A Fight for Full Disclosure
Carla Williams, a mother of three and popular high school teacher, undergoes a routine surgery which does not go as planned. Department Chair, Harold Thompson, becomes an unlikely ally when he vows to find and share the truth about what happened to Carla. Thompson reassures Carla’s distraught physician as he becomes convinced that the surgeon did nothing wrong. Despite the hospital’s pledge of transparency, once the requisite investigation is completed, Thompson’s efforts to keep his word collide with the institution’s traditions of secrecy and finger-pointing. The Department Chair’s quest to reveal the truth results in accusations of unprofessional conduct, and he is targeted by the hospital’s power brokers who move to revoke his hospital privileges and fire him. What began as a fight for full disclosure also becomes a fight for Thompson’s career and his reputation.
Now also on the “grown ups” table at my local store:
Coreander’s Children’s Bookshoppe
15118 Kercheval Avenue
Grosse Pointe, MI 48230
“…the novel is an extraordinarily believable depiction of what takes place in a hospital’s operating room when something goes wrong. The reader turns pages compulsively because of its ease in envisioning what is transpiring. It is also packed with articulate realistic dialogue that reading resembles watching a movie. The medical explanations are well-blended into the novel, adding to the richness of the fiction.”
—Norm Goldman, Book Pleasures Blog
Interview by Norm Goldman and published in the Blog Book Pleasures
Good day Dr. Berry and thanks for taking part in our interview.
Norm: What do you feel is the most overrated virtue and why?
Dr. Berry: Before I answer, thank you so much Norm for allowing me this chance to answer questions about my novel.
Now, to answer your question, I think being smart is the most overrated virtue. Having great intellectual capacity is a plus and can carry one a long way, but great intellect without discipline and hard work is an overrated and wasted virtue.
When high intellectual capacity is matched against discipline and hard work, I believe the latter prevails 95% of the time. As my dad put it, “Race horses never beat mules”.
Norm: What is the one thing other people always seem to get wrong about you?
Dr. Berry: That I have no sense of humor. I am an intimidating presence for many people.
I’m African American, I’m 6 ft 5 inches tall, and I have hair on my face. I had a decision tree to work through when I was much younger.
That is, it’s not my problem that people are intimated by me and therefore it’s their problem.
For a time when I was young and angry, I left it to those who were intimidated to work through or not. But, as a non-angry young adult, I recognized the price this attitude was costing me, and I decided it was in my best interest to un-intimidate people I never meant to intimidate, and, humor became a very effective tool for doing this.
Norm: What has been your greatest challenge (professionally) that you’ve overcome in getting to where you’re at today?
Dr. Berry: A lack of discipline and consistency. I wanted to be a “writer” since my high school days, but I didn’t have the discipline. I floundered in college because I lacked the discipline to focus. I was willing to work hard, but not in the disciplined way that success demands. Once I found my “raison d’etre” so to speak, and that was medicine, it forced me to become disciplined for the first time in my life and overcoming the lack of this trait was probably my greatest triumph!
Norm: How has the publishing of your debut novel A Fight for Full Disclosure changed your perception of the process?
Dr. Berry: I believe that my perception of the process has been distorted.
Although It took me 12 years to complete my novel, it was accepted by the second publisher I sent it to. I envisioned a much longer process.
But, I want readers to understand that I’m still pinching myself over my good fortune. I consider myself extremely lucky to have found someone willing to publish my work as quickly as I did.
I intend to write another novel, and I don’t expect that my luck will necessarily hold. In the end, I thank my publisher, Gene Robinson, for making my experience in this regard so different than what I expected it to be.
Norm: What purpose do you believe your novel serves and what matters to you about the story? As a follow up, whom do you believe will benefit from your book and why?
Dr. Berry: If my novel serves a purpose, I hope it is to shed light on a process that very few people are privy to.
That is, the inner workings of medical institutions and some of the thought processes that go on in the minds of healthcare workers when it comes to investigating mishaps and telling the truth about those incidents.
Although the concept of full disclosure certainly is not mine, it is not accepted or practiced by most hospitals or their insurers, and perhaps my novel can inspire members of those organizations to try openness and honesty in these situations.
What matters to me about the story are some really old fashion concepts like—truth can triumph in adverse circumstances, but it often takes uncommon courage to make that happen, and there is often a significant price to be paid for standing up and speaking out to right a wrong.
Norm: What served as the primary inspiration for the book and how did you decide you were ready to write the book?
Dr. Berry: My primary inspiration for writing the book was the work that I did in my career to enhance patient safety in the hospital setting.
As described in the book, to create a culture of patient safety requires openness and honesty.
These concepts, and making full disclosures to patients when things go wrong, is part of creating that shift in culture. Full disclosure is a way of acknowledging mistakes, and pressuring one’s self to ensure that the causes of these mistakes are eliminated as thoroughly as possible so that the mistakes aren’t repeated.
Trying to ensure that mistakes are not repeated is probably the most meaningful act toward the patient and or the patient’s family that healthcare providers and institutions can do.
In the course of being in a hospital leadership position, there were several times when I had to meet with families and discuss untoward outcomes with them. In several cases patients died, but in other instances patients were injured but survived.
I met and discussed with these patients, and in some cases their families, exactly what happened and what was being done to prevent it from happening again. So, my inspiration for this story was a composite of many of my professional experiences including the necessity for disciplining physicians as well as witnessing cases in which physicians should have been disciplined but we’re not.
For the majority of my teenage and adult life, I wanted to be a “writer”. This story is based on professional exposures that eventually congealed in my head and they became so compelling that I could not not write this story.
At some point, the story was so driving and overwhelming that I had no choice but to sit down and begin.
Norm: What was your main focus when you created the characters of Dr. Warren Chambers and Dr. Harold Thompson?
Dr. Berry: My main focus or the primary elements of character that I wanted to bring out in Dr. Warren Chambers were first and foremost that he cared deeply about both his professional life and his personal life. I wanted to bring out his compassion, and I wanted to bring out his indecision or at least his inability to act quickly on different aspects of his life.
These traits come out several times in the story. I also wanted to root his indecision by delving into his childhood.
Finally, I tried to focus on how his compassion overcame his indecisiveness and the inner battle that he waged in besting his fears, self-doubt, and deficiencies in self-esteem.
As for Dr. Harold Thompson, I tried to focus on how a person with a strong sense of right and wrong survives in an environment where people are willing to quickly sacrifice those principles for what they consider a greater good.
Again, I tried to show the reader how Thompson’s tough upbringing both as a child and as an adolescent shaped his character and his willingness to stand up, really, without hesitation, to take those actions that he believed were right even if it meant a heavy cost to him—at least professionally—but also personally via the emotional stress he had to bear to do what he believed was the only path he could take.
Norm: How much of you is in the story?
Dr. Berry: A lot, a lot of me is in the story—from the way the main character Dr. Harold Thompson feels about things to the way he acts on things.
And, while I was writing the story, I was actually amazed at how my different life experiences and views could be expressed within the context of the story.
For instance, I have very strong feelings about the foster care system which didn’t necessarily have anything to do with the main subject of the novel, however, those feelings definitely came out in the backstory of one of the characters.
And, things that I’ve often thought to myself bubbled up and spilled onto the page—like when Thompson is bemoaning to himself how difficult his job is and he thinks “… remember when you just had to have this job…”. I’ve had that very thought not infrequently through the years. So, in many ways, big and small, the story is very much my story.
Norm: Did you learn anything from writing your novel and what was it?
Dr. Berry: I learned a lot about storytelling. I learned that backstory is fine as long as it keeps the front story moving. I learned more about how to decide what criticisms to accept and ultimately use to alter my manuscript and which criticisms to reject.
This is a tricky lesson to learn because I believe one needs to stay open to the opinions of others, but one also must learn that people’s critiques may be based on a vision quite different than your own. I learned not to be afraid to change elements of the plot as the story unfolds. Sometimes it is very important to maintain suspense and dramatic effect and to accomplish those ends means rethinking one’s original ideas.
I learned how self-editing is crucial and that reading what I write out loud is extremely helpful in creating the kind of word flow that I wanted. Overall, for me, writing this novel was very much a “going to school” experience.
Norm: How can readers find out more about you and A Fight For Full Disclosure?
Dr. Berry: Probably the best way to find out about me is to go to my website. By far, the best way to find out more about A Fight For Full Disclosure is to read it.
Norm: What is next for Dr. Stanley M. Berry?
Dr. Berry: I plan to retire toward the end of 2022. I recently got married for a second time, and my wife lives in my hometown of Minneapolis. I will be moving from the Detroit area to join her. I intend to make good progress on a second novel that I started, to spend time with my grandchildren and children, do some teaching, perhaps at the medical school level. I am also interested in teaching young people about writing, and I’ll find a venue to do that.
Norm: As this interview comes to an end, if you can invite three authors of fiction to your dinner table, who would they be and why?
Dr. Berry: Seated at my dinner table would be Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison and Ernest Hemingway. Toni Morrison would be my guest because I love the way she told her stories.
She was a master at using simile to make readers feel the mood or emotion she was trying to get across, and she was so on point with her use of historical context to further define her characters and the times they lived in.
I admit there were times when Morrison almost lost me. Tar Baby was a great example of this. I almost abandoned the book, but 40 pages in, the story and her characters grabbed me, and I couldn’t let go.
She fictionalized aspects of the Black experience and made them universal.
Ralph Ellison would be at my dinner table because Invisible Man was a sweeping depiction of Black life in America. Ellison’s style in that novel ranged from expository realism to the surreal and he used elements of jazz in his writing style. I also would invite him to my dinner table because Invisible Man was the only novel he completed.
Now that I find myself in the position of starting a second novel, I’d like to ask him if he could explain specifically what prevented him from completing other novels.
Ernest Hemingway would be at my dinner table because despite the fact that I believe his behavior was despicable in many ways, e.g. he was a racist and an anti-Semite and a man who glorified and romanticized macho behavior, I very much admire his writing style.
When he was at his best he was frugal with words and sometimes quite subtle in his storytelling—the best example of the latter I can think of is The Sun Also Rises. I’d like to question him about the basis for his bigoted opinions and I’d also like to ask him about the deep-seated unhappiness that I believe drove him to drink so heavily. I believe our dinner table discussion would be lively, passionate, and terribly interesting. I would be doing a lot more listening than talking.
Lastly, I thank you, Norm, for taking the time to do this interview because I think it has shed some light on me and the novel.
Norm: Thanks once again and good luck with all of your endeavors.