I once got into some bit of trouble at a conclave of investigative journalists when I suggested a more descriptive term for their area of practice would be “slow” journalism. All journalism, I argued, was inherently investigative; all stories demanded the formulation of questions and the assessment of answers.
What set the field of “investigative journalism” apart was the slow pace afforded, to reach farther, dig deeper, think through more thoroughly. Slow is not a defect, as every adagio Mozart ever wrote conclusively proves. Sometimes a slow tempo isn’t just beautiful, but necessary.
Medicine has its slow movers, too; it’s long-distance runners, the ones who persist over time, seeing patterns, tracking changes, who break the big stories of new cures, new treatments, new understandings of how diseases spread. Of even those family practitioners who stick with sets of families through generations.
Then, there are the breaking news stars of medicine. They rejoice in each new insight into disease or how to treat or cure it, but they’re not looking at the horizon. They’re looking straight ahead of them, less interested in saving the forest, or even the trees, but this tree, mending this wound, understanding this patient, saving this life.
The world of emergency medicine is a world of fast-motion. Patients arrive when they do, needing what they need, and the first thing they need is fast judgment on what is needed and who and where it can best be provided. Those decisions tend to happen quickly within a short period of time. People appear, are patched and sent on their way, or are patched, passed on for further treatment and then, disappear.
But not altogether. There is memory, which holds onto particular moments in a fast-moving, short-duration series, and reconsiders them, and raises a question. That question is introduced early in our guest Frank Huyler’s marvelous new book White Hot Light: 25 Years in Emergency Medicine. The question is: “Have I learned anything?”
Frank Huyler is an emergency physician in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the author of the new book White Hot Light: 25 Years in Emergency Medicine, as well as an earlier book of non-fiction,The Blood of Strangers, and the novels The Laws of Invisible Things, and Right of Thirst. His poetry has appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, The Georgia Review, and Poetry, among others.