Jim Bailey is a fellow in the American College of Physicians and professor of medicine and preventive medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis, where he directs the Center for Health Systems Improvement, cares for the sick, and teaches doctors in training. His research appears in many peer-reviewed medical journals, including AMA, Journal of General Internal Medicine, and Annals of Internal Medicine. Dr. Bailey has an abiding passion for the classics, medical history, and ethics, and believes that sharing our stories can heal.The End of Healingis his first novel.
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Q: Congratulations on the release of your book, The End of Healing. What was your inspiration for it?
A: My inspiration came on 9–11, my birthday, when I realized that as bad as the twin towers disaster was, healthcare was worse. I knew that a 747 planeload of people were being killed by medical mistakes every day and no one was doing anything about it. To the contrary–many were profiting from it. And the public was oblivious of the danger. People mindlessly look to hospitals as their great temples of hope and healing, when in fact they are the most dangerous places of all. As a physician and healthcare researcher I knew that I could write dozens of journal articles every year in the best medical journals and it wouldn’t open the minds and hearts of the American people to understand where true healing comes from. I knew then that I needed to tell a story.
Q: Tell us something interesting about your protagonist.
A: Dr. Don Newman is much like the young doctors I teach at the University of Tennessee. He wants to be a healer, but finds himself in a broken healthcare system that puts profits before patients and waits until people are near death—when it is usually too late—before anyone thinks to help. Many doctors, nurses, and other healers become cynical and suffer burnout when confronting this situation. Don is one of those extraordinary young physicians who makes up his mind to find a better way.
Q: How was your creative process like during the writing of this book and how long did it take you to complete it? Did you face any bumps along the way?
A: After studying the great books at St. John’s College in the early 80s I dreamed of writing the next great American novel. But then my graduate fiction-writing teacher told me I needed to write about what I knew and I didn’t seem know much of anything. At that point, medical school seemed like the easier option. Twenty years later, in 2003, I started writing The End of Healing as a work of narrative non-fiction. For over a year I wrote and wrote without having the courage to admit that I was writing fiction. When my spouse, who is also my editor, told me I was writing fiction—and suggested I’d better stop because it would take me forever—my first reaction was denial. I assured her that I was, in fact, writing creative non-fiction. As usual, though, she was right. It was over a full year later, in 2004, I realized that I was writing fiction—and that filled me with terror. I couldn’t write fiction. That had already been determined. But despite my despair, The End of Healing was a compulsion for me, and I wrote nearly every day for ten years until its publication. I wrote and wrote and edited and edited and learned the art of story telling over the last ten years because I had to do so. The story needed to be told. And it is a story you need to hear.
Q: How do you keep your narrative exciting throughout the creation of a novel?
A: You have to have an entire story arc or at least the heart of a great story that you think is really exciting. If you don’t have that kind of story in your heart that needs to be told then you will never make your narrative exciting for others. How can you expect your story to be exciting for others if it isn’t exciting to you? So you start with the story that needs to be told. A story you have to tell because it burns to be let out. Then you can craft it, shape it, and perfect it to make it exciting for others.
Q: Do you experience anxiety before sitting down to write? If yes, how do you handle it?
A: Yes. I think if we are honest, most of us experience anxiety when we have something that we need to do that is undone. So how do I handle my anxiety? By writing. That seems to be the best cure. And if it doesn’t work right away, then I write some more.
Q: What is your writing schedule like and how do you balance it with your other work and family time?
A: Writing is hard. And it is hard to balance writing fiction with my already difficult work schedule as a physician, teacher and researcher and my role as a husband and father. My wife and I reconnect by taking our dog for long walks around our neighborhood. Early in my writing of The End of Healing I told a good friend and mentor of my despair and deep concern that I would never finish the book I had started. I still remember his advice. He said to just write a little bit every day. Set a schedule. Make a plan to fit a little writing into each day’s work and in time your effort will add up. So I followed his advice. Almost every day for the last 10 years I got up early in the morning while the rest of the house was asleep and wrote for at least 30 minutes but most often for an hour or two. And lo and behold, I discovered that my dear friend—who has since passed on—was right. The writing did add up.
Q: How do you define success?
A: I’d consider The End of Healing to be successful if it encourages people to take charge of their health and healthcare resources. I’d like to stop to the unnecessary suffering caused by our hospital and sickness-focused healthcare system, eliminate the needless waste of lives and dollars spent on unnecessary care that isn’t really care at all, and help people see what a real healing healthcare system would look like. We should get much better value for the $2.3 trillion dollars we spend each year on healthcare. When I first started writing The End of Healing, I set as my sales target at 200,000 books. To me that would represent the beginning of real success, for it would mean that I had really touched enough minds and hearts that we’d be well on our way to making a significant impact.
Q: What advice would you give to aspiring writers whose spouses or partners don’t support their dreams of becoming an author?
A: Get couples counseling. All of us need friends, spouses, or partners. And true friendship and partnership means supporting one another’s dreams. We have to do that for one another if we are to have a successful partnership. I have been incredibly blessed to have an extraordinarily supportive partner. My wife, Sharon, has served as my primary editor. Although at times my writing frustrates her because of its all-consuming nature she has been incredibly supportive. My novel would not have been completed without her, nor would it have what beauty it has to offer.
Q: George Orwell once wrote: “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” Do you agree?
A: Yes. My ‘demon’ was the fraud, waste, and suffering I saw every day in my profession. Understanding the reasons for this illness at the heart of my profession made the illness all the more painful for me. Then I rediscovered the Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri and found myself driven by his spirit to expose the hidden corruption in healthcare in the same way that he had exposed the hidden corruption of his time. I started writing The End of Healing in 2004 while on sabbatical in his hometown of Florence, Italy. Each time I walked past the statue of Dante in the Piazza delle Santa Croce, I’d see his grim visage scowling down at me with disapproval that I was out walking and enjoying the city and had not yet finished my book. Across the centuries, Dante both tormented and encouraged me to persevere and finish my work.
Q: Anything else you’d like to tell my readers?
A: I was able to write The End of Healing because it grew out of my own experience and was a story I needed to tell. Whether you are writing a PhD dissertation or a poem, great writing begins with careful choice of your subject. You have to write about something that you care about–something that you care about a lot—or it will never resonate and you will never be able to finish. When it comes to great writing you will struggle to keep your focus and dedication to the task unless it is a task that matters, a story that matters. Look for the story that matters most in your life. That is the story you should aim to share.
Title: The End of Healing
Author: Dr. Jim Bailey
Publisher: The Healthy City
Purchase on Amazon
Dr. Don Newman, a resident physician at the renowned University Hospital, awakens in a windowless call room in the middle of the night to the screams of his pager. As he runs to a dark ward to attend to a dying woman strapped to a bed, Don realizes that despite having worked long and hard to become a doctor—and having sworn to do no harm—harm has become his business.
So begins Dr. Newman’s quest to become a healer in a system that puts profits ahead of patients. Abandoning his plans to become a cardiologist, Dr. Newman enrolls in an Ivy League graduate program in health system science, where an unorthodox professor promises to guide him ever deeper into the dark secrets of the healthcare industry. Along with fellow students Frances Hunt, a sharp and alluring nurse practitioner, and Bruce Markum, a cocky, well-connected surgeon, Dr. Newman begins a journey into the medical underworld.
When Dr. Newman unearths evidence of a conspiracy stretching from the halls of Congress to Wall Street and even to his small campus, his harmless course of study becomes deadly serious. Will he be silenced? Or will he find a way to save his patients and others from needless torture? One thing is certain: the path to healing is fraught with danger. Will this path lead Don to a dead end?