Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Darkness Before The Dynasty

Anyone who writes a book should be prepared to answer one question about it: “Why?”

Even the simplest book is a lot of work, involving long hours of writing and rewriting, edits and re-edits. You need at least a decent reason for deciding to take that on.

So allow me to ask and answer my own question. Why did I write From Darkness to Dynasty: The First 40 Years of the New England Patriots? Because I've always wanted to read this book — and since the universe was taking its sweet time getting around to it, I wrote it myself. 

These are the stories I grew up on as the youngest of five in a Patriots-first household outside of Boston. Not the ones about the 21st century Patriots, that model sports franchise that has not only dominated on the field for an unprecedented span of years, but has owned the headlines as well. As pro football has taken center stage in American pop culture, the Patriots have dominated the news cycle with scandals, controversies, and celebrity status like no other team.

And yet, for the first four decades of their existence, they were the polar opposite. Laughingstocks on the field and off. A downtrodden, mismanaged, amateurish operation that was perpetually on the brink of ruin. For ten years they didn't have a stadium to call their own. When they finally built one, it was an obsolete dump surrounded by a dirt parking lot that looked like the surface of Mars.

Unlike the current Patriots, the controversies of the early teams were never about trying to gain a competitive advantage and win championships. There were power struggles. Lawsuits. There was the time they drafted a player not knowing he was getting a knee operation, then almost drafted a dead man. When they met with success, it immediately came crashing down around them. Like the time a very successful coach had secretly taken a job to coach elsewhere and was caught using team resources to work for his new employer. Then 18 years later, history repeated itself with another great coach doing the exact same thing. In between, they went to a Super Bowl, only to have a major drug scandal tear the locker room apart the very next day.

And what finally turned the Patriots around were the dual rock-bottoms of a financially ruinous Michael Jackson concert tour and a player sexually harrassing a female reporter. Through a series of bold moves by people of vision, the franchise was saved, competent leaders were brought in and an era of unimaginable success began. But not without dozens of coincidences small (an unconscious player saved a game), large (a franchise quarterback was replaced due to a near-fatal injury) and monumental (9/11), without which the Patriots may never have won a championship.

Now they have four. And counting. Which represents the most remarkable turnaround of any franchise in the history of North American sports. And I'm happy to be the one to tell it. Somebody had to, after all.

Jerry Thornton is co-host of WEEI Sports Radio Network's Dale and Holley with Thornton Show, creator of's Thornography blog, stand up comic, and author of Darkness to Dynasty: The First 40 Years of the New England Patriots. Jerry has worked everywhere from Barstool Sports to HBO's “Reverse of the Curse of the Bambino,” from the parking lots of Foxboro to the comedy clubs of New England. The one man who was right about Deflategate from Minute One, he's written a million pro football pieces and he's rocked them all.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Domestic Terror Attacks: Are Our Trauma Systems Ready?

By Catherine Musemeche M.D.

Houston, New York, Orlando, Dallas — every week a new domestic terror incident elbows its way into our lives and reminds us yet again that injury is woven into the fabric of American history, from the battlefields of the Civil War to the mass shootings that plague our society today. The question is, how prepared are we to deal with the current wave of civilian casualties in a country that has no national system of trauma care?

As it turns out, the answer to this question hinges in part on where a trauma victim lives. While trauma care has greatly improved over the last half century, the U.S. still does not have a national system of trauma care ensuring that every citizen has access to the care they need within “the golden hour,” the timeframe in which patient survival is critical. Our system of trauma care is regional and the quality of care varies greatly from one locale to another.

Many trauma centers have closed because they were not financially viable and there are no laws that mandate that a certain number stay open. A 2014 study by the University of California, San Francisco found that after three trauma centers in California closed, patients who had to travel farther were 21 percent more likely to die in the hospital than those who did not have to travel long distances.

Distance is not the only barrier to top-notch trauma care. The uninsured and minorities have worse trauma outcomes than white patients and those who have health insurance.[1]

Even without the additional impact of the 288 mass shootings that have occurred in 2016 to date[2], an epidemic of trauma is raging: forty-two million emergency room visits, 2.8 million hospital admissions, 200,000 lives lost, an economic burden of $671 billion dollars, the number one cause of death from ages one to forty-four, and the fourth leading cause of death. The annual cost of injury in the United States every year is staggering, yet federal funding for trauma research registers at a paltry ten cents within the context of years of potential lives lost, compared to HIV funding of $3.51 and cancer of $1.65. By this measure of burden of disease, injuries come in last in NIH funding and, while the Department of Defense chips in more funding for specific trauma-related research projects, these dollars tend to fade when wars wind down and other national priorities gain the spotlight.

The 1966 National Academy of Sciences report Accidental Death and Disability: The Neglected Disease of Modern Society put forth a number of recommendations aimed at shoring up our nation’s response to injury. While some of the recommendations from this now fifty-year-old report have been instituted (safety standards for cars, minimal standards for ambulance personnel and equipment and improved communication between emergency personnel in the field and hospitals), others have been ignored.

We still do not have a National Institute of Trauma dedicated to “the research of shock, trauma and emergency medical conditions” as recommended — and so far there has been no systematized approach to training our citizens in basic and advanced first aid. These are gaping holes in our safety net, particularly in the event of mass casualties when first responders are overextended or in rural areas where EMS may be precious hours away.

We find ourselves at a critical juncture in trauma care as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan wind down and domestic terrorism ramps up. Military physicians and others gained valuable knowledge and techniques through treating the injuries of our brave servicemen and women over the past decade, information that could not be gathered any other way. Those life-saving experiences must not only be preserved for future generations of military physicians to draw on, but must also be transferred to the care of the civilian population.

This country is in the midst of a wave of domestic terrorism — a threat to public safety that is not likely to dissipate any time soon, and will undoubtedly add significantly to the massive human and economic costs of trauma. Now is the time to revisit the concept of a National Institute of Trauma, finish building the framework for a national system of trauma care, and start training all Americans in the basics of aiding the injured.

Catherine Musemeche is a pediatric surgeon and the author of Hurt: The Inspired, Untold Story of Trauma Care (University Press of New England, 2016). She lives in Austin, Texas.

[1] Haider, A.H., Weygandt, P.L., Bentley, J.M. et al: “Disparities in Trauma Care and Outcomes in the United States: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis, The Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery, Volume 74(5), 2295-1205. 2013.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Poison, Prison, and Pennsylvania Courts: How a Veteran Reporter Dove Deep into a Fascinating Murder

By Paula Reed Ward,

Throughout my 20-year career as a police and courts reporter, I have covered every kind of case imaginable. But the death of Autumn Klein by cyanide in 2013 was my very first poisoning.

The story itself — a 41-year-old neurologist allegedly killed by her husband — was fascinating. Add to it that she was killed by poison, which almost wasn't detected, and it became unforgettable.

But then I learned about who Autumn was. The kind of doctor. Mother. Friend. I knew that I couldn't let the case go by without writing a book about it. I wanted to make sure the world didn't forget her. 

Doing the reporting and research for the book was all-engrossing. I spent months tracking down Autumn's college roommates and classmates. I read medical journals to learn about her specialties. I talked to her colleagues and professors. And to her family. 

That must have been the best — and most difficult — part. Autumn's cousin and best friend, Sharon, spent countless hours with me on the phone, sharing the cherished stories of their childhood. Then she spent hours more with me in person. 

Autumn's mother Lois, too, spent nearly six hours with me. She told about her daughter — the kind of child she was and the kind of woman she blossomed into. She also told me about her own relationship with Autumn's husband, Bob Ferrante. She didn't like the idea of her daughter marrying a man 23 years older, but she would also never get in the way of true love. It wasn't her decision to make, Lois said. As we talked that day — and as Lois showed me photographs taken throughout Autumn's life — I couldn't help but feel a deep sadness for her and her husband, Bill. But this sadness also gave me the resolve to know that writing a book about their daughter was the right thing to do. 

Then there was the challenge of getting Bob's side of the story. Although I knew all along that my main purpose for the book was telling the world about Autumn, it was essential — to me — to be fair, and represent both sides. As a newspaper reporter, my career has been spent trying my best to be impartial. That wasn't going to change here. 

So, I set out to get Bob to talk to me. By that point, of course, he was in our local jail (and later, state prison). I sent him a letter. I contacted his attorney. Over weeks of discussions, they finally permitted me to send Bob written questions. I did. And he sent me pages and pages of written answers back. It was a gold mine of detail — about his and Autumn's relationship. His childhood. Raising his two adult children from his first marriage. And how much he missed the young daughter he and Autumn had. 

I also spoke with him twice by phone from prison. During our interviews, I didn’t ask Bob tough questions, like “did you do it?” or “why would you do those Google searches?” I knew I wouldn't have some Perry Mason moment where he shouted, “You got me! I did it.” He denied committing the crime at trial; I wasn't going to trick him into confessing. So, what was most important to me was trying to tell Bob's story — just like I was telling Autumn's. I wanted to know about his life, his family, his education and career. And about prison. 

He shared those things with me. And I included them all. 

Bob recently lost his first round of appeals and will soon file with the Pennsylvania Superior Court. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. 

In the meantime, I will keep covering the case and the people involved. And keep writing the stories that come through the courthouse each day. Like I always have, I will strive to make sure that everyone's side gets told, and that every story is representative of the person it was written about. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

A Kitchen is a Place to Do Things

By Pamela Heyne

I met my coauthor Jim Scherer in 1989 when I was interviewing Julia Child for a possible book on kitchen design. Julia suggested I hire Jim to do the photo shoot. My book idea then was to photograph and discuss twenty kitchens of noted food authorities, but the research was daunting in those pre-Google days, and I had found Julia’s address simply because she was in the Smith Alumnae directory — we were both Smithies.  My interview with Julia ultimately turned into an article in Washingtonian Magazine, which felt apropos as Julia had been a long-time Georgetown resident. The majority of Jim’s photographs then languished in files. At the time I would go on to write a second book on mirrors, Mirror By Design; parallel to my interest in kitchen design, I had come to appreciate mirrors’ versatility as a means of enhancing space and views, and providing clean energy. More on that later.

I recently revisited the Julia Child book because I felt that we — Americans — could use some of her unique inspiration today. In the last twenty-five years our American kitchens have become ever more open, which is not always compatible with serious cooks.  Meals are often eaten on barstools or in front of the TV, and open kitchens also inevitably encourage snacking, which contributes to our national obesity epidemic…and some designs are so abstract they barely register as kitchens.  “Julia hated those kitchens — a kitchen is a place to do things!” according to her longtime friend Pat Pratt.   

Julia’s Cambridge kitchen, which is now a permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution, was both comfortable for cooking and welcoming to friends. Guests generally ate at the wooden kitchen table, which was usually covered with yellow oilcloth. Jim Scherer, who collaborated with Julia for nearly thirty years, often ate at that table; in the book he shares his charming culinary memories. Also, the photographs Jim took of Julia’s kitchen in 1989 show what it was like as a true working space, what was on her counter, and even what books she was reading. And his photographs backstage at the TV show “Julia Child & Company” demonstrate her sense of conviviality even there, as she often ate with staff after the show.  Julia’s French vacation home La Pitchoune also gets attention. The small stucco house, nestled in hills near Nice, has a diminuitive, but very practical, kitchen with implements mounted on pegboard and a butcher block counter. Meals there were often taken on the flower-rimmed patio.  (Under new ownership, it is a vacation and cooking destination.)

In the second half of the book I highlight a series of “simpatico” kitchens, including some floor plans. These kitchens share Julia’s attitude about practicality and conviviality, and yet they look quite different from her kitchens. Some are separate rooms like her kitchens were.  Others might be more open.  Importantly, all these kitchens emphasize a dining table. Additionally, climate change, not an issue in Julia’s time, now impacts our choices for materials and appliances. As an architect, I discuss how we might now use an induction cooktop rather than an energy intensive range, as Julia did.

One of my favorite “simpatico” kitchens is owned by Claudine Pepin (Jacques Pepin’s daughter) and her husband, Rollie Wesen, a professional chef.  The kitchen is practical with compact counter space and equipment hung on rustic walls. Their dining table, an heirloom from Claudine’s family, is just steps away in the dining room, where most of the family’s meals are taken.

Some of our most memorable occasions  often occur around a dining table. I enjoy entertaining, and on the home front  have always emphasized the family meal. In 2002 my husband Carl Widell and I adopted two Russian sisters, age 7 and 9. We always sat down to meals, sometimes in the family room, sometimes in the dining room. Now the sisters are successful young women.  Both are excellent cooks and advocates for the family meal. 

Sometimes I set the dining table with mirrored placemats and candles — a festive look.   Some might wonder how I can be interested in mirrors and Julia Child.  My answer: they both add sparkle to our lives. 

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

From White Coat to Book Jacket

By Bruce J. Hillman, MD

A friend once theorized that what success I’d enjoyed during my academic medical career had occurred by dint of my being in the right place at the right time. I bridled at his comment. Hadn’t hard work and creativity played some role? As I thought about it, however, to some extent, I had to agree. It wasn’t all dumb luck. Rather, I had benefited from a combination of serendipity and the insight to recognize an opportunity when one presented itself.

It was this interaction of chance and recognition that led to my becoming a published author. Most of the innumerable work-related emails I receive each day are of little interest. I delete them based on just the few words in the subject line. One day, roughly a decade ago, my index finger had been poised over the delete key and begun its descent, when I hesitated. 

The institution was offering a two-hour enrichment program on creative writing during an upcoming workday morning. I signed up. At the end of the session, the associate Dean leading the group read a provocative sentence and asked that we write a paragraph about that sentence as the beginning of a novel. A week later, Sharon called to say that she’d read what I’d written and liked it. For several years, she had participated in a monthly critique group of six women. They had decided that their writing might be advantaged by the insights of a representative of the opposite gender. Did I want to audition? I wrote a story I titled “The Lemon,” about an experience during my medical internship. The group took me in. They saw something in my writing that was worthwhile. Over several years, they taught me a great deal about what was “good writing.” 

Perhaps more important than their expertise was their encouragement. I was hooked. I needed to write. My first book was The Sorcerer’s Apprentice: How Medical Imaging is Changing Health Care (Oxford University Press, 2010), intended to inform the lay public about medical imaging. During a lecture tour that circumnavigated the globe, I wrote the better part of a medical murder mystery and finished it when I got home. It was at this point that my ambition ran afoul of the practical realities of publishing. I submitted my work to a long list of agents. Only a couple of them showed any preliminary interest, and their interest was short-lived. No agent, no book. One night, a college classmate interviewed me for a profile on the class website. He was a published author. He referred me to an agent who had recently rejected his work but whom he felt might be interested in mine.

Claire Gerus took a look at my novel. She no longer represented writers of fiction, but she liked my writing. If I ever had an idea for a nonfiction book, I should give her a call. As it happened I did. Claire guided me through the development of a creative nonfiction book proposal for The Man Who Stalked Einstein: How Nazi Scientist Philipp Lenard Changed the Course of History, which she sold to Lyons Press. I was on my way. Einstein was published in April, 2015.

As I worked with the publisher to edit Einstein, I began to consider what story I might like to address next. I considered several options related to my profession of radiology — “martyrs” whose investigations led to their death of overexposure before the lethality of radiation was understood. Some aspect of the life of Marie Curie. The upshot of atomic bomb testing in the Pacific. Then, I recalled a day I’d spent with a medical school classmate, Michael Gottlieb, in his Los Angeles AIDS practice. I contacted him. Over the course of several phone calls, I realize that Gottlieb had lived an extraordinary story. We discussed conditions under which I would undertake to write a very personal history of his 1981 discovery of AIDS and what followed over the ensuing seven years during which he was employed as an academic physician at UCLA. The goal would be to write an honest account of his story — including the views of both his supporters and antagonists.
What I learned offered all the makings of a terrific creative nonfiction story: an important but little written about moment in history; conflict between Gottlieb and his bosses and colleagues; a hint of Hollywood glitter; a fast-moving dramatic arc; and a climax that would entertain readers and provide important life lessons. The result is A Plague on All Our Houses: Medical Intrigue, Hollywood, and the Discovery of AIDS, published by the ForeEdge Press imprint of the University Press of New England.

The murder mystery still sits in my computer.

Bruce J. Hillman, MD, is Professor and former Chair of the Department of Radiology at the University of Virginia and Founding Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of the American College of Radiology. He is the author of A Plague on All Our Houses: Medical Intrigue, Hollywood, and the Discovery of AIDs (ForeEdge Press, 2016)