July 25, 2019

Q&A with Philip Levin

Dr. Caskey:  You talk about writing skills coming from both sides of your ancestry - almost being born into it.  How did you come to choose medicine as your primary profession?  And how have you balanced being a great physician with being a great writer?

Dr. Levin:  While I have a passion for writing, I am also passionate about my medical career.  The drive to help my fellow man, the lure of the diagnosis, the ability to mobilize compassion for the ill into a healing hand creates an essential joy of spiritual fulfillment.  Even as a child I knew I wanted to be a doctor, though I also knew I wanted to be a writer.  I understood that financially, writing couldn’t support me.  I remember my mother calculating her yearly income one year, dividing it by the hours put into her writing, and reporting she had earned three cents an hour. 

Emergency medicine provides a unique opportunity of work time and off time.  EM physicians never take call, have several days off, and can easily pursue their hobbies.  Being a physician also provides a cornucopia of material, real life drama, passion, joy, and tragedy, from which to draw writing material, both fact and fiction.

Dr. Caskey:  You quote Chekhov, “Medicine is my wife, writing my mistress.”  For those who haven't found a mistress, a fulfilling hobby, what suggestions do you have for exploring a new interest or uncovering a hidden talent?

Dr. Levin:  We’re all created unique individuals, and subject to the winds of our circumstances.  Some people find fulfillment from their work and eschew hobbies or other interests.  However, most physicians have the intellectual interests and emotional drives to pursue artistic outlets, either passively such as attending opera or studying languages, or actively, like growing orchids or playing an instrument.  Try something you’ve always found interesting, be it painting, or cabinet building, or working on old cars, and your passion for your new vocation will flourish.

Dr. Caskey:  Many of us are looking for a "break" from the struggles of our work (medicine), a place to escape.  Others are looking for deeper meaning, discovery, or introspection.  Would you describe writing for you to be a release, an escape?  What emotional or spiritual rewards have you discovered?

Dr. Levin:  Writing offers a plethora of opportunities for both introspection and exposition.  Some prefer private thoughts, memoirs, poetry, and diaries.  These provide excellent opportunities both to keep your memories and to contemplate your decisions and life course.  As medical professionals, we can share our knowledge for the betterment of other’s health.  I publish regularly in local magazines, such as “Parents and Kids” and “Gulf Coast Woman.”  Some of my happiest times are out at the local arts & crafts fairs where I set up a booth displaying and selling my books.  It’s an incredible ego boost to have some nine-year-old chubby-cheeked boy run up to my booth, point to one of my books, and call out, “That book is awesome!

Over the years I’ve developed a local reputation as a writer.  Friends, in anticipation of my travel blogs, ask me when I’m taking my next trip, they ask when my next book is coming out and what it will be about, or they compliment me on a poem or article of mine they’ve read.  I know that every person I’ve helped in the E.D. has an individual temporary gain, but my books will live on, having an impact long after I’m gone.  I have no aspirations to be a world-famous or even nationally renowned author.  I’m satisfied that my writing is good and appreciated locally.

Dr. Caskey:  In order to hone any craft, dedication and time are often required.  How do you balance writing without it becoming another 'to do' list item, or yet another commitment, on a physician's already very busy plate?

Dr. Levin:  Writing is not my career.  Don’t tell the IRS this, it’s really more of a hobby.  I don’t try to write every day.  I have a few deadlines, like for the magazine articles, but mostly I write when I’m in the mood.  I’m a multi-genre kind of guy.  I have seven non-fiction books, a murder mystery, a contemporary romance, a bible book, seven children’s books, a poetry book, and a series of audio-books.  At the moment I’m working on a fantasy novel about a man captured by mermaids.  If it stops being fun, I’ll probably stop doing it.  However, just like I never get tired of emergency medicine, I doubt I’ll ever want to stop writing, either.

Last but not least, Dr. Levin shared a story from his newest book, "Searching for Gildeen," a collection of 28 medical short stories.

The Drug Raid

by Philip L. Levin, MD, FACEP

Linda Ann glanced up at the clock. Only three a.m. Pulling her ample buttocks off the shaky metal stool, she stretched. “What we need around here is a little action.”

“Now you hush your mouth, Linda Ann,” another nurse admonished. “You know that’s bad luck.”

Linda Ann laughed. “In this sleepy little town? Nothing’s ever gonna happen here.” She swung around slowly, looking at the only two patients among the nine curtained cubicles.  “Guess I’ll go check on Mrs. Jones.”

“Hey, since you’re up, check on Barbie, too. If her headache’s gone, let her call for her ride.”

Linda Ann slipped into cubicle six and pulled the curtains closed. Checking the IV, she let her hand run gently along the bruises and skin tears left behind by an understaffed nursing home. Linda Ann hoped she’d be dead before she ended up in Whispering Pines.

She froze at loud voices from outside the curtain. Peeking at the edge, she counted four men, dressed all in black even to the ski masks. They were waving guns. Linda Ann backed up against the one solid wall, hoping to melt right through it.

One of the men threw back the curtain and pointed his gun at her. “Get out here you.”

Linda Ann paused; the man’s stance looked familiar.  “I said come out here.” This time the man nearly shouted. His voice sounded familiar too.

When she stepped out she glanced at the far end of the room where two of the attackers held the three other staff secure in a small bay. Linda Ann’s gaze drifted to the counter. Not twelve feet away sat the red phone, the one hardwired to the police dispatcher. All she’d have to do was knock it off its perch and police would come investigate.

Her captor directed her to the drug dispensing machine.

“Open it up. Let’s see what you got … you know; Demerol … and them Percocets.”

Linda Ann bent to enter her code in the security lock when she stopped abruptly. “What did you say?” She turned and stared into the ski-masked face. He stared back.

“I wanta hear you talk again,” she insisted, but the fellow remained silent. She walked up to him, studied his profile a moment more, and then lifted up the ski mask. “I thought recognized that voice. Jerry P. Kelly, just what the hell do you think you’re doing?”

The other attackers pulled off their masks, and Jerry patted down his hair with one hand.

“Surprise! It’s a drill.”

Linda looked around the room, recognizing the four men that made up the security guard team here at Memorial Hospital. She shook her finger at one of them. “George Conrad, you should be ashamed of yourself!”

George gave her a little smile. “You shoulda seen your face. I thought you was gonna pee them pants.” Jerry gave a small chuckle.

“Funny?” Linda Ann choked on her words. “You thought this was funny! Threatening someone with a loaded gun is your idea of a joke?”

“Ah, the guns weren’t loaded. Show them George.” Obediently George pointed his shotgun at the copying machine and let both barrels go click-click.

Linda Ann began to reach for the red phone but paused, and redirected to her purse.  “Funny huh? Then you’re going to love this.” She unzipped a side pocket and pulled out a derringer, a tiny antique thing with a shiny barrel. She raised it slowly until it pointed straight at Jerry’s head. “Mine’s loaded to poppin’ Mister Jerry P. Kelly. And I’ve got half a mind to shoot this off in self-defense.”

Jerry backed up a step, but Linda Ann leisurely advanced, the gun held steady.

“I got plenty of witnesses who will testify that I was terrified out of my mind. Why, I’m certain no court in the world would convict me.”

Jerry backed until he was flat against the glass wall.

Linda Ann came closer, bringing the gun to rest snugly against Jerry’s left temple. She pushed in, just a touch, indenting the skin against the bone beneath.

“The more I think about it, the more I like this idea. You know, Jerry, I’ve never really liked you.”

“Now wait a minute, Linda Ann. This wasn’t anything personal. I thought we were all past that. This here … this here is just about hospital safety. You know I’m the safety officer.

You do know that, right?”

Linda Ann raised her other hand and slowly pulled back the hammer until it clicked into place. “I’ll tell you what I know, Mr. Safety Officer, Sir. I know how you’re always making comments about my legs in public. Yes sir, I’ve heard them. And I’ve seen you and your boys here pointing and laughing.”

“No, No. That ain’t right. We weren’t laughing at your legs.”

“Really? Then, what were you laughing at, Mr. Safety Officer, Sir? What is it about my rear view that you find so amusing?”

Jerry’s sweat began to drip down the gun and onto her hand. She pushed a little harder.

“Linda Ann. Baby. This was only a joke.”

“Don’t you go calling me Baby. I never was your Baby and I never will be. Because this is the end of the road for you, Mr. Safety Man.”

She pulled the trigger and the hammer flew closed. It clicked.

In the silence that followed, Linda Ann casually withdrew the gun and dropped it back into her purse. “Oh. I guess mine isn’t loaded either. My mistake.”

Jerry collapsed onto the floor. Sliding against the counter, he stared up at Linda Ann.

“You think that was funny?”

Linda Ann nodded slightly. “I thought it was hilarious.”

He is very open for those curious about writing, and budding authors can email him.

By Michelle Caskey, MD


Philip Levin is an Emergency Medicine physician and a writer.  He says, “I came by my writing skills from both sides of my ancestry. My mother, Beatrice S. Levin, published about 30 books and a thousand articles. As well as being the author of scores of scientific works, my father, Franklyn K. Levin, edited the magazine Geophysics for several years, taking up poetry after retirement.”  He has published novels, photo-illustrated children’s books, poetry, and historical fiction.  He is fiercely dedicated to promoting others interested in writing as well.  He has served as the president of the Gulf Coast Writers Association, organized writing conferences, and given many lectures.  He even hosts a weekly television show!