THE METRONOME by Richard Novak, M.D. (as published in ANESTHESIOLOGY, Mind to Mind Section 2012: 117:417).
To Jacob’s mother I say,
“The risk of anything serious going wrong…”
She shakes her head, a metronome ticking without sound.
“with Jacob’s heart, lungs, or brain…”
Her lips pucker, proving me wrong.
“isn’t zero, but it’s very, very close to zero…”
Her eyes dart past me, to a future of ice cream and laughter.
“but I’ll be right there with him every second.”
The metronome stops, replaced by a single nod of assent.
She hands her only son to me.
An hour later, she stands alone,
Pacing like a Palace guard.
Her pupils wild. Lower lip dancing.
The surgery is over.
Her eyebrows ascend in a hopeful plea.
I touch her hand. Five icicles.
I say, “Everything went perfectly. You can see Jacob now.”
The storm lifts. She is ten years younger.
Her joy contagious as a smile.
The metronome beat true.
Published in September 2017: The second edition of THE DOCTOR AND MR. DYLAN, Dr. Novak’s debut novel, a medical-legal mystery which blends the science and practice of anesthesiology with unforgettable characters, a page-turning plot, and the legacy of Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan.
In this debut thriller, tragedies strike an anesthesiologist as he tries to start a new life with his son.
Dr. Nico Antone, an anesthesiologist at Stanford University, is married to Alexandra, a high-powered real estate agent obsessed with money. Their son, Johnny, an 11th-grader with immense potential, struggles to get the grades he’ll need to attend an Ivy League college. After a screaming match with Alexandra, Nico moves himself and Johnny from Palo Alto, California, to his frozen childhood home of Hibbing, Minnesota. The move should help Johnny improve his grades and thus seem more attractive to universities, but Nico loves the freedom from his wife, too. Hibbing also happens to be the hometown of music icon Bob Dylan. Joining the hospital staff, Nico runs afoul of a grouchy nurse anesthetist calling himself Bobby Dylan, who plays Dylan songs twice a week in a bar called Heaven’s Door. As Nico and Johnny settle in, their lives turn around; they even start dating the gorgeous mother/daughter pair of Lena and Echo Johnson. However, when Johnny accidentally impregnates Echo, the lives of the Hibbing transplants start to implode. In true page-turner fashion, first-time novelist Novak gets started by killing soulless Alexandra, which accelerates the downfall of his underdog protagonist now accused of murder. Dialogue is pitch-perfect, and the insults hurled between Nico and his wife are as hilarious as they are hurtful: “Are you my husband, Nico? Or my dependent?” The author’s medical expertise proves central to the plot, and there are a few grisly moments, as when “dark blood percolated” from a patient’s nostrils “like coffee grounds.” Bob Dylan details add quirkiness to what might otherwise be a chilly revenge tale; we’re told, for instance, that Dylan taught “every singer with a less-than-perfect voice…how to sneer and twist off syllables.” Courtroom scenes toward the end crackle with energy, though one scene involving a snowmobile ties up a certain plot thread too neatly. By the end, Nico has rolled with a great many punches.
Nuanced characterization and crafty details help this debut soar.
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