Q. When you were an intern, did you already see yourself as a writer?
A. Yes. It’s said that writers and artists don’t come from happy childhoods, and mine was not good. I thought I might be a sculptor. [In 1968, while at Oxford on a Rhodes scholarship] I started to write: plays, short stories, poems. I loved writing, but in 1969 the very easy choice came between Vietnam or Harvard Med, so I chose Harvard Med.
Q. Did you keep a journal during your internship?
A. That was the one year I didn’t keep a journal.
Q.What inspired you to write “The House of God”?
A. All of my writing is about one thing: the danger of isolation and the healing power of good, mutual connection. If you get isolated, as in “The House of God,” you can go crazy. You can commit suicide. It happens in medicine. To put it very simply, during internship, each of us got isolated. We not only got isolated from each other, we got isolated from our authentic experience of the system itself. You start to think: I’m crazy for thinking this is crazy.
Q. It was published under a pseudonym. Q. Did anybody know you’d written it?
A. People in the Boston medical world knew it was me. I was just starting my practice as a psychiatrist and I thought I could prevent my patients from seeing me as this radical, sexy, young guy. But they all found out immediately.
And please join us @ the book launch for At the Heart of the Universe:
Samuel Shem in conversation with Adam Pertman, Adoption Nation, and with Katie Surrey-Bergman and Janet Surrey. At Soho Playhouse, 14 Vandam Street, NYC. November 14, Monday at from 7 to 8:45. Free