Guest post: BRAIN DAMAGE by Freida McFadden

ScienceThrillers.com welcomes physician and novelist Freida McFadden (AKA Dr. Fizzy McFizz, creator of “A Cartoon Guide to Becoming a Doctor“) to tell us about her latest medical thriller, and the odd neurologic deficit at the heart of the story.

Brain Damage by Freida McFadden. Medical mystery/thriller.

After years of hard work, Dr. Charly McKenna finally has it all. Prosperous career as a dermatologist? Check. Spacious apartment overlooking Central Park? Check. Handsome lawyer husband? Double check.

Then one night, a bullet rips through the right side of her skull and she loses everything.

As Charly struggles to recover from her brain injury, she begins to realize that the events of that fateful night are trapped in the damaged right side of her brain. Now she must put the jigsaw pieces together to discover the identity of the man who tried to kill her… before he finishes the job he started.

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Guest post by Freida McFadden

As a specialist in brain injury, one deficit that I see a lot of patients struggle with is something called left hemineglect. In this condition, an injury to the right side of the brain causes not only weakness of the left side, but a tendency to ignore the left side of the world completely. A patient with left neglect might forget to eat the left-sided contents of their lunch tray, may not see visitors on their left side, or in some cases, may even deny that their own left arm or leg belongs to them.

In my novel Brain Damage, a woman is shot by an unidentified assailant in the right side of her brain, and must struggle with the loss of the left side of her world as she recovers in a rehabilitation hospital, all the while trying to remember the events that led to her injury. Please enjoy an excerpt of Brain Damage:

I see that a strange man is standing in my room.

Unfamiliar visitors are not completely unusual around here. Actually, it’s entirely possible that I have met him before, maybe many times before, and I just don’t remember him. I assume he works here, based on his blue scrubs and ID badge hanging off his chest pocket. But there’s something ominous about him.

I squint at the ID badge and read off his name: “Chris.”

Then underneath his name, I read off his title: “rapist.”

Oh my God.

This man is a rapist. A rapist is in my room.

I look up at Chris’s face, at the stubble of a beard on his chin, and his dark, foreboding eyes. To say that I am terrified would be an understatement.

I suck in a breath, hoping that the rapist will lose interest in me. Maybe Amy will come here and he will like her better. Any man in his right mind would prefer Amy to me. She’s very pretty, after all, and she doesn’t have to wear a helmet on her head. The rapist would certainly want her over me.

Not that I want Amy to be raped either. I don’t. But Amy could make a run for it and probably escape. I can’t.

“Hello, Charly,” Chris, the rapist, says to me. “You feel like getting dressed?”

That’s when I realize, to my horror, that the rapist has actually been sent to see me. They have sent him here to rape me.

I guess this is part of my therapy. It’s been a long time since I’ve had sex. Months. So I guess maybe they feel like part of getting better is getting back in the swing of things. Sexually.

The rapist approaches my bed and I feel my heart starting to race in my chest. I don’t care if this is part of my therapy—I don’t want to be raped. First someone tries to murder me and now this? But I don’t think I can fight this man off. So what can I do? I can’t just lie here and let him rape me, can I?

There’s only one thing I can do:

Scream.

Chris looks incredibly startled. I guess other patients are more accepting of their therapies. He takes a few steps back, and looks around nervously. I think I have deterred the rapist for now. Hopefully, somebody will come rescue me soon.

A minute later, a nurse that I know named Nicole comes running into the room. Nicole looks as panicked as I feel. I didn’t even realize I was still screaming, until Nicole puts her hand on my shoulder, and says, “Charly, what’s wrong? Why are you screaming?”

I snap my mouth shut, and take a deep breath to calm myself. I am shaking.

“He was going to rape me,” I tell Nicole. It’s all I can do to keep from bursting into tears.

Hopefully the rapist won’t want to rape Nicole. I don’t think I can protect her.

Nicole whips her head around and stares at Chris accusingly. His evil black eyes widen and he holds up his hands.

“I didn’t do anything,” he says. “I’m supposed to be doing her occupational therapy, and I asked her if she wanted to get dressed. Then she just started screaming her head off for no reason.”

Occupational therapy. Yeah, right.

“Is that so?” Nicole asks, folding her arms across her chest. She looks back at me, and says in a gentle voice, “What did he do, sweetie? Why did you think he was going to rape you? Did he touch you in a way you didn’t like?”

“I didn’t touch her at all!” Chris interrupts. “I didn’t even lay one finger on her!”

Nicole shoots Chris a dirty look, and she takes my right hand in hers. She gives me a comforting squeeze. “Tell me what he did, Charly. Tell me why you thought he wanted to rape you.”

“It says on his chest that he’s a rapist,” I explain.

Nicole just looks confused for a minute. Finally she squints at Chris’s badge. “Charly,” she says, “the badge says ‘occupational therapist.’”

“No it doesn’t,” I cry. “It says rapist!”

Nicole furrows her brow then, all of a sudden, she starts to giggle. “Oh my gosh, the right side of ‘occupational therapist’ is ‘rapist’! She can’t see stuff on the left. That’s why she thought you were rapist!”

Nicole and Chris both start to laugh, but I don’t really see what’s so funny. They explain it to me about how I didn’t see the left side of the word, so I misunderstood what it meant. But honestly, I don’t see why it’s funny that I thought that he was going to rape me. I was really scared.

Anyway, I still don’t like him. I definitely don’t want him to get me dressed anymore.

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