This month, as part of our occasional series about authors on Casco Bay, we introduce Dr. Chuck Radis, a resident of Peaks Island. This summer Dr. Radis presented a reading and talk about his new book: “Go by Boat: Stories of a Maine Island Doctor” at the Long Island Learning Center to an enthusiastic and engaged crowd.
To follow up on his excellent talk, I asked him a few more questions, which he graciously answered for this blog:
Which came first, your love of writing or your interest in medicine?
While in college I wrote several articles for the now defunct Maine Times. It was after my second year in college that I switched from an interest in marine biology to medicine after a chance encounter with a family practice doctor on a long bicycle trip in Baja California
Did you keep a journal or is your book based on memory?
I’ve kept an At-A-Glance Pocket counter in my shirt pocket since I began my internal medicine residency in 1982. By surreptitiously writing down memorable quotes or a few sentences during patient encounters I’ve been able to expand or recreate house calls or office visits later that day, or months later.
Amidst a busy medical career, how do you find the time to write?
I found writing a tonic for stress. The more I found time to write, the better I felt. There’s no question it helped me avoid burn-out and helped me better understand my patients. It most often occurred early in the morning before the rest of my family awakened.
How long did it take you to write your book, and what was the process of getting it published like?
The first time I thought I finished the book was in 2001. Here are 2 short essays I wrote on eventually finding an agent and getting my book published. Yes, it took a long time.
Do you have favorite authors who are physicians? (i.e., are there books out there that inspired you?) I’ve enjoyed Atul Gawande’s Better, as well as The Beautiful Cure by Daniel Davis, but the writers which have influenced me the most are James Herriot All Creatures Great and Small, and nearly everything by John McFee. McFee has had, by far, the most influence on the way I tell a story and try to expand on the lives of my characters.
What would you see as the unique needs and challenges of providing medical care on islands, especially in Maine? Besides not having lab or x-rays to assist me in diagnosis, the greatest challenge I faced was getting my patients to agree to go to Portland for testing or admission to the hospital.
How does humor play a role in your writing, and in your life? Although I’m not Jewish, I grew up with a group of very funny Jewish friends. One is a professional comedian and another is a talented magician. I was the straight man in their antics but appreciated their humorous take on nearly everything in life.
Do you have ideas for other books? My second book was accepted by Down East Books and is scheduled for release next April. It’s called Island Medicine. The Wildflower Guide to the Flowering Plants of Casco Bay (which I’ve co-written with my know-it-all brother Rick) should be out by Christmas this year. I am the editor (and primary writer) for a book on John Jenkins, Maine’s first black state senator and the former mayor of Lewiston and Auburn. It’s due out next June.
Long-term, I have plans for a book on Rheumatology and autoimmune diseases (that’s the specialty I eventually I went into after I left my island practice). It would be in the same vein as neurologist Oliver Sach’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat.
A copy of Dr. Radis’ book can be found at the Long Island Community Library, and we look forward to reading his future books.
To read the first chapter of Go by Boat and other essays on island life, go to www.doctorchuckradis.com