One week of being a doctor (07/2017)

After all the studying, the tests, the sacrifice, the doubt, the resent for medicine, and six weeks of being an M.D. only in title, it was time to be a doctor. I would start with four weeks in the Psychiatric Emergency Department,

When patients in a mental health crisis come to Mount Sinai, they are triaged like any other patient coming to the emergency room. A nurse gets their story, takes their vitals, and decides whether they need to go to the medicine side of the ER to get medically cleared or if they can go straight to Psychiatry. The Psych ED

I walked in through the Staff Only door, introduced myself, and took a seat at one of the computers.

There weren't any patients listed on the whiteboard 

No patients. Nada. Four hours as a working doctor and I hadn't seen a single soul. I went to grab lunch, but I couldn't really enjoy it. Without seeing a patient, I was still in doctor limbo. 

Someone was waiting for me.

An older woman, her red-dyed hair in disarray, confused and scared. She rocked back and forth and rubbed her legs as if they were stained with her anxiety. You're my first patient, I thought as I saw he sitting there. She would probably forget me by the end of the day but, in some fashion, I'd remember her forever. 

Somewhere along the interview I stopped worrying about how I would be evaluated. I was a doctor, and this lady needed my help. 

Perhaps more than any other field of medicine, psychiatry relies on more than just the patient before you. Outside information is important. 

Another patient stands out in my memory. A young man--still just a kid--coming in with first break psychosis. Though he had been secretly battling with the beginnings of his illness for some time, his family saw him go from a motivated, productive individual to someone scared to death about what was happening to him.

Pretty much everyone who I admitted either didn't want to go up or wasn't sure about it. Everyone I discharged wanted to stay longer. That's the tricky part of the Psych ED. Like a regular ED, our job is to assess risk. Is this patient a harm to his or herself or other people? The patient may not think she is. Or the patient may say yes, but then the 

The important thing to remember is that the latter are still sick. They still need help. They still need care. But if someone walks into an Operating Room with indigestion, you don't perform heart surgery on them, even if they really want it. 

I Like Stories In Which All The Men Are Dead

I wore my Clarion West shirt to Readercon. It reads "I like stories in which all the men are dead."

Some people loved it. Others scratched their head, said wow, and moved on. One guy looked like he was ready to take out all his pent up rage about the direction Sci fi and fantasy is going on me.

Let me explain. At Clarion we taught each other a lot. One of the things we grappled with was the portrayal of women in writing. This included critiquing and facing issues of abuse, consent, using women as a man's motivation, and more.

So, no, our quote isn't literal. We don't want to remove all men from fiction. But it embodies the thought of thinking of women first in fiction. What happens when they are not just set pieces? What happens when we stop looking at them from the male gaze? Maybe if we 'kill' our men characters (in whatever metaphorical way you choose, this is writing btw!), our women can live more on the page.

For me, someone at clarion, after my third or so story, said she would like to see me try a woman protagonist. Before that, in my head Afiya was a man.

Best advice I've taken up so far in writing.

On the eve of doctoring....

Today is probably the highest I will feel about my professional self for a while. I was published in F&SF (a big writing deal) and start residency tomorrow (a big doctor deal). I have every reason to feel confident and proud in my abilities.

But inevitably I will be brought down a few levels. I WILL make mistakes. I WILL get rejections. I WILL have moments where I feel like I'm not supposed to be here. I'm not writing enough, I'm not learning enough, I'm not giving enough.

But that is part of growth. I will need to remember how I feel now. And remember that this combined high may not come again for years.

But it will. And when it does it will be to new heights.

In other words, bring on the next stage!

Afiya's Song

It's here! My novelette, Afiya's Song, has been published in the oh-so-fantastic Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. It is the story of a slave woman in the American South who has the power to heal herself and others with her song. It was inspired by what I saw missing in Hollywood's recent infatuation with slavery.

I am honored to share it with you.


  • I wrote this story for instructor Nalo Hopkinson at Clarion West. It was the story I now believe I went to Clarion to write.
  • Cory Doctorow offered to buy the story for BoingBoing but, being the good mentor that he is, advised me to go after the big magazines first. So, I did.
  • F&SF editor C. C. Finlay had been serving me encouraging personal rejections for years. I had a flicker of a hope that Afiya's Song would be the one to get him to take a chance on me.
  • I received the news of acceptance while on interview day for the Mount Sinai Psychiatry Residency Program. I couldn't hold my excitement and told the residency director, Dr. Antonia New, and she was thrilled. My first day as a Mount Sinai Resident is on Monday.
  • As of writing this, I have not yet had a chance to read the issue but I hear it is excellent and I am making it a priority.
  • I am over the hills excited!

Table of Contents (my impressions to come)

  • There Was a Crooked Man, He Flipped a Crooked House – David Erik Nelson
  • The Masochist's Assistant – Auston Habershaw
  • The Bride in Sea-Green Velvet – Robin Furth
  • I Am Not I – G.V. Anderson
  • Afiya's Song – Justin C. Key
  • In a Wide Sky, Hidden – William Ledbetter
  • A Dog's Story – Gardner Dozois
  • An Obstruction to Delivery – Sean Adams
  • An Unearned Death – Marissa Lingen
  • Northwest Cruise – Sophie M. White

Buy Links

Paper copies and subscriptions

Weightless Books

Amazon US (Kindle edition)

Amazon UK (Kindle edition)

If you've read the story, please leave comments below. I'd love to hear from you!