Welcome to NJ Gallegos’ blog… lol. It sort of reminds me of my middle school journal but this will probably be less embarrassing.
Let’s chat about how I got here. Grab a Cream Soda and read on.
The last two years have been insane for everyone in the world and I graduated Emergency Medicine residency four years before the pandemic hit.
Initially the ERs emptied out, leaving us chatting with other staff for hours in an empty Emergency Department before a patient checked in.. a total 180 from the typical influx of people.
And we read about what COVID did to people overseas and in New York, how it killed completely healthy people, some of them doctors treating the critically ill patients. There were so many bodies they couldn’t keep up.
People were afraid then.
Quarantining, isolating, avoiding going out in public or to the hospital for fear of contracting the terrifying virus.
Calm before the storm.
Then shit hit the fan.
People who nursed injuries, illnesses, and worsening chronic medical conditions waited at home until they were practically dead, dramatically increasing the complexity of their issues and their mortality rates.
Mental health worsened for everyone… people were isolated from major support systems for fear of spreading disease; people couldn’t access resources due to offices closing or tele-health issues. Not to mention that people cooped up together for weeks at a time tended to piss each other right the hell off. Add alcohol, meth, or knives to the equation and you can imagine how well things were going.
And if that wasn’t bad enough… COVID came around, hitting us harder than the softball that broke my nose in high school.
People with chronic medical conditions like COPD, cancer, or the immunosuppressed were at especially high risk for badness, disability, or death. For most people it was like a really bad adenovirus or bout of influenza.
Some developed lingering medical issues as a result of the infection: fatigue, blood clotting, diminished lung capacity to name just a few.
But some… several people younger than me with no medical problems, came in looking dusky, a little winded, tachycardic. We’d check their vitals and examine them. I had a strapping 22-year-old man with an oxygen saturation of 9% on room air (as with school, 90-100% is ideal), who initially improved with a nasal cannula and then rapidly deteriorated, and we had no choice but to intubate him and place him on a ventilator.
But because we’d been down this road before: intubating people who never got off the vent, we made sure he talked to everyone important to him before because there was an extremely high chance that he’d never speak to anyone again. The tremble in his voice when he hung up and said he was ready, trying to be brave while we stood around him in strict PPE, unable to even give him a comforting smile. I intubated him, a terrifying experience because of how unstable he was. Then afterwards, I thought about him and worried about myself; my now-wife, an APN in the ER working alongside me; my friends and colleagues; family, possibly facing a similar fate if we got infected.
He didn’t ever get off the vent, by the way. COVID killed a healthy 22-year-old man who hadn’t even begun to live along countless other people.
Repeat this over and over and it’s a sure recipe for depression and burnout.
I needed an outlet, desperately, for my mental health.
I turned to my other passions: art, a tried and true hobby passed down from my beloved grandfather; reading tons of books; cooking with my wife; and binging every season of every The Real Housewives (except Miami, we’re not caught up yet!).
Seeing daily how short and fragile life could be filled me with drive to accomplish my goals and what better than ticking off a major bucket list item?
Write a novel.
I’d always gravitated to horror early on in my life and my mother had no qualms in showing me age-inappropriate horror gems. At one point, we’d rented every single horror flick in our local movie rental haunt and I developed an active and weird imagination and nurtured a still-lingering-fear of Xenomorphs. Goosebumps was badass… what with the haunted ventriloquist dummies and haunted masks and all, and I read through them quickly, using up my allowance from chores on fine literature and Spice Girls posters. Having exhausted my resources (both book and monetary), I asked my mom for an extension and instead, she tossed Stephen King’s “The Stand” at me and said, “read this in an hour, you little shit”.
I was HOOKED. And it took a LOT longer than an hour. That motherfucker is 1,152 pages!
Alanis Morissette might find it ironic that an apocalyptic plague novel ignited my love for story and I decided to write because of a real-life pandemic.
At first I didn’t tell anyone of my novel aspirations because I felt like a major imposter. Who was I to think I could write a book? Sure I pretty much loved reading all the assigned stuff in school (except The Scarlett Letter, the only book I DNFed in my young life and had to buy CliffNotes for. College was at UCCS in Colorado Springs (I adore that place) where I majored in Biology and Chemistry, and had to do requisite English/Literature classes that I generally disliked because I felt they were too subjective and were seriously mucking up my medical school applications with their Bs (I know, I was one of those people).
Medical school and residency left little time for leisure activities so one had to carefully pick and choose what to do besides studying. Instead of reading for pleasure or working on art, I ran around my small town listening to EDM music or went to the gym almost daily and studied… a lot.
Long hours standing in a smelly anatomy lab… studying studying studying… finals one after another… STEP exams, the results of which dictate a significant portion of a medical student future depending on desired specialty… rotations working with tons of new people, trying to be the best medical student ever…
It’s exhausting. No time for activities.
Then it’s applying for residencies, interviewing in far flung places, and The Match: probably one of the most anxiety-producing events where medical students find out if they matched to a program but they don’t tell you where for a few days to really test you.
Residency was its own self-contained horror and delight which I will touch on at a later date. One of the best parts about my training program (besides the academics, awesome attendings and fellow residents) was meeting a really bad ass nurse who was phenomenal at her job (which I find like… super hot), gorgeous, crude and hilarious, and insanely smart .
Spoiler alert! She’s my wife as of this September. As Beyonce once said, “If you liked it you shoulda put a ring on it” which I think is lovely.
Graduate residency and like that: BAM, I’m an attending! The one doctor in the ER and sometimes at night, in the entire hospital, and that idea is pants-shittingly scary so after work I read obsessively and studied, terrified if I didn’t know EVERYTHING, I might accidentally kill someone or not recognize something key. Also… studying for board certification exams, one written and the other… oral (think that Grey’s Anatomy episode where they did their oral surgical boards at the hotel and get your mind out of the gutter… pervert).
But I kept at it, sporadically writing short stories and drabbles, testing out the publication waters with some successes of which I share here if you’re interested: https://njgallegos.com/home/41-2/
I watched a documentary about psychedelics on Netflix and during a long drive from Denver to my hometown with my love, listening to music and thinking, I came up with a the idea that led to a chapbook that is a sometimes humorous love letter to my home state of Colorado… starring a perpetual screw-up who copes with a bad breakup by doing lots of drugs and starts a forest fire with an errant joint, and is mauled to death by a bear. You know, your standard stuff. Luckily Alien Buddha Press liked my warped mind and published “Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires”, giving me a published book of my own!
Shameless plug: link for story here at https://a.co/d/6pokM1w
One night at work, I sat down to pee and to pass the time, I read the flyers tacked up on the bulletin board. Coworker’s kid selling cupcakes (I ordered 2 dozen, go Tumbling Tornados!), cafeteria menu, and a flyer for Gift of Hope for organ donation.
And like any normal ER doctor would wonder at 3:58 AM, I thought:
What would happen if a nice housewife got a heart transplant from a serial killer and then went apeshit on her family?
Hence my upcoming novel, “The Broken Heart”, my BUCKET LIST goal of life, upcoming 2023.
I participated in Twitter’s #PitDark and netted a like on a pitch from Michael Dolan with Winding Road Stories. If an editor, agent, or publisher “likes” your pitch for your story, essentially they’re inviting you to submit a fairly polished manuscript to them and if they like your warped tale…
Together, like Baron Henry von Frankenstein and Igor, we will bring her… TO LIFE.
You’ll see in 2023.