HH Com Rd 2 - #27 (373)

Hook here

Doctor Galonsky was a civilian. Probably never even served a day in the military. Not that there was anything wrong with that, Commander James Wolfson thought. Not necessarily, at least. It just meant he had no concept of punctuality and that his medical skills were rusty. Not trustworthy.

James had already decided that no matter what diagnosis the man came back with, he’d have to seek out a second opinion. He hadn’t wanted to go to the clinic on base, because their records might as well be published in the mess hall. Last time he went in for an infected toe, his boss’s secretary had sent him a get-well card.

He could hear his watch ticking as though to mock him. If he didn’t get back to his office before his 1:30 status meeting, he’d be busted back down to cabin boy. He lifted his arm and thumped his Bulova with his forefinger. He wouldn’t have agreed to wait around for his test results if he’d known it’d take 45 minutes and counting. A simple blood test and chest x-ray shouldn’t take this long to sort out. Was it possible that he’d been forgotten?

Through the office walls, he could hear the doctor speaking to another patient. A housewife, by the sound of her voice. Better get her out the door before her kiddies miss soccer practice.

James heaved himself off the doctor’s examining table, dragging a paper tablecloth in his wake. Shrouded only in a short paper dress, he padded over to the doctor’s desk and began rifling through the drawers. Ah ha. What idiot would leave a full pad of post-it notes in the hands of the seriously bored?

He peeled each leaf off in turn, pasting them to the sterile surfaces of the examining room. Door, covered. Squeaky stool on wheels, covered. Box of latex-free gloves, size large, covered. Mysterious and frightening stirrups for god knows what feminine complaint, covered.

The door opened behind him, sending a draft of chilly air up his naked buttocks. He turned and grinned, waiting for the doctor to blast him. A military doctor would play a practical joke in return. He’d test this civilian fellow, see what he was made of.

The doctor, thin, almost gaunt, with a salt-and-pepper Vandyke beard, barely seemed to register the desecration of his Hippocratic sanctuary. He took James’ arm and led him back to the examining table.

“Please sit down, Commander. What I have to say isn’t easy, nor is it easy to hear. The x-rays and blood test reveal a large abnormality on your left lung, and it may have spread to your ribs. We’ll need to do a biopsy to be sure, but I believe you have a malignant tumor. Given its location inside the rib bones and along the lung’s nerve bundle, it is unlikely that surgery will be an option.”

James stared at the doctor for several beats, then threw back his head and barked a laugh. “Goddamn, doc, you had me going there for a sec. Didn’t know you had it in you.” He laughed again, then knuckle-punched the doctor in his lean bicep. The doctor winced and rubbed the spot.

Doctor Galonsky appeared flustered. “I understand that this isn’t easy to hear, but you shouldn’t spend too much time absorbing the news. For maximum effectiveness, you need to begin chemotherapy and radiation as soon as possible.”

He laid his hands on James’ broad shoulder. “I’m sorry. I really am. I’d like to have you speak to a colleague of mine, an oncologist, one of the best in the state. I’ve made an appointment for you at 2 pm today.”

“Hell, doctor, I can’t waste any more time in this nuthouse. I’ve got a meeting. I’m sorry if your colleague needs to make the note on her second home, but I can’t spend all day in a tissue nightgown.” He grabbed his pants off the visitor’s chair and slipped them on.

He struggled into the rest of his dress uniform, ignoring the cough that led him to this quack in the first place. He shouldn’t have left base. Damn doctor couldn’t diagnose a hangnail right if it were on his own finger.

Lung cancer. Bullshit. He didn’t smoke. Dependency on a burning tit substitute wasn’t for him. His body was a tribute to the hours he’d spent honing his strength and endurance. At sixty four, he was more fit than half the would-be sailors rounded up by the recruiting office.

this is a story about a submarine rescue and you start with THIS??? This is backstory.
When I read this I couldn't believe I'd asked for pages..what the hell was I doing wanting a cancer story?? Well, then I re-read the hook.

Don't beam us UP, Scotty, Dive! Dive! Dive! Get us on that boat. This isn't bad writing but if you've got five pages of this, after a good hook, you've got an impatient agent.


Jean said...

Sorry. No guarantees the good commander wouldn't find himself waiting for a long wait in the clinic on base either, so the writer lost me in the first paragraph. And why would a doctor's skills be rusty just because he's a civilian? If he's going off base for the visit, wouldn't he presume he'd get better care there?

Anonymous said...

Ouch! I've been torpedoed! Abandon ship!

Okay, in retrospect, maybe this wasn't the best place to start. Good to know. Thank heavens this is still in early draft.

Thanks for the tough love, Miss Snark!

merper said...

I agree with what MS said, but I also think you need to read some of that dialogue out loud.

I mean in the doctor's first chunk of dialogue, you have him tell the guy to sit(without any sign that he waited for that to happen), tell him that he found a growth, tell him that the growth is probably malignant, and finally tell him it's inoperable."

Then, next line, he tells him not to waste time absorbing whats going on. He just told the guy he was going to die, and now he's telling him to focus when it hasn't even been a minute?

That's some god awful bedside manner.

Zany Mom said...

Seems to be a bit more tell than show. I'm with Miss Snark. Show us some action!!

Anonymous said...

I stopped reading after the first paragraph and skipped down to MS's comments, and yeah I was surprised to discover this was the submarine hook--I remember that submarine hook. (Who wouldn't?) Start with the nail-biting stuff, definitely!

Leah said...

I really liked these pages. It wasn't relevent to the hook, but I liked the voice of the military man and the visuals.

I would buy this in a bookstore.

Author, if you want more feedback, put some of this up on Evil Editor. He's having a slow period.

MWT said...

I concur with merper. The doctor went way too fast with the news, which killed the timing for maximum impact. It needs to be broken down into several paragraphs, with lines about the commander's reaction in between each bit of info (even if all he's doing is sitting there nodding along "okay, okay, okay.."). There needs to be pauses, with silences in them.

As starting scenes go, it kept my attention. I read the whole thing without wandering off. However, I didn't go back to read the hook to find out which it was before I started, so I had no preconceptions going in.

Anonymous said...

This feels slow and dense, and the lack of compelling action is only partly to blame. If you stand back and look at it, you can see that the paragraphs are all close to the same length. Those evenly sized blocks of text are tiresome to read. You want some short, some long, some in-between, some very short. Mix 'em up so that the eye is not lulled into skimming. Paragraph length is also a good way to manipulate tension, which this opening lacks.

McKoala said...

That's one nutty Commander. Good to know national security is in his hands.

LadyBronco said...

This story was about a sub rescue?

shereta said...

You need to talk to some military people and some medical people. I have been both. My two cents.


First: He wouldn't call his senior his boss.

Next: If he didn't research and trust this doctor, he shouldn't have gone to him since he is probably going to have to pay a chunk of the bill if there are military medical resources he could have used.

Military members only go off base if there isn't a clinic or they want to get a shot for a 'personal problem' kept off their medical records. We get used to our medical care being one hundred percent covered and don't like to have to pay for it. He wouldn't have gone off base unless he figured there was something seriously wrong and he wanted time to deal with it before his chain of command found out and stuck him in homeport without chance for fun and guns in the sun.

Third: operating rooms are sterile. band aids are sterile till you open them. Examining rooms are clean. Mostly.

Fourth: General Practitioners do not tell thier patients they have inoperable tumors. They pass the job off to the specialists. He would say something like, "hmm,there seems to be a shadow on your lung films, I'd like to send you to my associate Dr. Pulmonary to have it checked out. Thank you, stop at the nurses desk to make your follow up appointment, Have a great day."

I admit I did like the post-it thing, but it was something a younger person would do. Probably not someone who has been in a leadership position in the Navy for at least 20 years.

Oh, and lastly, when the stirrups aren't being used they are folded and pushed into the compartment on the exam table that holds them. Guys have probably never even noticed them tucked away, let alone know they are only for females. The hinge faces out, the stirrup is deep inside the cavity.

Please get a varied critique circle. Good luck.

tomdg said...

Having only just read the hook, I'm guessing that this is chapter 1, and that chapter 2 starts with the submarine sinking - so that you can run the two stories in parallel. Can you swap them around - start with the sub sinking (which presumably happens from the POV of one of the crew)? I guess the chronology of that only works if the guy literally comes back from the doctor's right into the submarine incident, as opposed to having found out about the cancer some time before.

I wouldn't give up on this (and I'm sure you won't). I'd want to read the action bits about the submarine first, and some of the sailors' stories. The key question here is whether your writing can capture the claustrophobia and growing terror of being trapped in a sunken submarine. Get that right and you can fix this with cut and paste.

I echo the comments about the diagnosis - I wanted a reaction after the "sit down" part. On the other hand, if I wrote this it would be purple with a capital 'E', which your stuff isn't.

One other thing didn't quite work for me: the post-it-note thing is something I might have done when I was younger, but not now (at 35); it felt way out of character for a 64-year-old military man. You almost get away with this in the next para: I'm not a military man so might just assume you know the type better than me. Almost, but not quite. Pardon my ignorance!

One more thing I like: you had a potential plot loophole here, as to why the navy let him handle a crisis when he's just found out he has cancer - but you come up with an explanation for it which has me totally convinced. That's impressive.

I don't normally like coincidences - the officer finding he has cancer and losing a submarine on the same day. But in this case I reckon you can get away with it.

Eleanor said...

Given your hook it does sound like the wrong place to start, and I wouldn't know what details of military life or medicine you might have got wrong, but I actually really enjoyed this scene. Mainly the character of the grumpy, judgmental (but not lacking a sense of fun) Commander late for his meeting and blissfully unaware of the bad news we readers can see coming from a mile off. Subject to it actually fitting into the book, I think you ought to keep this scene. Take the negative comments on board but don't let them get you down. You can write.

Eleanor said...

Something else I thought of: why are you calling him by his first name? You used his surname in the hook. Given the book's military setting, I was expecting to see him tagged with his surname most of the time. "James" is a common surname and for a moment I thought it was one.

writtenwyrdd said...

That first paragraph screamed to me that the author had never been in the military. And the line about the card from the secretary? Sorry, that's a No Go. As it stands now, I didn't think the pov character's behavior was realistic.

I have to disagree with MS that you couldn't start here. I think you might make it work, if you were to add something that links to the main conflict, say a mention of the sub being launched or a shakedown cruise. But the scene would need to be rewritten so that the pov character's work is of more importance.

BernardL said...

I didn't expect to find myself inside a sunken sub in the first 750 words, so this wasn't a bad start at all in my opinion. Anyone ever heard of Tom Clancy. He wouldn't have been in the sunken sub until page 459. :)