Writing about diseases

Before you write about a disease, you have to understand it, and understand what is a disease.

Simply, something has gone wrong in your body after you have been infected by bacteria, viruses, prions, or consumed food or liquids, or breathed in gases or particulates, or collided with a stationary or moving object. Or maybe the disease came from your genes, a time-bomb ticking at your birth.

How the disease started is important, because therapy involves stopping whatever caused it if possible, or making the patient comfortable and active as long as possible.

If you are a life scientist, with no healthcare experience, you need to learn some physiology. Supposing you are writing about hypertension aka high blood pressure, you need to understand blood flow through large and small vessels, interaction with the kidneys, formation and elimination of urine, and the targets of the 30 or so drugs marketed for hypertension in the United States. You need to understand why diet and exercise are recommended, and why and how these are effective.

My own formal education was in biochemistry, chemistry, genetics, physiology and pharmacology, but before that, I was born to two physicians who met across the river from the heart of London while bombs were dropping during the 4-year terror attack on London. I was delivered by a knight-obstetrician and brought home to a house out of which my mother ran a general practice.

When I was 6 I was taken to New Zealand where we lived in gorgeous houses on the grounds of the late but wonderful Cook Hospital Gisborne. Where I enjoyed visiting my father in the pathology laboratory, playing with buckets of mercury and occasionally rescuing a guinea pig, going with my mother to afternoon teas with other doctors’ wives, and experiencing the miracle of childbirth when my mother produced a tiny slippery pink thing that my father said was my 4th brother. When I really wanted a sister.

My parents were not nearly as much fun when we moved to Australia when I was 9, but I learned early on, from my mother’s milk, the great importance of accuracy in medical terminology, accurate diagnosis, accurate treatments. And I learned treatments, which are based on cleanliness, fresh air, what and how we eat, and constant movement.

Writing about diseases. SJ Dodgson MJoTA 2016 v11n1p0317

To contact the director, Dr Dodgson, drdodgson@medicalwritinginstitute.us