.

In nonfiction, you have a proposal, sample chapters and perhaps an outline. And some articles said that’s how you sell a memoir, too. But other (also reliable) sources said memoir is sold like fiction and you need the whole thing.

Thus I sent out the Batsignal on Facebook, and emailed my agent, Dan Lazar, to ask.

This is what I found out:

  • It all depends.

Is that concrete enough for you?

My friend Alison Singh Gee, author of the memoir Where the Peacocks Sing responded first.

Alison wrote a proposal, which was 100 pages long, and didn’t have a full manuscript. But she had a solid, long career as a journalist/columnist.

Alison also said, “My friend Wendy Lawless initially tried to sell Chanel Bonfire in proposal form, but she says she didn’t yet have an alluring enough platform. She ended up writing the entire book, and sold it that way.”

Then Dan responded with this:

“If you’re a new author, a full manuscript helps very, very much — but honestly it’s not essential. That’s why you’re getting mixed opinions. If an author has a great title, and a great voice, and a great concept… usually a few sample chapters and a strong outline will do the trick. Most of the memoirs I’ve sold have been on proposal.”

So, to sum up:

  • The best thing to do is write the whole memoir.
  • If you haven’t written the whole memoir, write a few sample chapters and an outline and try to sell it that way.
  • If that doesn’t work, write the whole manuscript.

There you have it.

That’s the funny thing about advising people on how to get published. You talk to ten different authors and it worked differently for each. All you can offer are guideposts, what worked for you, and hope it helps.

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Dear Ally, a Story. Chapter 1

Dear Ally, a Story

My daughter is a fairly prolific writer for an 8 year old. Here’s the first chapter of a book she wrote last fall, called Dear Ally. ( Ally is supposed to be read as “allie.”) It’s about a girl named Emily who moves to Arizona and writes to her friend from her old town, Ally, about all her new adventures.

I just added spaces to make it more readable.

She’d be super pleased if you left a comment for her:)
—–

DEAR ALLY,
I just hope you’ll listen to all my adventures. All of them are going to be awesome!! I think… anyway, I’m moving to Arizona and I think it’s really hot there, is it? I know what you’re thinking, Emily, I’ve been there before and you’re saying HOT?! YOU’RE CRAZY!!! IT’S BURNING HOT THERE!!Yeah, well, its winter there and it’s just hot. BA~BOOM!!!

FYI, I’m at Arizona right now. OMG!! We just got a puppy. I just love puppies, don’t you?! Uh… 100 divided by 10. Lol. I just did 5th grade math in front of a 3rd grader! Anyway, we named the dog Gatsby, and he seems always happy! He’s yellow, sometimes crazy, and licks me all the time! My little brother, Ted, (age of 7 and in 2nd grade,) went crazy in our hotel room! Mom and Dad sleep in a room next to us, but attached.

Ted just started screaming, ‘’ NUH UH!! THAT NOT RIGHT EMILY!! SPONGE BOB IS FALLING FOR SQUIDWARD’S TRICK!! OH NO!!’’

I said, “Calm down! Sponge Bob is ok!’’ then he started to cry.

Mom busted in! She said, “WHAT’S GOING ON?! IS THERE A PROBLEM?!”

I said, ‘’ Mom, Ted’s going crazy because of Sponge bob falling for squid ward’s trick.”

Mom said, ‘’oh, Ted, sponge bob will be ok. See? Squid ward is crying now sponge bob~ ‘’

‘’Whaaaaa!!!’’ Ted rudely interrupted.

Then I got a call. Ring ring ring! It was my friend, Mia. ‘’ Hi, Emily! I haven’t while. Seen you in a What’s up? What’s going on in Arizona? I’m doing fine in San Diego. Wait, I can hear your brother throwing a fit. What’s his problem?’’

I said, ‘’ I’m fine, Mia. Anyway, my brother is throwing a fit because sponge bob is falling for squid ward’s trick.’’

She said, ‘’ what, girl?!’’

I said, ‘’ It’s a REALLY LONG story. (giggles)’’.

She said, ‘’ OOHH. Sponge bob, right? My little sister, Sarah, she likes it too. What, mom? Oh come on!!” Mia sighed. “Sorry Emily, I have to do the dishes. FYI, good luck!! Bye!’’

I said, ‘’ Bye, Mia!’’ then my dog JUMPED TO MY PHONE AND ATE IT!!!

Then I fainted. No, really, FAINTED!!

Then I saw my dog lick my face about at 12:00 pm. At the time I fainted, it was about 7:00 pm. I fainted for 5 hours!!! Can you believe it?! 5 HOURS!!! Then I called Mia on my emergencery~ cell~phone~ thingy.

‘’ Hi~ WHOOPS! I called my crush, Brandon.

‘’I~I~’’ he said, ‘’ Who is this?! It’s 12:00am!’’

I said, ‘’ Oh, I’m sorry! I was trying to call Mia, you know, from school. Oh yeah, I’m Emily, your BFI (best friend infinity.)’’

He said, ‘’ Oh, umm, hi, then. Anyway, be er umm careful because I use to live there, and, are you going to CatKing middle school because there’s a major bully there, Mackenzie Orville.’’

I said, ‘’ Well, er… I’m going to CatKing middle school, so I’ll be real careful.’’

He said, ‘’Ok! Uh, that’s good. Bye!’’

I said, ‘’ Bye, Brandon!’’ and went to bed.

Then I got woken up at about 4:44 am by Ted. He said, ‘’ Emily, Emily, wake up! Sponge bob came in our hotel room and showed me how to do 100X122!!!’’

I shouted, ‘’ Yeah, IN YOUR HEAD, NOW GET IN BED!!’’

He said, ‘’Ok, that rhymes! (giggles)’’ then he and I went back to bed. 2 hours later, at 6:05, I was woken up (again) by mom this time.

She said, ‘’ time to go to school!’’ I got ready for school and went to school. (I walked.) Then I meet someone new. A girl name Abbey Key. She has brown, shiny, hair.(which I’m pretty sure she’s
the great, great, great, great, great granddaughter of Elvis.) Anyway, we’re BFFI now!

There was a “student store” at our school. Everything costs about $1.00 or 50 cents. I bought a really cute kola eraser for 50 cents. All I had in my pockets were a dollar coin and 50 cents. Now I have just a dollar coin. When I went to class, I saw I am going to sit next to a girl name Mackenzie.

Forgotten Samurai Women

Forgotten Samurai Women by Margaret Dilloway

One day, my dad told me, “You know your mother was from a samurai family, right?”

Um, no, didn’t know that. That kind of information is good to know!My mom had said only that her family had been the royal seal-bearers (which I guess, though it doesn’t sound as exciting as samurai, is ranked above samurai).

Then I wondered: were there any female samurai?

To my surprise, there were. There’s even a book (albeit slender) about them.

I’d never been interested in samurai in my life. Well, that’s not entirely true. My mom had a set of samurai dolls, a man and a woman. The woman had silk robes and real human hair and a detailed kimono costume, right down to the knife she kept in the sleeve.

I always thought that was cool.

I got a book about samurai which had a family tree of notable samurai families. I found my mom’s family and discovered that it is an offshoot of the Minamoto branch.
Then I got the samurai women book.

Women fought in a variety of ways. There was Empress Jingu, who was said to lead her army into war while she was heavily pregnant. Other women trained to defend their homes while the men were away.

And then there was Tomoe Gozen.

Lady Tomoe was said to be the most beautiful bad-ass woman who ever lived, who was the best archer (from horseback) and best swordsman (she fought with a man’s sword). She fought alongside a general named Yoshinaka Minamoto during the 12th century.

Tomoe Gozen. Women didn’t actually paint their faces for battle, but re-enactors often do, a practice that probably stems from kabuki traditions.

Minamoto! That’s where my mom’s family came from.

Yoshinaka was an interesting character. Her parents had rescued him as an infant from an intra-family feud, and he grew up with Tomoe and her brothers. He was said to be a brilliant military tactician, who won several battles with like a quarter as many troops, but a horrible politician. His nickname was, “Kiso,” or “hillbilly,” because he was from the northern mountain area (in what is now Nagano).

Some people think that Tomoe wasn’t real, that she was invented to discredit Yoshinaka by saying he was a wimp for fighting with a female captain. She’s mentioned briefly in The Heike, a mostly true account of the Genpei War, where the Minamoto fought the Taira for the shogunate at the beginning of the shogun era. (One part said she ripped a tree out of the ground. Probably an exaggeration).

Oh, and Tomoe was also Yoshinaka’s concubine.

AND…Yoshinaka also had a legal wife, Yamabuki, as well as probably another concubine, Aoi.

What?

Did the women get along? How did Tomoe become a warrior? What did the other women think of her role?

You can see why I had to write about Tomoe.

I did a lot of research, but most of the English language books on the subject didn’t have all the info I needed. I reached out to the folks at the Samurai Archives. Randy Schadel (aka “jidaigeki legend”); and Dr. Ayame Chiba, a member of the Minami-ku (Kyoto) Historical Reenactment Society) read an early draft and pointed out errors and made a lot of great suggestions (I’m thanking them in my acknowledgements, too, of course).

One of the most important things Randy told me is that “samurai” actually means male warrior, so you can’t say “female samurai.” The term is, “onnamusha,” or “woman warrior.” For simplicity, I’ll probably just say female samurai so people know what I’m talking about, but explain the distinction later.

Translating the life of a 12th century warrior woman into modern day women’s fiction proved challenging. Life then, as Thomas Hobbes would say several centuries later, was, “Nasty, brutish, and short.”

Ultimately, I decided to excerpt Tomoe’s story into my contemporary story, sort of like I did with the fiction “American Housewife book” in How to Be an American Housewife. Each samurai section is no more than 5 pages and thematically informs the modern day story.

But although I’m not a “historical” author, I couldn’t bear to leave the rest of Tomoe on the cutting room.

So I took all my historical sections and made them into a separate book, which will be available as a supplemental e-book when SISTERS OF HEART AND SNOW publishes.

Happy November, or No-Remember

It’s November 1st. Time for my recurring nightmare that I’ve missed Christmas, woken up the day of, and had no gifts for anyone.

It also reminds me of Piers Anthony. He was my favorite author for many years, beginning in 6th grade. For my birthday, my brother Jason gave me the book, A Spell for Chameleon, the first book in the Xanth series. I had a hard time getting into it at first. But then I did and I read all of his work. Bought his new books the day they came out. And he’s prolific– he took a lot of my allowance!

Anyway, Xanth’s very pun-ny, and No-Remember was in place of November.

When I was around 13, I wrote Piers Anthony a letter. I wish I still had it. I have no idea what happened to it.* But in it, I said that I wanted to be an author one day. He was then known to respond to all his fanmail– I don’t know if that’s true– and he wrote me a very lovely, gracious, and inspiring response. It said he had the utmost faith in me, and all I had to do was not give up.

That really does help.

In my short time as a published author, I’ve met several people who told me that I inspired them. My first emotion is always bewilderment– I’m just me, and not really sure how I could inspire anyone. I don’t think of myself as grand. I’m not royalty. I’m more like a stay-at-home mom who writes while the kids are in school.

Once, when someone was talking about me, they mentioned how looonnnng it took me after college to get published. That felt weird, too, because it didn’t feel like it took too long. I think I wrote my book when I was ready to write it. In college and before, I was insecure about my writing. I was afraid of critiques, especially after some nasty group ones. I hated rereading my writing and I loathed editing.

Plus, I didn’t have enough life experience. Sure, some stuff happened, but I needed distance to process it. Some wisdom.

I feel like all the jobs I had led up to this point, of getting ready to write. Newspaper writing taught me the value of research and deadlines. Writing plays taught me dramatic tension and how to write dialogue well. Writing that Bluetooth for Dummies book taught me that I could indeed write a whole long tome. And I began thinking more with my underdeveloped analytic left brain. I got more confident.

My husband– forgive me if I mentioned this elsewhere– says he always knew I had to be a fiction writer. When we were first together, I wrote him a short story. It had the phrase, “words flying from her mouth like daggers coming at his face.” That’s all we remember about the story. He quotes it to me all the time. Anyway, he says when he read that, he knew that was my calling.

So this post that was supposed to say Happy November turned into a post about writing.

Well kids, it’s NaNoWriMo– National Novel Writing Month. Let me inspire you. Write your freaking novel already.

*Sometimes things just get lost during moves. You have a document in with all the other documents in Box X, and Box X arrives intact EXCEPT for that one thing you know you packed. How does that happen?

Who Do You Think You Are, Calling Yourself a Novelist?

I should also come with a parental advisory

A long time ago, somebody told me that if you write regularly, you can call yourself a writer when people ask what you do. However, I always felt vaguely dishonest about that. A writer, I thought, meant you were Published, for money.

Once I sold my debut novel, it seemed like I should be able to call myself a novelist. But there’s something, I don’t know, immodest-seeming about the word. Saying I was a novelist felt pretentious. Like making everybody call you doctor, when you’re not a medical doctor (though I can’t say so for sure how I’d feel if I actually got a PhD). Who was I to go around calling myself a novelist? The title seemed to belong to the most upper echelons of award winning writers. You know, the ones who never have writer’s block. The ones who have the secret whistle for their Muses on a silver chain around their necks. The ones who have figured it all out. Not me. I never have it figured out.

Who do I think I am, calling myself a novelist?

Then I happened to be on Pandora and listening to a band I like. I read their bio. It said that the lead singer was a former novelist. Hmm. I guessed I’d like his work, so I tried to look up his novel. Turns out, he’d published a short story and had a novel in progress when his band took off. As far as I could tell, he’d never finished writing it.

If he can call himself a novelist, I thought, why shouldn’t I?

This came up in conversation with some other female writing friends, and most of them don’t like to use the word novelist, either. But why? Is this just a woman thing? Are we afraid that somebody will think we’re not modest, or be jealous? That they won’t like us? That we’ll threaten them? Men just don’t seem to have this problem for the most part. They tell people stuff and if that person doesn’t like it, they move on with their lives.

Besides, isn’t novelist merely a descriptive, specific term for what I do? If I say I’m a writer, people always ask what I write anyway. This would save a step. Journalists call themselves journalists. Technical writers call themselves technical writers. Playwrights call themselves playwrights.

I decided to try out my new occupational description on my new doctor, writing “novelist” under the “Job” category in my health history. I guess they ask your occupation, in case you’re a coal miner or work with other hazardous materials. She was an endocrinologist (another person, I thought, who wouldn’t describe herself generically. She’d say endocrinologist).

“What do you write?” she asked.

“Women’s fiction novels.” Or was I supposed to say, “upmarket women’s fiction?” Once I told somebody that I write women’s fiction, and he waggled his brows and said, “Women’s fiction, eh? Like Fifty Shades?” I waited in fear.

“Oh. How nice.” The endocrinologist sounded condescending.* Anyone can call themselves a novelist, I could hear her thinking. How cute of you, a housewife saying she’s a novelist because she Xeroxed ten copies of her work and gave them to people for Christmas. “Anything I would have heard of?”

I told her the titles.

“Haven’t heard of them. Would they be in Barnes and Noble?”

I nodded. “They’re published by Putnam Books.”

“You say that like it’s supposed to mean something to me.” Her voice went hard. “Is it? Why are you telling me that? Is it supposed to be important?”

Was I bragging? Who do I think I am, calling myself a novelist?

Five minutes into the appointment and she was pissed off. I figured she was some kind of frustrated writer and I shrugged. “It is kind of important. That’s how they’re in bookstores.”

It reminds me of an incident from a long time ago. I’d sold a nonfiction book called Bluetooth for Dummies. I arranged with the company I worked for as an administrative assistant to interview their engineers in return for putting their name on the book. I also had to put together a nonfiction proposal, an outline, and write a couple of sample chapters (the book ultimately got canceled because a different Bluetooth book had low sales—this was back in 2001).

One female engineer came up to me after the news got around. “Why do you get to write this book? You’re just in admin.”

I’ve noticed a lot of questions along those lines from people who want to be writers, have been trying to be writers, or are thinking they could be writers in the extra five minutes they have everyday. The meta-meaning is, Why were you chosen, and not me?

Who do you think you are?

It was like I personally attacked her by having modest success.

I find this kind of sentiment happening a lot on social media. Somebody says their kid’s on honor roll on Facebook, and somebody else says that post hurts their feelings because their kid wasn’t on honor roll. A woman says, “Breastfeeding’s good for your baby,” and those who aren’t breastfeeding accuse the first of being a La Leche League proselytizer.

People, oddly enough, usually are not attacking other people. They’re just living their lives. They are not thinking about you.

I told that engineer, “I thought of the idea, I got an agent, I did the proposal, and now I’m doing the work.”

As for the word novelist, with all its weight and connotations, I decided that I no longer cared if people thought I was being pretentious if I say I’m a novelist. I am for-reals serious about my writing. I am a novelist. It’s a fact. I’m sure that if I say the sky is blue today, somebody living with rain will be hurt that I’m bragging about it.

Somebody’s always going to be annoyed with you. Danielle Steel wrote about men who are annoyed with her success as a novelist and need to put her down for it (in her case it seems to be just men, but obviously I’ve experienced it both ways). And if it happens to Danielle Steel, it’s certainly going to happen to people all the way down the ladder.

I decided not to apologize for what I am. If it’s your calling to write novels, call yourself what you are, published or not. I’m a novelist. Deal with it. No more feeling afraid of somebody telling me, who do you think you are? No more novelist apologetics.

Recently, I tested my novelist moniker out again when Cadillac took me to one of his work events, and I met a colleague of his. The colleague asked what I did. I said I was a novelist, and he asked what the titles were. I told him. “That’s an amazing accomplishment,” he said. “That’s really hard to do. Do you know how many people try to do that and can’t? Wow.” Now that’s the kind of reaction I want. A little respect. I kind of wanted to yell, “That’s right!” but instead I said thanks. And then we talked about something else.

*I never went back to that doctor again, by the way, because she also read my blood sugar tests wrong. (The funny thing is, she was one of two endocrinologists I had to choose from; the doc who did the referral said he’d gotten bad reports about the other one for being kind of brusque.)

Every Hidden Thing: Writing

In the spring, Tobias Wolff (This Boy’s Life) came to Grossmont College, a local community college, to speak and lead workshops for the students as part of their annual Literary Festival. I went to his open lecture and bought a copy of Old School (on which the Will Ferrell was based. Not.) Wolff was as gracious and honest as his writing.

Old School is a semi-autobiographical fictional story about a boy who makes up a past to attend a prestigious boy’s boarding school. It’s very much about the importance of fiction in our lives.
There was one passage in particular that has stuck with me all these summer months, and I was able to find it again readily though I hadn’t marked up my copy. It’s where the protagonist is trying to come up with the Perfect Story to win a writing competition that will be judged by Ernest Hemingway. The prize is an audience with the man himself.
Blocked, the boy begins reading other stories and finds one in a girls’ school magazine that particularly resonates. He ends up plagiarizing the story, but that’s irrelevant to why it stuck with me.

Here’s the passage:

I went back to the beginning and read it again, slowly this time, feeling all the while as if my inmost vault had been smashed open and looted and every hidden thing spread out across those pages. From the very first sentence I was looking myself right in the face.

This is what writing is about. Telling secrets.

Sometimes this is difficult for me. I am sort of a secretive person myself, afraid of being judged and disliked if people know my innermost thoughts. But this fear, I think, helps make writing compelling.

The characters need to let readers in on secrets they’re afraid to even admit to themselves. What secrets do your characters have? What are their worst fears? What are they afraid to show to the world?

On a related note, I also read an article yesterday called The Ideal English Major. In part, it talks about the benefits of studying literature:

You see that life is bigger, sweeter, more tragic and intense—more alive with meaning than you had thought.

This is what we need to do as writers. Tell every hidden thing. Make the story vibrate with life’s richness.

It’s something to aspire to, anyway.

Spark: A Creative Anthology

As regular blog readers know, 20 years ago, I attended the California State Summer School for the Arts at CalArts in Valencia for creative writing. I count this as the single most transformative educational experience of my young student life, a month when I got to hang out with other artists and concentrate solely on writing. Before this, I’d wanted to be a professional writer in some abstract sense, but this summer made the dream seem, suddenly, attainable.

To help make writing for publication possible and to support emerging young writers, fellow CSSSA alumnus Brian Lewis has created a new literary journal: Spark: A Creative Anthology, which will publish short fiction, nonfiction, and poetry.

Some people say they don’t feel like a “real writer” until they are paid for their work– in fact, that’s pretty much the definition of professional– you get paid. These days, there are hundreds of websites and blogs who will publish your work, but not too many who pay. To this end, Brian will compensate writers at the rate of 1 cent a word, or $10, whichever is more.

The project is entirely volunteer, so a Kickstarter page is available if you’d like to contribute a few dollars to help compensate the writers and pay for the magazine’s expenses.

There’s also a bonus: certain pledges will receive benefits. Not lunchboxes or bumperstickers, but something possibly more useful to a new writer–critiques. Check out the Kickstarter page for more deets.

Also: there are lots of submissions rolling in. If you’d like to submit a short story, poem, or essay, go to the Spark website.

The Day the Earth Stood Still: A Man and a Craft Store

I just finished the editing/rewriting of my next book. Now it has to go to my agent, who will undoubtedly see items that slipped by me. Anyway, I worked a LOT this week to finish it, because the kids get out of school on Tuesday, and it’s really hard to work when they are at home. At least, to work in stretches.

At the beginning of the week it stood at 442 pages, and now it’s 480 pages.

It’s always surprising to me to read through a draft and find out it’s not as horrible as I thought while I was writing it. Writing the first draft really is the hardest part. This time it was triply hard because of the historical stuff, and I kept having to check things (what kind of forest would be in northern Honshu in the 12th century? What color would the dirt be, and would it be hard/loamy what? Did they have lychee? What did they use for light at night?)

Sometimes, I wasn’t feeling it, so I would just vaguely sketch out a scene I knew needed to happen: She went out with her husband and they had a fight. Or: There was a big battle at the river. When I went through it, I added more. Over the weekend, I’m going to edit some minor things I know need addressing.

Tonight, Cadillac took me out to dinner as a treat for finishing my book. (We did not have a fight, like my characters did). We decided to go to Chili’s because it was seven o’clock and there’s a Chili’s nearby, and I was starving. We got their dinner deal, but the server rang everything up ala carte so it was about $10 more than it was supposed to be, but the manager fixed it up.

Then….we were leaving and Cadillac said, “Would you like to go walk around someplace?”

“Like where?” I said.

“Like Fashion Valley (a mall). Or, we could go to Michael’s and get some craft stuff,” he said.

My head spun around.

Yes, that is correct. My husband VOLUNTEERED to take me to MICHAEL’S and buy crafts.

It was the day the earth stood still.

He is never bitter or grumpy about taking me to Michael’s. But neither has he ever just asked if I wanted to go.

Unfortunately, unless I have a specific project in mind I don’t just buy random craft stuff. That is, I don’t walk around Michael’s eyeing supplies and pulling ideas out of my ass, like, “Oooh, I could make a lamp out of pipe cleaners and beads!” I also tend to forget which supplies I already have. But I was so excited that he suggested it that I agreed anyway and we went down there. I didn’t buy anything. He looked at plastic car and airplane models that are theoretically for the kids, but they always need help so he does most of it.

Stranger than Fiction?

“Nobody would believe you if you wrote this in a book,” my mother-in-law said by way of greeting. We had come to visit her daughter, Deb, who was recovering from surgery in the hospital.

I sat down to hear the story. I fully believed that the story would be an interesting, albeit frustrating, one. While I was writing my new novel, QUEEN OF SHOW, my editor expressed doubt about various scenes that had to do with the character’s renal failure and dialysis. My editor thought they sounded unlikely.

That is, she thought they were unlikely until I explained these all happened to Deb.

QUEEN OF SHOW is about a rose breeder and her relationship with her wayward niece. The rose breeder also happens to have kidney failure, like my sister-in-law. Deb provided all the kidney incidents in the book.

For years, I’ve been hearing jaw-dropping medical stories. I guess that’s why they say truth is stranger than fiction.

Deb was in the hospital for about a week; she came home yesterday. A shunt in her leg– basically an implanted plastic tube– had an infection. There was a scab on it that kept breaking off and bleeding. The doctors did nothing about it the first time it broke, saying those just did that sometimes, but she insisted it wasn’t normal. She got a blood infection. Nobody linked it to the shunt. It bled again, and again the doctors wanted to leave it alone.

Of course, Deb was right about the bleeding not being normal. It began gushing blood again while she was at work, and she had to be taken by ambulance to the hospital, where they finally did something about the shunt. Now they think the blood infection may have been caused by the shunt. Um, yeah, we all suspected that two months ago.

So now to the more unbelievable part that happened while she was in one of the country’s top-rated hospitals. When she was admitted, she was admitted to internal medicine, so that was the unit in charge of all her orders. Other doctors, like her kidney doctor, could request an order be written.

She was supposed to get an ultrasound of her upper chest, to find a vein they can use for a catheter. She’s had three transplants and the veins are mostly unusable now. The kidney doc asked for this to be done, but it had to be passed up the chain of command through internal medicine.

This turned out to be like a highly annoying telephone game. Somebody botched the orders, and a tech came in with orders for a leg ultrasound.

“It’s supposed to be on my upper chest,” she insisted.

The tech went away. Eventually, another tech showed up and said she was supposed to scan her arms.

“That’s wrong,” she said.

“That’s what the orders say,” the tech said.

So the chest ultrasound had to wait another day.

Nobody seemed to think it was a big deal– after all, ultrasounds are harmless– but the awful bureaucracy makes it likely that they also mess up orders on harmful tests (which she’s also experienced). Also, the useless ultrasounds will still be billed to Medicare.

Why doesn’t the hospital simply have the doctor who wants the order done, write the order? I don’t know. The chief of Internal Medicine came in to talk to her and made it clear that all the orders had to be written through her, yet refused to take responsibility for the botched tests.

In case you think hers is an isolated incident, the woman in the next bed was supposed to have a colonoscopy. To do this, you have to drink a bowel-cleaning terrible fluid and not eat. It is not a pleasant process. In the afternoon, someone came in and told her, “Oh, there was a mix-up. We’re not doing your colonscopy today. We’ll do it tomorrow.”

So this poor woman had to go through all the bowel-cleaning again and stay overnight, to boot.

Has the IRS been teaching hospital administration?

I’m just frustrated on her behalf. You’re lying there powerless, trying to get better, while all these people around you who are supposed to be professionals with 12 years of schooling seem to be purposely messing things up. I guess it goes to show you that you should always try to have someone with you to advocate if you’re in the hospital; and you shouldn’t be afraid to question people, even if that makes you a “bad patient.”

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