Thursday, November 20, 2014

Author Beware: Arteries vs. Veins

Do any of you watch the chef Gordon Ramsey? He's a well-known British chef with a serious temper. It's been well displayed on many of his shows. At times, he just begins to bang his head on the counter at the incompetence of some of his chefs.

That's how I felt when I read this sentence in a manuscript.

"Her vein began to throb at her temple."

Perhaps, I shouldn't be so harsh. This person doesn't have a medical background and perhaps it isn't common knowledge that there is a big difference between arteries and veins.

There is.

Arteries carry blood away from your heart where it has just been oxygenated by your lungs. In order to carry the blood forward, the heart beats to propel it. Therefore, when an artery is severed, the blood spurts out with each heart beat in a fairly dramatic fashion. There is no question from the medical staff-- "Do you think he got an artery?" It more like, "We've got a bleeder!" The blood is a brighter red because it is loaded with oxygen.

Only arteries throb. That's how we feel your pulse-- at an artery.

Veins carry blood to your heart to get reoxygenated. They don't pulsate. The blood is darker in color and tends to ooze though if enough veins are severed-- the bleeding can be quite brisk.

The correct way to phrase the above sentence would have been:

"The artery at her temple began to throb."

And remember, all bleeding can lead to death if not controlled-- whether is be venous or arterial.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

On the Fringe Of Medicine: Braxton DeGarmo, MD

Have you ever watched a TV show or movie, or finished a novel, and found yourself scratching your head at the end, wondering how that writer came up with such a lame idea? If the story was a medically or technology based one, there’s a good chance the writer was flirting with the edge of good science – not cutting-edge or state-of-the-art, but pseudo-science, fringe medicine, or, as some call it, deviant science – and fell off.

Now, I’m not talking about badly portrayed medicine. Television is full of that. I don’t think a week goes by without some character getting an injection into the neck or just above the elbow, neither of which is medically valid. Or what about those lead characters who get shot in the chest, just below the shoulder, and are back at work, busting the bad guys in a week, or less? Trust me, if you’re a writer, don’t use TV, or the movies, as your source of research. I’m sure you already know that.

I am talking about the actual science or medicine behind a story. Is it reality or something on the fringe of science? In medicine, that fringe is often called “alternative” medicine. Such practices as homeopathy and radionics (psionics or dowsing) fall into the “alternative” category, as does aromatherapy, the use of oils, much of herbal medicine, psychic healing, iridology, reflexology, cupping, and more. To date, these forms of therapy have not been scientifically proven and rely on anecdotal accounts of their benefits alone. Each subjective testimony is fraught with potential bias and error, and double-blind testing of such claims has typically failed to show any advantage. You never hear of the treatment failures, just the stories of those claiming positive results.

Please note that, in this post, I’m excluding “neo-traditional,” or ethno-medicine, which consists of traditional, culturally-based forms of treatment such as acupuncture. While these therapies cannot be explained scientifically, some of them have been shown to work and studies into why they work are on-going.

If you decide to include some form of “alternative” medicine in your story, don’t be surprised to find them explained in technical, scientific terms when you research them. Herbal medicine has renamed itself “naturopathy.” Radionics has its mysterious “black box” that looks like a scientific instrument. One of the trends in “alternative” medicine is to take on scientific trappings to make the modality seem legit and of proven benefit.

Mentioning a character’s use of one of these therapies as simply one more layer of her personality is unlikely to cause you problems. However, the risks of using “alternative” medicine in any significant way in a story are many. You must present it accurately, not just in scientific terms, but as its proponents present it. Even when you do so, you run the risk of alienating readers on both sides of that fence. Disbelieving readers might be turned off by its use, while advocates might get angry if it’s used negatively or presented as fraudulent.

And that gets to the crux of using fringe medicine, or science in general, in our writing. If it’s to be a major part of the story, you must make the idea believable. You, the writer, must get the reader to suspend his or her beliefs long enough to accept the premise. The further out on the fringe that therapy is, the harder that task becomes.

Braxton DeGarmo, MD is a retired Emergency Medicine physician who lives outside St. Louis, MO with his wife and garden. He is the author of cutting-edge Christian fiction, whose titles include: The MilitantGenome, Indebted, Looks that Deceive,  Rescued and Remembered, and The Silenced Shooter. You can learn more about him at, or on Facebook at He also tweets from @braxtondegarmo.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Up and Coming

Hello Redwood's Fans!

How has your fall been treating you? Anyone out there trying all the new pumpkin spiced products? Me . . . of course! Here's the rundown on what I've tried. Pumpkin Spice Oreo cookies. These were okay. I don't know that I would seek them out. Pumpkin spiced whipped peanut butter. Yes, you read that right. This was enjoyable but not sweet enough for me. Then there are the pumpkin spiced and pumpkin cheesecake donuts from Krispy Kreme.

So . . . the winner is . . . the pumpkin cheesecake donuts from Krispy Kreme!! They are yummy. And, I would like to publicly thank the woman who gave me the LAST pumpkin spiced donut of the day to try. I'd waited three weeks to stop by the store so you totally made my day!

What pumpkin spiced treat are you enjoying?

For you this week . . .

Tuesday: Author and ER physician Braxton DeGarmo stops by to discuss "fringe" medicine. Exactly what that is and what it means.

Thursday: Fellow writers . . . please . . . this is becoming very problematic. An author beware post on the difference between arteries and veins.

Have a great week!!

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Dissociative Identity Disorder: Part 2/2

Today, author Robin E. Mason concludes her two part series on Dissociative Identity Disorder. You can find Part I here

The problem with DID is identifying it. Patients often live with DID for several years before they seek treatment. Even then, they may go through an extensive process of elimination before it is properly and correctly identified. The difficulty lies in that its symptoms are parallel to other mental and emotional disorders, and include:

  •      Depression, suicidal tendencies
  •        Mood swings
  •        Flashbacks, memory problems, selective loss of memory
  •      Insomnia, night terrors, sleep walking
  •      Anxiety, panic attacks, phobias
  •      Alchohol and drug abuse – it is interesting to note that DID is not cause by substance abuse, but may, in fact, trigger it.
  •      Disorientation and confusion
  •      Compulsions and rituals – OCD behavior
  •          Auditory and visual hallucinations
  •       Eating disorders

Perhaps the hallmark symptom of DID is its fugue states: periods of time, from minutes to days, in which an individual has no memory of events, or of time itself.  Different personalities, or alters, will surface in specific circumstances. Each alter splinters off for that purpose, to cope with various life events. The consensus theory on the cause of DID is extreme childhood trauma, usually associated with sexual abuse. Triggers can be a visual setting, a voice, photo, food – any stimuli that brings unwanted memories to surface. It is at this point an alter steps in to cover for the host or primary personality. Typically the host has no memory of what his or her alter does. Alter personalities, however, mostly are aware of other alters and their actions.

Treatment for DID is found through long-term psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, and/or art, music or movement therapies. The objective, of course, is to integrate the alters into a singular and whole – multidimensional - person.  As DID is not physiologically induced, there is no medication to treat it. However, accompanying disorders like depression or anxiety may be treated with medication and thus alleviate some of the DID symptoms or triggers.

There is some school of thought that DID is not legitimate, but is iatrogenic, or that it is created by suggestion of the therapist. However, brain imaging studies have provided evidence of physiological changes in some patients.

As for Sybil, some question arose at the authenticity of her diagnosis. Dr. Wilbur was accused of falsifying her findings. At one point, Sybil, whose real name was Shirley Mason, admitted to making the whole thing up. She later recanted that admission.

It seems to me that whatever Dr. Wilbur’s motivations were, Sybil’s story was not entirely untrue If, on one extreme, the whole thing was the wild creation of her and Dr. Wilbur, that speaks of something horribly wrong – which would then be another issue and sickness. We will never know if what happened in her childhood triggered panic attacks and black-outs. I believe there was truth in her story, 10% or 100%, I can’t say. I believe it stirred an interest in the condition, and in turn childhood abuse.

Previously, I said I learned why Sybil’s story intrigued me. Not because of sexual molestation, because I wasn’t. And not because I ever suffered DID, because I haven’t. But something about her dark childhood rang true with me, however different that might have been. I felt that I was in a dark hole, unwanted, unwelcome, and unloved. In that, I can identify with Sybil. And in that, my fascination with DID and crises of identity. I know now, too, that I am whole, I am wanted, and I am loved.

Robin Mason lives in upstate South Carolina where she began writing as self-proscribed therapy in 1995. Life threw a few (dozen) (thousand) hiccups and curve balls, and she got serious about working on her debut novel, Tessa, in 2013. Robin’s greatest priority and highest calling is to honor God in all she does, especially with the talents and abilities He’s given her. Like writing.