The nose knows

Like a lot of people left of the spectrum, I’ve done my fair share of bitching about Corporate America. For years, this complaining was backed up with practically no direct experience. Then, in the late ‘90s, I did a year-and-half-stint at Sutter Health, the Sacramento-based health care giant with more than 30 hospitals in Northern California. I now feel qualified to unequivocally state that Corporate America sucks.

I didn’t meet Dr. David A. Evans, author of Doctor Nose, a self-published “medical mystery thriller,” during my tenure at Sutter Health. I spent most of my time on the seventh floor of the Sutter Cancer Center near the edge of Midtown, where the administrative offices for Sutter Health’s Sacramento-area hospitals are located; Dr. Evans was over in East Sac performing ear, nose and throat surgery. Nevertheless, the fictitious settings and antagonists Evans has created in his first novel seem strangely familiar.

Dr. Drucker Lampling is an ear, nose and throat surgeon who has hospital privileges with Simpleton Hospital System, “a corporation that owned many hospitals in northern California.” Dr. Lampling, like Dr. Evans in real life, is a specialist, as opposed to a family practice doctor, or what used to be called a general practitioner. Simpleton Hospital System, like Sutter Health in real life, is embroiled in a dispute with specialists over fees. Simpleton wants the specialists to reduce their fees so the hospital corporation will be more competitive with other healthcare entities. Dr. Lampling and the other specialists, who operate as independent contractors with their own medical practices, claim that reducing their fees will put them out of business.

In real life, during the rise of managed care during the past 20 years, the dispute between hospitals and physicians over financial compensation has remained one of the most insoluble issues. It’s been a violent struggle, with blood spilled on both sides, generally in the form of red ink. However, Doctor Nose is a work of fiction, even if the name of Simpleton Hospital System’s Chief Operating Officer, Harry Klass, does sound uncomfortably similar to Larry Maas, Sutter Health Central’s Chief Operating Officer. Metaphorical blood will not do. So, one day while out for a jog, Drucker Lampling stumbles over the body of a dead nurse, June Bingham, an operating room supervisor at Simpleton Hospital whom he happens to have worked with many times. Lampling calls the police and immediately becomes the prime suspect in the murder.

What follows is your basic whodunit as Dr. Lampling turns private investigator to prove his own innocence. As Evans’ alter-ego, Lampling makes no secret about his love for pulp fiction, and he cracks wise at every opportunity—for instance, he hacks into Klass’s computer by guessing the COO’s password: PRICK.

Unfortunately, while Dr. Evans is well respected in the field of otolaryngology, he’s made a crucial error here in his first literary offering: Only a fool edits his own work. Which is to say that sometimes the wisecracks work, but most of the time they don’t, making Lampling appear weak, and even stupid, as a protagonist. Evans’ prose-style could have benefited from an editor as well. He’s at his best describing medical procedures, which seem almost as gruesome in print as they are in real life. He’s at his worst whenever Lampling strays outside the operating room.

Still, there’s enough tension in the plot—just who did kill June, and why?—to keep the story moving forward. It’s by no means a masterpiece, but Doctor Nose is a worthwhile tale, with a built-in audience of 7,000: the employees of Sutter Health Central, all of whom are encouraged to read this medical mystery thriller.

Who knows? You might be in it. Maybe you even did it.