Authors on Stage: Pam Belluck

Category: Authors
Location: Adrian Lamb Room

Authors on Stage welcomes award-winning New York Times reporter Pam Belluck on Sunday, October 21, 2012, at 4 p.m. in the Adrian Lamb Room. Ms. Belluck will discuss her new book, Island Practice.

Dr. Timothy Lepore is Nantucket’s only surgeon. He is also a libertarian gun aficionado and roadkill collector, the local football team doctor, a marathon runner, tick expert, unofficial psychologist, occasional veterinarian, and a man who knits sweaters out of dog hair. Lepore has been a medical mainstay on the island for nearly three decades and is as idiosyncratic a character as any of his patients.  In Island Practice, Belluck takes readers into Lepore’s world, showing what it is like to practice medicine in a unique yet quintessentially American community. 

Lepore (rhymes with “peppery”) has treated the famous: John Kerry, Jimmy Buffet, and Ted Kennedy's in-laws, as well as the not so famous: Nantucket locals and laborers and the annual tide of summer visitors. And he’s treated every affliction: from Cobblestone Rash (contracted from falling or stumbling drunk on Nantucket’s picturesquely uneven streets) and overboard yachtsmen, to a baby with toe-tourniquet syndrome, a human leg washed up on the beach, a horse with Lyme disease, a narcoleptic falling face first in the street, and a hermit living underground. No matter what, Lepore is the go-to guy.

IslandPractice.jpgBut Lepore also has to confront the particular challenges of island life that can affect people's health and health care: the isolation; the fishbowl nature of a small community, which makes it hard to keep personal information private; the complex relationship between Nantucket and the mainland; and the temperamental weather that can force him to handle emergencies beyond the scope of his training when fog or storms make it impossible to airlift patients to Boston. For these reasons, Lepore rarely leaves the island, except to continue his unbroken 40-year streak of running the Boston Marathon, and never drinks on the island—not since the night decades ago when he was at a party, sipping some wine, when he got a call to treat a 14-year-old boy who had been gravely injured in a moped accident.

Lepore bends the rules often: His waiting room is not one where patients can’t get in the door without wielding their insurance cards, as he accepts payments in everything from oatmeal raisin cookies to road-killed rabbits for his red-tailed hawk, Ajax.  He can also be controversial and contradictory, espousing conservative views while performing abortions and giving patients marijuana cookies.

At a time when America's family doctors are under siege, Lepore is an extraordinary character. He is the glue that holds health care together on this historically-celebrated island with its cast of independent-minded eccentrics living life 30 miles out at sea. Island Practice takes readers deeply into a world where life can sometimes seem to be forgotten by time and sometimes seem to be overtaken by it, a place that sits apart from the rest of the country and is yet inextricably tied to its struggles and transformations.

Island Practice was published in June 2012 by Public Affairs. In July 2012, Imagine Entertainment optioned the book to develop a TV series with 20th Century Fox Television, and in August 2012 the medical drama was bought by CBS.

Pam Belluck has been a staff writer for the New York Times for more than 15 years, during which she has written about everything from cattle rustling to embryo adoption, reported from places as diverse as Medellin, Colombia, and Seongham, South Korea. She served for more than a decade as national bureau chief, covering some of the biggest stories for the paper. She is currently a health and medical writer for the Times. She has won several awards, a Knight Fellowship, and a Fulbright Scholarship.