This week we are writing about Easter Eggs. Not the chicken byproduct you decorate with pastel colors in the spring, but hidden messages—winks, secret puzzles, and inside jokes—concealed within the pages of our books. Almost all authors include at least a couple of these little nods in their work, whether intentionally or unintentionally, but few of us take it to the lengths of someone like Dan Brown, whose books and book covers contain complex codes to solve—assuming you notice them in the first place.
By far the best Easter Egg I’ve ever heard of, though, was created by a guy named Bevis Hillier, who apparently took offense at a blistering review of his book from fellow writer A.N. Wilson. According to publishing lore, Hillier decided to forge a love letter and pass it off as written by the poet who was the subject of both men’s biographies. Somehow he got the document into the hands of Wilson, his rival, who haplessly included it in his subsequent book. Unfortunately for Wilson, it didn’t take long for reviewers to notice the forged letter was an acrostic: the first letter of each sentence spelled out A. N. WILSON IS A SHIT.
My manuscript contains no subtle puzzles or clever hidden messages. However, there are quite a few inside references in the book, and I’m willing to share some of them with you.
The Thing Hollywood Always Gets Wrong About Gunshot Wounds:
Listen up, screenwriters. This is one thing that drives doctors nuts. All y’all have a misconception about getting shot, which plays out in the aftermath of practically every gun battle scene ever written. I’m here to set the record straight, with a passage from The Queen Of Hearts:
I studied the TV. “What, no bulletectomy?” I asked, as the bloody sidekick lay writhing in the hero’s arms. “Isn’t there usually a pointless bullet extraction in these movies?”
“Bulletectomies are cool, Zadie,” said Graham seriously. “All you need is some whiskey and rusty toenail clippers or something, and the victim will spring right up.
Did this scene advance the plot of the book in any way? No, but I included it because it’s a nod to the trauma surgeons of the world, who would all be happy to tell you: you do not need to perform an urgent procedure to remove a bullet. In fact, if all you are doing is trying to extract a bullet, you are likely to do more damage than good. In most cases, surgeries are performed to address the damage caused by a bullet, and if the bullet didn’t hit anything vital, you might be better off leaving it alone. You can live just fine with a bullet inside you, although there may be some long-term concern about lead or movement of the bullet. But under few circumstances will you suddenly get better solely from bullet removal, and you certainly won’t get better if some idiot is performing a emergency bulletectomy just for the hell of it. There. Now you know.
The Inexplicable Passion of HARDUP:
The topic of this morning’s ER lecture was Acid-Base disorders, a subject that might not enthrall the average listener but it aroused great ardor in Dr. Elsdon, who raged with evangelical zeal around the room.
“Henderson-Hasselbach equation! Go!” he shouted, whirling around and pointing at James, who gaped helplessly.
“Nothing? You’ve got nothing? Let’s back up a little.” He spun around again with his index finger outstretched, this time landing on Cameron Dooley, a full-on dud who was known for remaining virtually mute during the first two years of school. Perhaps he suffered from a debilitating social phobia. In any case, he was now cowering in a back seat, Dr. Elsdon clearly representing his absolute worst nightmare.
“Give me five causes of normal gap acidosis!”
“What? What? Has nobody had their coffee this morning? HARDUP? MUDPILES? Ring any bells?”
Tonelessly, Emma came to the rescue. “HARDUP. Hyperventilation, Addison’s disease, Renal Tubular Acidosis, Diarrhea, Ureteral Diversion/Ureterosigmoidsostomy, Pancreatic Fistula.”
“Excellent!” roared Dr. Elsdon, his wild hair electrified. “Now give me the causes of elevated gap acidosis.”
Okay, I admit it: this was a nod to the great Dr. Corey Slovis, chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Vanderbilt University. The fictional character Dr. Bernard Elsdon was inspired a handful of legendary physicians who trained me, but most especially by Dr. Slovis. (He has normal hair, by the way. Creative license.) No one—and I mean no one—is any more passionate about their work than this man. Do you know how hard it is to conjure fascination for complex physiological equations from people who haven’t slept in days? That’s what he has done for generations of young doctors.
Busytown At The Rooster:
Ninety percent of the winks in my book are directed at my real-life friends from medical school, who remain to this day my most beloved people. Man, did we have some fun! The Rooster is an invented name for one of the dive bars we frequented on the rare occasions they let us out of the hospital, where we would get plastered and make stupid decisions. (I know, I know, I know…) We loved the old disco hit Funkytown, except for some reason when we sang it we changed the title to Busytown. As in “gettin’ busy.” (On second thought, maybe it’s better if I don’t fully explain this one.) My med school buds might also recognize The Caminator, the faked seizure in the bar, Dog Hill, Breath of Freshness, the Dodge Colt, the bald dude in the truck, and the White Hog. Some names and circumstances have been changed to protect the innocent. Or the guilty.
As you might surmise, more than a few of the funnier one-liners from the kids in the book were plagiarized from my own little babes.
We finally departed. “I’m all wet,” Delaney announced from the backseat.
“What?” I asked, navigating around a slowing driver who apparently did not wish to tip his hand by using a turn signal. “Did you spill your drink?”
“No!” hollered Delaney. “I’m pouring wet!”
“Well, I mean…how did you get all wet, honey?”
“I don’t know! Water is coming out of my head skin!”
I glanced in the rearview mirror to see Delaney pointing in alarm to her sweaty forehead.
And that scene where the mom loses her mind trying to make breakfast and get everyone out the door on a school morning… that’s not fiction, of course. That’s a nod to a massive group of physician mothers to which I belong, but let’s be honest: that could be any mother. I mean, I hope it could be. It’s definitely me.
Many of the characters in my book are suckers for a good bourbon. What can I say? I’m from Kentucky. My promise going forward: there will be a number of bourbon-related scenes in each of my novels, and there might even be a little bourbon Easter Egg or two in the next book that could lead to someone winning a prize. Stay tuned!
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