Kelly Parsons is an anomaly. A practicing urologist and faculty member at the University of California San Diego’s Medical School, he’s also written Doing Harm, a chilling medical thriller.
With all that you do, how did you have time to write a book?
I get up early and write in the mornings, and I find time on weekends and vacations. I usually do editing in the evening. Whenever you have a passion for something, you end up making time for that passion.
Your material obviously comes from your life. Did that scenario of a very bad day turning into a very, very, very bad day derive from an actual incident?
Not specifically. The topic of patient safety is something that’s interested me over the last 20 years of being a student and in my practice. When we become patients, we entrust ourselves to a system. People relate to the book because everyone is vulnerable when they’re a patient.
Have you participated in the safety committee work yourself, as Gigi does? She is hell-bent on affecting and changing policy.
I’ve published scholarly papers on patient safety. It’s where my two passions—medicine and writing—intersect. My research inspires and informs my writing. [How does] the new technology of minimally invasive surgery affect the overall safety of certain kinds of operations? Often, they improve safety. Originally, [for the novel] I had the idea of someone who killed patients at their most vulnerable when they’re in the hospital. But I wanted to find a deeper, more provocative motivation.
Did you like Steve’s character, as a writer? He’s so used to being on perfect behavior. When he falls off the rails, he really falls.
He starts out arrogant, as someone who’s grown away from his original intent, but he ends a better person than he began.
Did you worry about the goriness of the surgical scenes for general readers? They’re pretty raw.
I’ve had surgeons tell me they can barely get through the operating room scene where everything goes wrong because they found it so realistic and intense.
What are some of the thrillers, medical or otherwise, that have inspired you?
When I was 15, a friend of mine gave me a copy of Michael Crichton’s Congo. It was the first book I stayed up all night reading. The next day I grabbed a copy of The Andromeda Strain. The science in that still holds up! In terms of other writers, I got really into the idea that Scott Turow and John Grisham were still practicing attorneys when they were writers.
Have any of your patients read your book?
People come in with copies of the book to sign. I’m touched by it.