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Outside the Lab Profession, Technology and innovation

A Master of Many

Before we delve into your writing, could you share your research into biomarkers for traumatic brain injuries?

Sure. This is an emerging area of laboratory diagnostics. We have many cases of traumatic brain injury (TBI) that come into our emergency department – caused by motor vehicle crashes, assaults, athletic injuries, and so on. But we don’t really have tools to determine a mild TBI, such as Glasgow Coma Scores between 13 and 15. Today, the predominant tool for diagnosis is a head CT scan, which is not only expensive, but also exposes the individual to radiation. If we can diagnose mild TBI with blood tests, medical care will be improved overall. In addition to TBI biomarkers, I’d also like to mention my involvement in clinical toxicology, as well as my research into cardiac biomarkers, such as CK-MB and cardiac troponin.

What inspired you to start writing laboratory fiction?

I started writing these stories simply for my friends and colleagues to read. When I realized how much people were enjoying them, I distributed them via Amazon. I don’t have an agent or a publisher. I also don’t have a background in prose, poetry, or creative writing. In fact, as a college and graduate student, I was a poor writer! I had to learn how to write and communicate clearly for my academic career in pathology and lab medicine. And so, in the process of my career – which has spanned over 40 years – I have become proficient at writing and putting concepts together. But that has always been for medical and scientific purposes. I only became interested in writing for a non-specialist audience about 10 years ago. In many of my publications, I have written case reports of unusual medical findings , and over time these unique reports have morphed into short stories. Obviously, I had to remove the identity of the individual for privacy purposes. I also had to simplify the science of medicine – most people aren’t interested in heavy duty chemistry!

How do you find the time to write outside of your busy work schedule? 

You can always find time for a hobby you really enjoy! I find time to write when I’m at home, when I’m on holiday, or even when I’m on an airplane. And I often wake up in the middle of the night with the need to jot down an idea for my next story!

Please give us a quick synopsis of The Hidden Assassin

I have eight books that cover different disciplines in laboratory medicine. The Hidden Assassin covers clinical chemistry and molecular diagnostics. Some of my other books cover microbiology, toxicology, COVID-19, and performing-enhancing drugs. The Hidden Assassin features short stories in which laboratory testing uncovers some unusual findings that either lead to a happy ending – or quite the opposite… 

What’s the best story you’ve written – or which is your favorite?

I love “Explosive Blood” in The Hidden Assassin. The synopsis is loosely based on a true story. There was a man who came into our hospital cyanotic with blue fingertips, which suggested he had been exposed to a chemical that had caused oxygen desaturation. The attending physicians asked us to conduct an analysis of his blood and we found a chemical that was used to color carpets. We sent investigators to his place of work, thinking that other individuals within his factory might be similarly exposed. But we found no chemicals at his place of work – it was simply a warehouse for carpets. To this day, we don’t really know how he was exposed to this chemical. Further investigation showed that it was a metabolite of trinitrotoluene, which most people know as TNT. 

In real life, the story ended here but I took this information and sensationalized it. I changed the narrative into a sinister terroristic plot, where the chemical exposure was a result of bomb-making at home…

You plan to turn Mind Portals into a movie show – how is the process coming along?

The script is complete, and my screenwriter and I are currently shopping around. The storyline follows a laboratory director who has the power to turn back time, and can implant ideas into the minds of scientists with the aim of changing their future. Specifically, the protagonist selects doctors who he thinks could have an impact on future medical care, with the goal of saving his daughter who died of acute myeloid leukemia.

Do you think lab representation in the media is important?

Awareness has become the major objective of my writing. There have been challenges with the reimbursement of laboratory tests. We are now under siege and are trying to protect the services that maintain the quality of testing that is required for our patients. I sense that this is heading in the wrong direction; we’re facing huge budget cuts in America. I’m hoping to help change that with my stories. 

Although my books have not been distributed widely enough to have made a significant impact, my next goal is to create a scripted dramatic television show. Most medical shows feature doctors and nurses, and although they do the lion’s share of treating patients, the laboratory component is often incorrectly portrayed. For example, in House, the doctors wander to the lab and receive instant diagnoses. Our efforts are underappreciated and underrepresented. I want to change that. I want to show that laboratory professionals provide the crucial information that doctors need – and it isn’t instantaneous or easy! 

The TV show CSI is a perfect example of how the media can evoke change. There was an influx of young people who wanted to become forensic scientists based on the success of that show. Because of the “CSI effect,” the public has demanded that we use science to solve crimes, and jurists that sit on cases have a much better knowledge on how to interpret data. I want that same buzz for laboratory medicine. Crime only affects a relatively small number of us, but medicine affects us all. So why should the portrayal of science in medicine be so trivialized?

On that note, I would like to make a plea: If you're someone associated with entertainment media, the BBC, Netflix, anywhere – then I would love to hear from you. I want to test my hypothesis that a TV show could change the whole perspective of laboratory medicine overnight – just as CSI did. We just need a chance. 

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About the Author
Georgia Hulme

Associate Editor for the Pathologist

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