Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Friday, July 31, 2015

What Writers Can Learn from Bad Medical TV Dramas

Earlier this summer, TV viewers were introduced to two new medical dramas, Complications and Proof. I was eager to watch both shows, but especially Complications because it was set in an ER -- my old stomping grounds before I retired from nursing -- and featured not only a doctor but also a nurse as the lead characters. One seldom seems a realistic representation of nursing on TV, so I settled down to watch the first episode hoping it would meet my high expectations.

It didn't. That first episode was so full of medical errors and impossibilities, that I found myself either laughing at the mistakes or groaning in complete disbelief that the writers could have gotten it so wrong. Obviously, they weren't aiming at reality.

In one scene, ER doc John Ellison finds a man in cardiac arrest after apparently ingesting a large quantity of drugs. Doc Ellison yells "Code Blue!", then reaches for an ambubag to begin administering oxygen to his dead patient. That was mistake #1. CPR protocol used to call for giving two breaths to a pulseless victim before beginning chest compressions. That changed five years ago when the protocol was updated for sound medical reasons from ABC -- airway, breathing, compressions -- to CAB, or compressions, airway, breathing. Cardio-pulmonary resuscitation, or CPR for short, now begins with chest compressions at a rate of 100/minute. 

So the writers were five years behind in the knowledge of CPR. But writers do love to have their TV doctors yelling out orders during a cardiac arrest, so the Complications writers had Dr. Ellison repeatedly calling for atropine, a drug once given during cardiac arrest situations, but also removed from the protocol back in 2010 since it proved useless in reviving a heart rhythm. "Atropine! Give me atropine!" yelled our supposed ER doc while I simply sat and shook my head. If he'd known what he was doing, he would have asked for epinephrine, the first drug of choice for cardiac arrest.

But it got worse. Before you knew it, Doc Ellison had the paddles out and was shocking his vic...I mean, patient...when the cardiac monitor showed asystole, or what writers call a "flat line". 

A defibrillator is used only for shockable rhythms like pulseless V-tac (at right) or V-fib (below) where you're essentially shocking the heart into full stop mode in hopes that the heart's own pacemaker will then restart the heart in a normal sinus rhythm. Asystole means there is no rhythm at all, so there's no reason to shock the heart. It's a dumb mistake that you see committed over and over on TV and in books.

The next impossible feat accomplished by Dr. Ellison involved surreptitiously transferring a child from the pediatric ICU to another hospital. Now this is a young boy who was shot in the chest several hours earlier, saved at the scene by Ellison, and then taken to Ellison's hospital where he underwent cardio-thoracic surgery to save his life. The bad guys are in the ER lobby waiting for their chance to finish off the kid. Instead of calling in the police to arrest the bad guys and guard the child, Ellison sends his sidekick, ER nurse Gretchen, up to what we can only assume is the pediatric surgical ICU (where else would you put a child after such complicated surgery??) where she calmly walks into the sleeping child's room, wheels his bed out into the corridor, and takes him down an elevator to a loading zone where he's put in an ambulance with false paperwork (the paramedics don't check the name on the paperwork against the kid's hospital bracelet) and is whisked off to another hospital. Ellison later goes to that hospital and changes all the paperwork in the kid's chart to reflect his true case and surgical history.

This scene had me screaming at the TV. First of all, the kid nearly bled out at the scene of the shooting, but outside of one clear bag of IV solution, he's getting no IV blood products, no IV antibiotics, he's not hooked up to oxygen or a cardiac monitor, and there are no side rails up on his bed to protect him if he wakes up and moves in the bed. Then there are no staff members to be seen on the pediatric ICU ward, no one to notice that the main nursing station monitor no longer records a heartbeat for the kid or to hear the monitor alarm go off if, as in real life, the child had been connected to a cardiac monitor and Gretchen removed it. 

And let's look at Gretchen. She has patients in the ER, but she can slip away from that unit for a considerable amount of time without anyone missing her. She breaks every rule in the book -- and several laws -- and risks her nursing license to help a doctor who believes he must protect this child without the help of the police. And she does all of this completely unnoticed by anyone.

Oh, please! Give me a break; it ain't gonna happen in real life.

Needless to say, I didn't watch any other episodes of Complications. There were other aspects of this show that bothered me, but the ones I mentioned above were bad enough to make me cancel recording the series.

I'll give you my take on Proof in my next blog post; this one is long enough as it is. The point I want to make, though, is that these same kinds of mistakes are often made in mystery and crime novels. Smart writers would want their work to be as believable as possible. For that reason alone, smart writers would do better research of medical practices before including them in their novels.

WRITING TIP: According to the Chicago Manual of Style and the AP Stylebook, toward, forward, backward, amid, among, and while are the preferred ways to spell these words for American or Canadian readers. In Great Britain, you may see them spelled like this: towards, forwards, backwards, amidst, amongst, and infrequently, whilst


Monday, June 1, 2015

June is Bustin' Out All Over!

It's June, and that means graduation time! This year two of my granddaughters are graduating from eighth grade. Sitting with my daughter Jen -- their aunt -- are Ashley (center) and Cinnamon (right). Thank goodness, their schools scheduled graduation on different days, so hubby and I will be attending both events together. A coin toss would have been in order if they'd fallen on the same day. :) 

And then there's my grandson Christian, seen here at the golf course with his uncle Matt (L) and his dad John (R), who's graduating from kindergarten this month. Now comes "the big school" for him. :)

June is also a month of birthdays in the family. Granddaughter Cinnamon turns 14 on the 13th, and my son-in-law Carlos turns 30 on the 6th.  This is a picture of Carlos playing with his bandmates at Durty Nellie's earlier this year. My daughter-in-law Jennifer is celebrating a B-day later in the month. This picture of her was taken during her trip to VietNam last fall.
Last but not least, my son-in-law Jay will climb another step on the birthday ladder in mid-June. This is a picture of Jay with my daughter Jen, their two dogs, and their sons Dan (L with Mahi) and Zach (R with Bonita). 

In other news, June is shaping up to be a good month for me in the book department. Having regained all rights to my first two books, including rights to the covers, I'm happy to say that A Merry Little Murder, the first book in the "Rhodes to Murder" series, is available again in Ebook format on Amazon, and will soon be available for Nook owners and fans of Kobo and other reading devices as well. I hope to have The Rune Stone Murders, number two in the series, up on all book selling sites in July. If you're a Kindle fan and are interested in reading A Merry Little Murder -- or any of my other books or short stories -- please visit 

That's about it for now. Hope you have a fun-filled month of June with plenty of time for reading. And don't forget...


Sunday, May 3, 2015

If I'd Only Placed a Bet...

Yesterday was Derby day, Kentucky Derby day, and an hour before post time, my husband and I settled down in front of our TV to place our imaginary bets on which horse would win the 141st running of this iconic event. Having been introduced to Turf Magazine and the Daily Racing Form at the tender age of eleven (thanks to my older brother Richard), I have a bit of an edge on my hubby when it comes to picking winners. He bases his choices on the horses' names and/or the colors of the jockeys' silks. I, on the other hand, consider a horse's pedigree, general track record, and past performance against competing horses, and then combine those facts with the jockey's winning record to make my picks. 

If you read my last blog, you'll know that back in April I was rooting for Dortmund to win the Derby. But after watching films of two of his recent races, I backed off the Dortmund bandwagon and began thinking American Pharoah (pictured above) was the horse who could sweep the field of nineteen at Churchill Downs. When it came time to share my first through third place picks with Fred, I listed American Pharoah to win, Firing Line to place, and Dortmund to show. Based on the rider's red, white, and blue silks, Fred picked Dortmund to win. With Dortmund breaking from the 8th post position, Fred decided to pick the horses in the 9th and 10th post positions as his 2nd and 3rd place choices. Those two horses were Bolo and Firing Line. Just for the fun of it, we decided we'd each pick a horse to come in fourth to see if we could win the superfecta, which is where you bet on the exact order of the first four horses to cross the finish line. I picked Frosted and Fred picked Carpe Diem.

How I wish our bets had been for real and not just a fun way to enjoy the race together. If I'd placed a $1 superfecta bet on American Pharoah, Firing Line, Dortmund, and Frosted, I'd have won $634. That's right -- those four crossed the finish line in the exact order that I'd picked them. 

Fred and I generally go to the races only once every summer, and I have to tell you, I have never, ever been so lucky when placing a real bet at the racetrack as I was yesterday when I made my non-paying Derby choices. Could I ever do that again? Probably not, but it's fun to know it worked out on paper, even if I don't have the winnings to show it. :)


Saturday, April 11, 2015

April Showers...

Boy, am I glad March is over! It came in like a lion and more or less went out like one, too. We finally seem to be done with winter's snow, though, and while we've experienced a few good rain storms since the calendar turned to April, the lion appears to be asleep, giving way to milder days and daffodils in the garden.

March was a busy month for me what with three editing jobs on the schedule plus a good bit of work done on finding a new home for the 2016 edition of Love is Murder. After a considerable amount of research and leg work, the hotel search team (of which I'm a member) found the perfect place for next year's conference. We'll be holding it at the Embassy Suites in Rosemont, IL on March 11-13, 2016. The hotel is gorgeous and offers all the amenities you could want, including complimentary hot breakfasts and free unlimited evening cocktails for anyone attending the conference who books a room at the hotel. More information about the conference and the Embassy Suites will be available soon at

April got off to a good start with our family gathering for Easter dinner at our house. The grandkids are older now, and it really showed when I brought out the desserts and the Easter candy -- a lot less of it was eaten by my weight-conscious teenage grandkids. But everyone enjoyed themselves, and to be honest, I didn't mind one bit having a leftover box of chocolate covered marshmallow eggs to munch on the rest of the week. :)

The day after Easter I watched the NCAA basketball championship game between Wisconsin and Duke. The Wisconsin-Kentucky Final Four game was a nailbiter, but even that was outranked by the championship game. Those Duke freshmen were amazing. Looks like Duke will be in the hunt for the title for several years to come. 

Now it's time to turn to horse racing and the Run for the Roses three weeks from today. I'm rooting for Dortmund, the big fellow shown in this picture. He's won all six of his races and looks like one of the favorites to take the Kentucky Derby. I'm not only rooting for him because he's obviously got talent, but also because of his name. The name Dortmund makes me think of John Dortmunder, the bad luck crook featured in over a dozen comic mysteries written by Donald Westlake. I've read them all and absolutely love poor old Dortmunder and his bumbling gang of thieves. I only wish Westlake was still around to give us more stories featuring this criminal mastermind whose plans always seem to go awry. If you've never read the Dortmunder mysteries, run right over to your public library and grab a copy. I guarantee you'll enjoy it. In fact, you might enjoy it enough that you'll end up like me -- rooting for John Dortmunder's namesake, Dortmund, to win the Kentucky Derby in May.

Until then, have a great April. Enjoy the better weather and the spring flowers and all the good things life offers you. 

And to my fellow lovers of mystery and mayhem, remember what the sign says:


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What's New at Cicero's Children

Wow! What a winter it's been! We've had record snowfalls and frigid temperatures across the nation, including here in Chicago. I, for one, am more than ready for spring and warmer weather. 

Fortunately, the snow didn't affect the 16th annual Love Is Murder mystery conference. Writers, readers, and general fans of mystery gathered on the first weekend in February to celebrate the genre along with featured authors Denise Swanson, Zoe Sharp, and Robert Goldsborough.

Along with dozens of published authors, a lively group of agents and editors attended LIM 2015. From left to right, they are: Marcy Posner (Folio); Austin Camacho (Intrigue Publishing); Elizabeth Evans ((Jean V. Naggar Literary Agency); Emily Victorson (Allium Press); Denise Dietz (Five Star Mysteries); Laura Barth (Harlequin/Worldwide Mystery); Linda McFall (freelance editor previously with Viking/Penguin); Christine Witthohn (Book Cents Literary Agency); and Sandra Bowman (Intrigue Publishing).

Harlequin/Worldwide edition
Of all the editors and agents present at LIM, I especially enjoyed talking with Laura Barth again. Laura manages Harlequin's Worldwide Library Mystery and Suspense program, the branch of the company that publishes my "Rhodes to Murder" series in mass market paperback format. The soft-spoken Laura knows the publishing business inside and out; she is a pleasure to work with.

Speaking of my books, I have some news concerning the first two titles in the series. As you may know, A Merry Little Murder (originally published as A Deadly Little Christmas) and The Rune Stone Murders (originally published as Something Wicked in the Air) were re-named, re-edited, and re-released in trade paperback and Ebook format several years ago by Echelon Press Publishing after the original titles went out of print. 

Now, due to the continuing health problems of publisher Karen Syed, Echelon has closed its doors and gone offline. 

While Harlequin/Worldwide Mystery will continue to publish A Merry Little Murder and The Rune Stone Murders -- along with other books in the "Rhodes to Murder" series -- in mass market paperback format, all other rights to those first two books have reverted back to me, along with the rights to the Echelon-produced covers. I intend to self-publish both books in Ebook format within the next two months using the Echelon covers. As for a trade paperback vesion, I have a good stock of the Echelon-produced books on hand and will be happy to send one to anyone wishing to buy a trade paperback sized copy of A Merry Little Murder and/or The Rune Stone Murders. 

As the days go by, I'll be making changes to this website to reflect my ongoing writing and publishing plans. This blog will serve mainly as a monthly newsletter covering any number of subjects related to mystery novels, writing, and life in my neck of the woods. I hope you'll continue to drop by Cicero's Children whenever you have a chance.

So long for now! I do hope spring comes to your hometown SOON! :)


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Changes to Cicero's Children

For several years now I've blogged about books, writing, editing, and just about any other subject that's drawn and held my attention. I've hosted blogs by fellow writers, interviewed authors of new releases, and posted book reviews of mysteries I've read and enjoyed. I've also answered medical questions sent to me by other writers and explained procedures performed in the ER and by paramedics. My goal was to provide interesting reading material for both writers and readers of mystery fiction while also promoting my own mystery novels and short stories.

Well, February will usher in a change for me and for Cicero's Children. Much of what I've done here in the past will be discontinued as I work on two things: writing the best books I can, and editing other people's work in the best way I can.

Let's face it: Time is a precious commodity. If we're to spend what time we have in our lives in the most fulfilling way possible, we have to limit the extras that tend to draw us away from our main objectives. 

And my main objectives are to spend more quality time with my husband and family while continuing to pursue my love of writing and editing. In order to do that, I have to cut back on time consuming activities that bring me little pleasure and profit neither my personal life nor my writing life.

The first thing I'm cutting back on is my effort to follow the advice of the publishing world gurus who demand that I "build a platform" on social media. I post to Facebook when I have something to say or something to add to someone else's conversation, and I also occasionally post a tweet on Twitter. Have I met a lot of nice people on these two sites? Definitely. Have I advanced my writing goals through the use of FB and Twitter? Maybe yes, maybe no. It's hard to say who's buying your book and why they're buying it when you look at your royalty statements. Will I continue to use these sites? Sure I will, just not as often or as extensively as in the past.

There's one thing I know about social media: when it comes to mystery, there are way too many weekly and daily blogs out there competing for the same readership. So in an effort to use my time wisely, I'm converting Cicero's Children to a monthly newsletter-type blog where I can stay connected with those who have enjoyed my posts in the past while hopefully also attracting a new audience to my books.

Later this week I'll be going to Love Is Murder, the annual mystery writers' and readers' con here in Chicago. When I'm home and settled back in again, I'll report on the con and on what's happening with my Rhodes to Murder series since Echelon Press more or less ceased publishing. I'll also let you in on the new series I have in the works, along with news concerning my short stories. 

Until then, spend your time wisely and enjoy life!