Dr. John Benedict graduated cum laude from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and entered medical school at Penn State University College of Medicine. While there, he also completed an internship, anesthesia residency and a cardiac anesthesia fellowship. He currently works as a physician/anesthesiologist in a busy private practice in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.
Dr. Benedict has been writing stories since high school, but his creative side was put on hold to pursue a medical education and start a family—he now has a wife and three sons. Finally, after a 15-year pause, his love of writing was rekindled and his first novel, Adrenaline—a gritty medical thriller with a realism borne of actual experience—was born.
Besides creating scary stories, the hallmark of Dr. Benedict’s writing is genuine medical authenticity—something in short supply these days in thriller fiction. He draws on his 25+ years of experience as a board-certified anesthesiologist to infuse his writing with a realism that renders it both vivid and frightening. As one of only a handful of anesthesiologists throughout the country writing fiction, he gives readers a taste of what really goes on in the operating room, the human drama inherent in this high-stress, high stakes environment where lives are continually on the line. Readers will find out what it’s like to hold a patient’s life in their hands, as the author provides an illuminating glimpse into the fascinating, but poorly understood realm of anesthesia.
Mayra Calvani: Please tell us about ‘Adrenaline,’ and what compelled you to write it.
John Benedict: I am an anesthesiologist in real life and Adrenaline is a classic medical thriller told from the anesthesiologist’s viewpoint. To illustrate the real inspiration behind this book, I will need to relate a little true story from 20 years ago.
One day it struck me—at 2:00 in the morning in the midst of another grueling 24-hour shift. I had just finished interviewing a nice lady with an appendix about to burst—we’ll call her Linda. I had done my best not to yawn as I went through the routine questions that an anesthesiologist is obliged to ask. She appeared nervous, which soon gave way to tears. I did my best to comfort her, took her hand, told her I would take good care of her. That I would watch over her carefully in the operating room and see her through surgery. And be there when she woke up in the recovery room. She appeared to calm down a bit. I wrapped up my pre-op assessment and asked her to sign the anesthesia consent form, while assuring her the risks would be minimal. She raised her eyebrows at this and the fearful look returned. I wondered: What the hell does minimal mean when you’re talking about life and death? More tears. She told me of her two young daughters at home that desperately needed a mommy. I felt my own throat tighten. I quickly buried my emotions, tried not to think about my wife and three sons, and focused on the task at hand as we wheeled her litter back down the hall to the OR.
After Linda was safely tucked in the recovery room, operation a success, anesthetic uncomplicated, I lay down in the call room to try to catch a couple of z’s. My mind wandered as I lay there. Rarely, I thought, does a person willingly surrender control of their mind and body to a virtual stranger. Yet, this is exactly what happens when the person is a patient being wheeled in for surgery and the stranger is their anesthesiologist, whom they have just met minutes beforehand. Talk about an extraordinary amount of trust. This degree of trust made a distinct impression on me that night, some twenty years ago.
Other thoughts followed soon thereafter. What if the trust Linda had exhibited earlier was ill-conceived and her doctor was actually bad? Not just incompetent or sleepy, but downright evil. Being an avid reader of thrillers, I thought this chilling concept would make for a good story. Too bad I wasn’t a writer. (Disclaimer time: I don’t want to scare people here. All the docs I have known in my 30 years of medical practice are highly competent professional people, who would never purposely hurt anyone.) But I still couldn’t shake the evil concept; it kept gnawing at me until eventually I had to put it down on paper—lack of writing experience be damned. So Adrenaline was birthed, my first medical thriller novel that explores this issue of absolute trust implicit in the anesthesiologist-patient relationship—specifically, what happens when that trust is abused and replaced by fear. Adrenaline was finally published twelve years after my encounter with Linda.
M.C.: What is your book about?
J.B.: ‘Adrenaline’ tells the story of veteran anesthesiologist, Doug Landry. When patients start dying unexpectedly in the Mercy Hospital OR, Doug winds up being blamed. Doug is confused at first and wonders if he screwed up somehow. However, as he investigates further, he unearths evidence of greed and corruption in his department. As he struggles to unravel the secrets of the mysterious deaths and clear his name, it quickly becomes apparent that someone will stop at nothing to keep him from revealing the devastating truth. Doug becomes trapped in a race against time to prevent more deaths, including his own.
M.C.: What themes do you explore in your novel?
J.B.: The main theme in ‘Adrenaline’ is the concept of some doctors being evil. Patients implicitly trust their physicians with their lives routinely. What if that trust is misplaced? What happens when the desires and goals of a bad doctor supersede the well-being of his patients?
M.C.: Why do you write?
J.B.: I write first and foremost, because I have a need to tell a story. Also, as an anesthesiologist, I feel I have a unique perspective on hospital-based drama. Everyone knows that anesthesiologists exist, but few know what it’s like to be one, so I wanted to tell a story through the anesthesiologist’s eyes, something I have never seen done. Plus, the operating room is a natural great backdrop for stories with all the big ego characters and the inherent drama of life and death struggles that take place there. Finally, I have a need to produce medically authentic work because it bothers me to read so many otherwise great stories with sloppy or downright erroneous medical details.
M.C.: When do you feel the most creative?
J.B.: I do my best work in the morning in the quiet medical library with lots of coffee. However, I am always open to creative moments, like while riding my bike or hiking or in the shower. Sometimes, these moments strike at inopportune times like in church or at work or in the middle of the night. I do my best to remember things and quickly try to get to my notebook (or phone) that I carry around to jot things down.
M.C.: How picky are you with language?
J.B.: Not that picky. Story and character come first. Language is a distant second. Usually, I’ll try to spiff up language on re-writing. When the story is flowing, you just go with it and don’t worry at all about the actual wording—this can be fixed later.
M.C.: When you write, do you sometimes feel as though you were being manipulated from afar?
J.B.: No, I definitely feel in control. Sometimes ideas will pop into my head and I don’t really know how I thought of them, but I never feel manipulated—just lucky sometimes to feel creative and get good ideas.
M.C.: What is your worst time as a writer?
J.B.: I can’t write at night or any time I feel tired—I don’t even try. I have to be pretty wide awake to produce anything meaningful
M.C.: Your best?
J.B.: My best time is clearly in the morning with lots of coffee by my side.
M.C.: Is there anything that would stop you from writing?
J.B.: Writers in my opinion typically have fragile egos. We all live for praise and validation of our work. We all think our own stuff is good, or we wouldn’t be spending so much time doing it. But what we really crave is other people to love our work. Without a steady stream of praise or if I started to get all negative feedback, this might stop me.
M.C.: What’s the happiest moment you’ve lived as an author?
J.B.: This is gonna sound dumb, but I’ll never forget this moment. Amazon lets you do a 5-day free sale every so often on your books. So, I ran a BookBub promo on ‘Adrenaline’ for these 5 days. I was traveling at the time, so I checked my numbers on my phone at a rest stop. By noon of the first day, 50,000 e-books had been downloaded. I thought for sure it was a mistake, signal glitch or I was simply reading it wrong. However, by the end of the 5 days, over 80,000 books went out. This was way beyond anything in my experience. Even though the books went out for free and I didn’t make a dime, the exposure was awesome and I picked up over 400 reader reviews in short order.
M.C.: Is writing an obsession to you?
J.B.: Yes. I have a need to tell my stories. And once you get the bug to write, accompanied by the thrill of people reading your work and telling you they love it, there is no cure.
M.C.: Are the stories you create connected with you in some way?
J.B.: Yes, without a doubt. A lot of my main characters are anesthesiologists, as I am. Also I write medical thrillers for a reason—I live the material every day—so they are definitely connected to me.
M.C.: Ray Bradbury once said, “You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.” Do you agree?
J.B.: Yes, to some degree. The freedom I experience writing fiction is truly exhilarating. It’s a nice escape from the drudgery of reality and you can lose yourself in your fantasy world of your story.
M.C.: Do you have a website or blog where readers can find out more about you and your work?
J.B.: My website is at JohnBenedictmd.com.