Excerpt from Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Beat the Reaper

A Novel

by Josh Bazell

Beat the Reaper
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2009, 320 pages
    Sep 2009, 336 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Donna Chavez

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Print Excerpt

I should also maybe say that drug reps, of whom there is one for every seven physicians in the U.S., get paid to be flirtatious. Or else to actually fuck you - I've never been quite clear on that.

"What company do you work for?" I ask.

"Martin-Whiting Aldomed," she says.

"Got any Moxfane?"

Moxfane is the drug they give to bomber pilots who need to take off from Michigan, bomb Iraq, then fly back to Michigan without stopping. You can swallow it or use it to run the engine.

"Well yes I do. But what are you gonna give me in return?"

"What do you want?" I say.

She's right up under me. "What do I want? If I start thinking about that, I'll start crying. Don't tell me you want to see that."

"Beats going to work."

She gives me the play slap and leans over to unzip her bag. If she's wearing underwear, it's not of any technology I'm familiar with. "Anyway," she says, "it's just things like a career. Or not having three roommates. Or not having parents who think I should have stayed in Oklahoma. I don't know that you can help me with that."

She stands up with a sample pack of Moxfane and a pair of Dermagels, the Martin-Whiting Aldomed eighteen-dollar rubber gloves. She says, "In the meantime, I might settle for showing you our new gloves."

"I've tried them," I say.

"Have you ever tried kissing someone through them?"


"Neither have I. And I've kind of been dying to."

She hip-checks the elevator "stop" button. "Oops," she says.

She bites the cuff of one of the gloves to tear it open, and I laugh. You know that feeling where you're not sure whether you're being hustled or in the presence of an actual human being?

I love that feeling.

"The ward is a fucking nightmare," Akfal, the other intern on my service, says when I finally show up to relieve him. What "Hello" is to civilians, "The ward is a fucking nightmare" is to interns.

Akfal is a J-Card from Egypt. J-Cards are graduates of foreign medical schools whose visas can be rescinded if they don't keep their residency directors happy. Another good word for them would be "slaves." He hands me a printout of current patients - he's got one too, though his is marked up and heavily creased - and talks me through it. Blah blah Room 809 South. Blah blah colostomy infection. Blah thirty-seven-year-old woman for regularly scheduled chemotherablah. Blah blah blah blah blah. It's impossible to follow, even if you wanted to.

Instead I'm leaning back against the nursing station desk, which is reminding me that I'm still carrying a handgun in the inside pocket of my scrub pants.[4]

[4] Scrub suits are reversible, with pockets on both sides, in case you need to run anesthesia or whatever but are too tired to put your pants on correctly.

I need to stash the gun somewhere, but the locker room is four floors away. Maybe I should hide it behind some textbooks in the nurses' lounge. Or under the bed in the call room. It doesn't really matter, as long as I can focus enough to remember where I put it later.

Eventually Akfal stops talking. "Got it?" he asks me.

"Yeah," I say. "Go home and get some sleep."

"Thanks," Akfal says.

Akfal will neither go home nor get some sleep. Akfal will go do insurance paperwork for our residency director, Dr. Nordenskirk, for at least the next four hours.

It's just that "Go home and get some sleep" is intern for "Goodbye."

Rounding on patients at five thirty in the morning usually turns up at least a handful of people who tell you they'd feel fine if only you assholes would stop waking them up every four hours to ask them how they're feeling. Other people will keep this observation to themselves, and bitch instead about how someone keeps stealing their mp3 player or medications or whatever. Either way, you give the patient the once-over, keeping a particularly sharp lookout for "iatrogenic" (physician caused) and "nosocomial" (hospital caused) illnesses, which together are the eighth leading cause of death in the United States. Then you flee.

Copyright © 2009 by Josh Bazell. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.

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