Called to Write
This post appeared on Project Emmaus: Stories of Everyday Encounters With Jesus
How does God call us?
Is it in the light reflecting off a creek or ocean?
Maybe a whisper through the fall leaves or a few words from a loved one?
Sometimes it’s the unexplainable gentle pull on your heart or stomach, right?
Sometimes, it’s hard to hear. Or, understand. At least at first.
I felt called in ways I once couldn’t have imagined. But a few years ago my life changed entirely, in the worst possible way. What hit me is best described as a quantum change. Life upended and everything reset.
My son Ben died of a rare heart disease called pulmonary vein stenosis (PVS). The birth of our rainbow baby, Caroline, brought light and color back to our lives after such darkness. Then, at three months old she, too, was diagnosed with PVS. She was medically evacuated to Boston Children’s Hospital. Things were grim. She was facing life-changing surgery and years of uncertainty. If she made it through the week.
It was there in Boston, though, that I met pediatric cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons who were rewriting the book on PVS. In a miracle of modern medicine, PVS was no longer a death sentence. These doctors were saving lives. Their research and work was changing everything for these kids.
Amidst all this personal turmoil, witnessing real life miracles wrought by humans -- by other doctors like me -- I felt something stir in me.
Like a breeze through fall leaves, a hushed voice in the back of my head whispered: “Doug, what are you doing to help people?”
No angels appeared. No burning bush. Neither clouds nor the Charles River parted.
Just the question, buzzing in my head. That was realization number one. This was, I understood only later, my call.
As my daughter Caroline stabilized, I returned to Ames to my two older daughters, while my wife Maleia, remained in Boston with Caroline. I relieved grandparents, family, and friends who stepped in. I helped my older daughters return to a “new normal” and was looking ahead to when our whole family could be together again.
I returned to my work as a radiologist. As a doctor, helping people is kind of my job, right? Every day, I help other doctors sort out patient problems using medical imaging. Echos of that voice remained though, and underneath it all I felt I could do more.
This is where realization two began.
I saw patient after patient with swallowing problems. They all told me a version of the same story. “Food gets stuck after I swallow it, Doc.”
One day I finally opened up to a patient: I have the same problem. I'd never shared this with a patient before, but I’d struggled with food getting stuck for 18 years. I mentioned my 3-step process to eat comfortably and safely.
She asked me to write it down.
Next patient — same thing. “Can you write that down?”
This happened so often, my technologists began keeping pen and paper handy in the fluoroscopy room. The topic kept coming up. My patients kept asking.
So this was it, right? What I’d wanted? Or felt I needed? Helping more people, in more ways?
In truth, I couldn’t fully embrace it. Explaining my swallowing problem, describing my eating process, then writing it all down added more time to a simple procedure. I felt I couldn’t get it all done the way I wanted to.
Eventually, walking from the fluoroscopy room to the radiology reading room, I thought, “There are probably five books to help patients with swallowing problems. I’ll just find one to recommend next time.”
I searched. And searched. Amazon. Google. Books-A-Million. I couldn’t find one.
That’s when realization three came, another whisper: “Write this book.”
Cue self-doubt, uncertainty, time pressures, and imposter syndrome. They enter stage left.
I beat them back by reminding myself that I’ve always been good at reducing complex medical concepts for family, friends, and patients. I’d been listening to patients explain what helped their swallowing problems for more than fifteen years, tried out their suggestions, and learned a lot. If no one else had written this book, it was time someone did. How many times was I going to hurriedly jot down my three steps and hope it was enough to help a patient?
So, with the 100% backing of Maleia and my family. I set out to write what I was then calling “Food Gets Stuck.” Over three years, I painstakingly drafted an almost 200-page rough draft. It lacked an introduction. Nothing was there to grab the reader’s attention. Where were relatable patient stories? What were the physical and emotional pain points? It lacked anything resembling a story arc. Conclusion — what’s a conclusion?
In short, it wasn’t a book. Yet.
I researched the book industry. Editors. Literary agents. Publishers.
I quickly learned writing the book was the “easy” part. I was in WAY over my head.
I shelved the book project for months. (Pun intended.)
Then, on a chance encounter, I met someone who had written a book. (Here’s realization four.) We talked about all kinds of things his book touched on -- money, finance, savings -- until finally, at the end, I managed to ask, “I’m thinking about writing a book — how did you write yours?”
As he explained how it had worked for him, I knew right away his approach was perfect.
Within a month, I was at a book writing workshop. New outline. New approach. I’m locked in. More than locked in — I’m excited and KNOW this book will be published.
I started over and rewrote it, introduction to conclusion. It poured out — a whole new set of two hundred pages in about a month. (Then came nine months of editing, rewriting, honing, and perfecting. But still. A manuscript in a month. I still can’t quite believe I managed it.)
Esophagus Attack! The 3-Step Method to Enjoy Eating Again debuts soon.
Signs, realizations, mini-miracles — they’re synonyms. I was called to help, the way only I could help. I was called to write, the book only I could write.
What does His call sound like to you?
Esophagus Attach! The 3-Step Method to Enjoy Eating Again will be available on Amazon. Click here to order your copy and feel free to share with others who may benefit.