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Why does an anesthesiologist write a novel?
Anesthesiology is fascinating. We anesthetize patients for operations of every kind, from cardiac, brain, and abdominal surgeries to trauma and organ transplant surgeries. We anesthetize people of all ages from newborns to one-hundred-year-olds, relieve the pain of childbirth and chronic malignancies, and attend to all types of individuals from millionaires to the homeless. No one knows the breadth of human suffering and recovery better than a physician, and no physician sees a wider range of patients than an anesthesiologist.
The story of The Doctor and Mr. Dylan deals with an anesthesia complication, a crumbling marriage, a son’s quest for elite college admission, and a courtroom drama, all set in Bob Dylan’s hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota.
Stanford professor Dr. Nico Antone leaves the wife he hates and the Stanford job he loves to return to Hibbing, Minnesota where he spent his childhood. He believes his son’s best chance to get accepted into a prestigious college is to graduate at the top of his class in this remote Midwestern town. His son becomes a small town hero and academic star, while Dr. Antone befriends Bobby Dylan, a deranged anesthetist who renamed and reinvented himself as a younger version of the iconic rock legend who grew up in Hibbing. An operating room death rocks their world, and Dr. Antone’s family and his relationship to Mr. Dylan are forever changed.
Equal parts legal thriller and medical thriller, The Doctor and Mr. Dylan examines the dark side of relationships between a doctor and his wife, a father and his son, and a man and his best friend. Set in a rural Northern Minnesota world reminiscent of the Coen brothers’ Fargo, The Doctor and Mr. Dylan details scenes of family crises, operating room mishaps, and courtroom confrontation, and concludes in a final twist that will leave readers questioning what is of value in the world we live in.
The opening pages to THE DOCTOR AND MR. DYLAN follow:
CHAPTER 1) GOING, GOING, GONE
first-degree murder n. an unlawful killing which is deliberate and premeditated (planned, after lying in wait, by poison or as part of a scheme)
My name is Dr. Nico Antone. I’m an anesthesiologist, and my job is to keep people alive. Nothing could inspire me to harm a patient. Alexandra Antone was my wife. Alexandra and I hadn’t lived together for nearly a year. I dreaded every encounter with the woman. I wished she would board a boat, sail off into the sunset, and never return. She needed an urgent appendectomy on a snowy winter morning in a small Minnesota town. Anesthetist options were limited.
Life is a series of choices. I chose to be my wife’s doctor. It was an opportunity to silence her, and I took it.
Before her surgery, Alexandra reclined awake on the operating room table. Her eyes were closed, and she was unaware I’d entered the room. She was dressed in a faded paisley surgical gown, and she looked like a spook—her hair flying out from a bouffant cap, her eye makeup smeared, and the creases on her forehead looking deeper than I’d ever seen them. I stood above her and felt an absurd distance from the whole situation.
Alexandra opened her eyes and moaned, “Oh, God. Can you people just get this surgery over with? I feel like crap. When is Nico going to get here?”
“I’m three feet away from you,” I said.
Alexandra’s face lit up at the sound of my voice. She craned her neck to look at me and said, “You’re here. For a change I’m glad to see you.”
I ground my teeth. My wife’s condescending tone never ceased to irritate me. I turned away from her and said, “Give me a few minutes to review your medical records.” She’d arrived at the Emergency Room with abdominal pain at 1 a.m., and an ultrasound confirmed that her appendix was inflamed. Other than an elevated white blood cell count, all her laboratory results were normal. She already had an intravenous line in place, and she’d received a dose of morphine in the Emergency Room.
“Are you in pain?” I said.
Her eyes were dull, narcotized—pinpoint pupils under drooping lids. “I like the morphine,” she said. “Give me more.”
Another command. For two decades she’d worked hard to control every aspect of my life. I ignored her request and said, “I need to go over a few things with you first. In a few minutes, I’ll give you the anesthetic through your IV. You won’t have any pain or awareness, and I’ll be here with you the whole time you’re asleep.”
“Perfect,” she oozed.
“When you wake up afterward, you’ll feel drowsy and reasonably comfortable. As the general anesthetic fades and you awaken more, you may feel pain at the surgical site. You can request more morphine, and the nurse in the recovery room will give it to you.”
“Yes. More morphine would be nice.”
“During the surgery you’ll have a breathing tube in your throat. I’ll take it out before you wake up, and you’ll likely have a sore throat after the surgery. About one patient out of ten is nauseated after anesthesia. These are the common risks. The chance of anything more serious going wrong with your heart, lungs or brain isn’t zero, but it’s very, very close to zero. Do you have any questions?”
“No,” she sighed. “I’m sure you are very good at doing this. You’ve always been good at making me fall asleep.”
I rolled my eyes at her feeble joke. I stood at the anesthesia workstation and reviewed my checklist. The anesthesia machine, monitors, airway equipment, and necessary drugs were set up and ready to go. I filled a 20 cc syringe with the sedative propofol and a second syringe with 40 mg of the paralyzing drug rocuronium.
“I’m going to let you breathe some oxygen now,” I said as I lowered the anesthesia mask over Alexandra’s face.
She said, “Remember, no matter how much you might hate me, Nico, I’m still the mother of your child.”
Enough talk. I wanted her gone. I took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, and injected the anesthetic into her intravenous line. The milky whiteness of the propofol disappeared into the vein of her arm, and Alexandra Antone went to sleep for the last time.
CHAPTER 2) A PHARMACIST’S SON IN SOUTH DAKOTA
Eight months earlier
My cell phone pinged with a text message from my son Johnny. The text read:
911 call me
I was administering an anesthetic to a 41-year-old woman in an operating room at Stanford University, while a neurosurgeon worked to remove a meningioma tumor from her brain. I stood near my patient’s feet in an anesthesia cockpit surrounded by two ventilator hoses, three intravenous lines, and four computer monitor screens. Ten syringes loaded with ten different drugs lay on the table before me. My job was to control my patient’s breathing, blood pressure, and level of unconsciousness, but at that moment I could only stare at my cell phone as my heart rate climbed.
911 call me
911? My son was in trouble, and I was stuck in surgery, unable to leave. I wanted to contact Johnny as soon as possible, but my patient was asleep, paralyzed, and helpless. Her life was my responsibility. I scanned the operating room monitors and confirmed that her vital signs were perfect. I had to make a decision: should I call him now, or attend to my anesthetic and call after the surgery was over? My patient was stable, and my son was in danger. I pulled out my cell phone and dialed his number. He picked up after the first ring….
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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