Hospital Stories: Plot Development
Last week, I had my first ever surgery. Dude, it was intense. But even though I was bombarded and overwhelmed with health-related anxieties, my brain-space also generated story ideas. Of course, right? Writing is as much of an escape for the writer as books are to the reader. Actually, much more.
Anyway, here are my hospital-inspired ideas composed into a little order so they don't sound too crazy... but they still will.
Pre-Op. Emergencies aside, there's generally a progression to get to surgery day. Doctors appointments. Decision making. Confiding in people. Arranging help for recovery. Saving money. Checking with insurance. Stocking the fridge. Preparing meals. Starting healing-boosting regimens. Hiring a dog walker. Here are some pre-op story ideas:
What if your character can't have surgery because there's no one in her life she can rely on to help her? Enter, hot dog walker. Or annoying neighbor. Or black-sheep cousin.
What if your type A personality character disregards the people in her life willing to help for the sake of controlling everything? Could make for an awesome best-laid-plans story.
What if pre-op blood work reveals bigger issues? A small surgery could morph into a full-blown health crisis.
What if she's so busy planning for her surgery that she continuously looks for excuses to put it off? Maybe she really doesn't think life can go on without her. Or she's afraid to find out that it will. Wow, that's deep.
Surgery Day. Anything can happen to change surgery plans, but let's assume it goes to plan. Here are some ideas prompted by my surgery day:
With no apologies offered, my anesthesiologist interrupted my pre-op nurse mid-sentence for his pre-op talk with me. It lasted five minutes, maybe, and I never saw him again, even in the operating room because I must've been out before he arrived. In Grey's Anatomy, the anesthesiologist is often portrayed as a guy sitting on a stool reading a newspaper or doing a crossword in the OR. I hope that's a dramatization, but perhaps it's not so far from the truth. Anesthesiologists are the drug dealers of the hospital. They make sure you're feeling no pain, but when you do, they're long gone, their job done. They don't have typical doctor's offices. They don't check in on you after the operation. They don't see patients. So, it's interesting to consider with character development--someone who wants to be a doctor but doesn't want to deal with people. Is it only about the money? Or a desire for the least responsibility? Could this job ever feel empty compared to the more substantial, long-lasting comfort offered by other doctors and nurses?
The anesthesiologist also stirs up story ideas about the hospital hierarchies. How do doctors treat nurses? How do nurses respond? These relationships could run the spectrum from supportive to downright abusive. Many story ideas could percolate from those interactions.
No matter how accurate the schedule, there's downtime. Waiting to be checked in. Waiting for doctors to arrive. Waiting to be moved to the OR. You can meet a lot of people this way, from hospital staff to other patients. All this waiting time contributes to building anxiety, too. Thanks to COVID-19, I couldn't have anyone with me during this time, so that made it worse. What stories could develop out of waiting for a stressful event?
As patients are transferred from one team to the other, anything can go wonky. A test could put a stop to everything. A patient could pass out. Freak out. Change her mind. She could realize that one of the OR nurses is a girl who hated her in high school. Yikes. Or maybe that person's the anesthesiologist! Oh, boy.
What does Rebecca know? Recovery. When waking up from anesthesia, patients are in recovery--the limbo place between the OR and the next step, whether its being discharged or taken to a room. I may have seen my doctors then, but I don't remember much. The first thing I remember is my recovery nurse, Rebecca, talking to me. I'm in no pain. I'm relieved, because hey, I made it through surgery, but I'm also feeling a little drunk and loopy. So, this inspired these ideas:
What the hell did I say to Rebecca? As a relatively boring person, I remember spouting off about random rambling stuff... my family, Grey's Anatomy, famous Rebeccas... but what if I weren't so boring? What if I told Rebecca a secret? What if I told Rebecca about my five-year-plan, which includes murder? Or confessed to something else? Or shared something I'd seen?
Who did I call? Rebecca called my contact person--my husband Joe--since he couldn't be at the hospital thanks to COVID-19. I spoke to him, a conversation that sounded a lot like a drunken I love you, man speech. But what if, in my loopy state, I wanted to make other calls? My boss, my lover, the local shock-jock DJ, my annoying neighbor?
What did I see? In my loopy state, it's hard to know what was real. Plus, the anesthesia made my eyesight blurry. Did I really see the doctor slip into the closet with the nurse, a la Grey's Anatomy? Did I see a ghost? A ghoul? A guy in handcuffs? A doctor pick his nose?
The hospital... at night. Life makes a little more sense when you're transferred to your hotel room. Oops, I mean hospital room. You can watch TV. Drink or eat something. Use the bathroom. And rest. Let the healing commence. But just because this is the quietest part so far, that doesn't mean there aren't good story ideas.
Think Rick in The Walking Dead. He wakes up in his hospital bed and the entire world's gone zombie-crazy. What if your character drifts off to sleep and wakes up to a weird surprise?
I only ever saw a nurse and a CNA--another relationship that falls into that awkward hospital hierarchy or could. It's another relationship that could span the spectrum from supportive to abusive.
A big storm could wake everyone up. And freak patients out. What might happen if the hospital goes into an emergency with the least amount of staff?
What if you push the button for the nurse, but no one comes?
What if you keep seeing strange shadows cross your room, but you can't identify the source? It'd be like you're scared of what's under your bed or in the closet but you're unable to get up and check it.
What if every time you drift to sleep, the phone rings but no one's there?
What if you come up with the perfect idea to save late night television only you can't find anything to write it down? And you can't find your phone? Egads.
What if your recovery room decisions come back to haunt you? Maybe you should've have called your ex or your boss. Dang recovery-room texting!
What if, in your drugged-up state, you're lured into the infomercials and start ordering everything?
Okay, there's a lot of what-ifs in there, but there's a point. We can draw out stories from all of our experiences, even the mundane. Or surgical. SMH... what did I tell Rebecca?