Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Guest Interview--Writer Julie Holland, Weekends at Bellevue, Part 3

photo: Cover of Weekends at Bellevue, from the previous interview post (see below)

As the title suggests, this is Part Three of my interview with writer, and Dr., Julie Holland.  She is the author of Weekends at Bellevue: Nine Years on the Night Shift at the Psych. ER.  This was a very easy and quick read, interesting and entertaining.  Part One of the interview is here, and Part Two is here.  Thanks to all who commented and emailed about it.  If you're interested in the book, or in Dr. Holland's other writings, go to her website here.

7.  Do you read anything outside of professional texts by any other medical professional, such as Oliver Sacks?  Overall, what else do you enjoy reading?  What are some of your favorite titles, and why? 

I read this book of short stories once, called Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard, that really made me feel like I could write, somehow. It was written simply, in first person present tense primarily, but it was completely inspirational for me, and it came at a good time in my musing about the memoir. I do like to read other doctors. Abraham Vergese is amazing, and I enjoy Oliver Sacks, and Andy Weil is someone I admire terribly. I tend toward non-fiction the most, in that I can rationalize I’m learning things I can pass on to my patients, so I end up reading a fair amount of self-help oriented things, and parenting books, which I can often digest in a very short time. For fiction, I’ve always been a fan of John Irving. I love symbolism and magical thinking, and he has plenty. And I used to read a lot of Stephen King when I was younger. Those books go down easy. But I don’t read those types of books anymore. I will always read the fiction piece in the New Yorker. I’ve always loved short stories, and I think Debra Treisman does a great job editing/choosing the authors.

8.  Do you now, or have you ever, felt that your field was dominated by one gender?  If so, can you explain how you work(ed) through that? 

Psychiatry is probably pretty woman-heavy compared to other medical fields. And gay men are over-represented as well, I’d say. So that’s never been a problem for me, feeling like I’m being kept down by
“the man.” Plus, growing up, all my friends were guys and I’ve always been a bit of a tomboy, so even when I was doing a surgery rotation, which was primarily men, I’d just play at being one of the guys, or I’d just flirt my way through the rotation. In the field of psychedelic research and drug policy reform, what I’ve noticed, actually is not so much a domination of one gender, as a preponderance of Jews! My theory is that Jewish people tend to make bad drinkers, given our low levels of the enzyme required to break down alcohol, so there are more pot smokers and drug takers among the “chosen people!” But, being a Jew as well, I fit right in with those guys too.

9.  In a nutshell, what are your thoughts about what it takes to be successful, at anything, for anyone?
I do believe “it takes a strong lure to nurse the hardships we endure.” (who said that? I did.) You need to be committed to a cause and not let the bastards get you down. It’s so easy to be a critic, be a naysayer. Whenever I’ve had good ideas, there have been people in positions of power and experience who’ve told me it wouldn’t work. And I said “watch.” I am an eternal optimist, and “no” is just a place to start negotiations. It drove my mother crazy, but it’s served me well. If my inuition says it’s the right thing to do, I follow my gut.

10.  Why did you decide to write a memoir about your experiences?  How did that come about?

Every single time I told someone that I ran the psych ER at Bellevue on weekends, they all said the same thing. And I mean all. “You should write a book.” They all wanted to hear stories. Everyone had questions. And I had answers. I wanted to explain things to them, about psychosis, the medicines, the crazy behavior not just from the patients. I saw some weird shit go down at that hospital that had nothing to do with the patients. I loved that place, and I wanted to share it with all the people who couldn’t get to do what I did, what I loved. It was easy to write because I was just telling stories. One night a naked kid barking like a dog came in. Another night I got punched in the face. One month this doctor and I kept butting heads. Then my friend died. I had plenty of material, and my memory was sharp, but the most important thing for me about that book was that I kept notes. After a weekend shift at the hospital, I’d come home Monday mornings and write emails to a friend of mine, like “you’ll never believe what happened this weekend.” And I started cutting and pasting my notes from those letters, and they formed the basis of the book. Interesting problem was, I stopped writing emails about my job after I got punched. So when I left Bellevue and decided to write the book, I had to reconstruct all the history from the night I got punched, onward, without any notes.

I'd like to thank Dr. Julie Holland again for doing this (long) interview.  Now go out there and finish your own writing, kids.  If such a busy woman can do it, what's our excuse?


  1. I second her praise of Abraham Vergese... have you read Cutting for Stone?

  2. Nope. This interview was the first I've heard of him. I'm putting him on my list of things to do...

  3. My mother would go nuts over Dr. Holland's theory of why "Jews can't drink". She has her own theories involving evolution that are more like Archie Bunker than scientific.

    This was a fantastic interview!