| Richard E Sall's
|Bakersfield Californian August 14, 2006
Doctor writes about what he knows
BY EMILY HAGEDORN, Californian staff writer
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org | Saturday, Aug 12 2006 8:30 PM
Last Updated: Saturday, Aug 12 2006 8:34 PM
Don't let sterile, sparsely decorated doctors' offices fool you. They are ripe with inspiration.
For Dr. Richard Sall, big ideas live in interesting diagnoses, cost-conscious administrators, bold physicians and in doctors of the past.
"I like strong heroes, like Dirty Harry, that buck the system," said Sall, an occupational medicine doctor and medical director of Business Health Network in Bakersfield.
The 59-year-old physician/author has written three books, fiction and nonfiction, all having to do with health care.
And along with finding inspiration at his day job, Sall also found an illustrator to do his two most recent books' covers: Eric "Ray" Oros, 17, the son of one of the women who works in his office.
"Each person with their medical problems is like their own little story that needs a solution," Sall said.
An unlikely start
If college is an indicator of someone's future career choices, Sall should detest writing.
Attending Wayne State University in Detroit, Sall got a D on a freshman English paper. After Sall rewrote the paper over and over, trying to bring it up to par, the professor accused him of plagiarism. Since the charge couldn't be proved, the professor said Sall's grade on the final exam would be his grade for the class.
Reading the exam's essay question -- "It had to do with existentialism; I didn't even know what existentialism meant" -- Sall packed up all his things and left the final, giving up.
He got as far as the first stop light before he turned around and came back to try his best.
Sall passed with a C.
An accidental passion
Stall stumbled on to writing almost by accident.
He started by collecting and cataloging information on workers' compensation to help him at work.
At some point, though, he realized he had amassed enough information for a book, so his stacks of papers and computer files became "Strategies in Workers' Compensation," published in June 2004.
"When you see something the first time in print, you're really surprised," he said. "Then that wears off, accompanied by frustration because it's so hard to have a title recognized."
Next came "Straightjacket," a novel, in April.
In that book, naive and talented surgeon Joe Grady butts heads with a hospital administrator and must complete 10 major cases in the next 30 days or find somewhere else to hang his stethoscope. At the same time, Grady is falling in love with a nurse who has a "dangerously demented" mother.
Sall hadn't meant to go into fiction writing. He just wanted to highlight the goings-on at a hospital.
"Most people don't know what's in a doctor's mind," he said.
A friend suggested putting his vignettes into story form since people seem drawn to narratives.
"I thought about it, and just started doing it," he said of pulling the pieces into fiction. "I wasn't sure if I was going to be successful or not. I just worked at it month after month."
An unlikely partnership
The next problem arose when Book Surge, a self-publishing company, sent artwork of three belts and two knives crisscrossing the the cover.
It didn't really fit the book, Sall said.
Monica Miranda Oros, an authorization clerk in Sall's office, suggested that Sall work with her then-16-year-old son. He had just finished a class in Photoshop at the Southwest Educational Center at the New Life Apostolic Church, on Hughes Lane.
"I thought she was just being a proud mother," Sall said. "I didn't think it would work out."
But he gave the boy a chance.
Two to three days later, Oros produced an image of a person in a straightjacket in front of an old hospital.
Still not right. Too scary, Sall said.
Working through the night, Oros finally came up with an image of a man looking into the distance from the top corner of the cover. Another man is walking off the cover in the lower corner. In the background rises a stretched artists' rendering of the building Sall works in, at 9500 Stockdale Highway.
"I like the way your mind works when you're working (on a design)," Oros said. "A lot of ideas start coming to me."
Sall's latest book is "Behind the Union Curtain: The Battle Between Union Workers and Company Doctors," which came out in June.
"I always wondered about unions," he said.
Growing up in Detroit, Sall saw how unions operated in a working-class town. His new book looks at company physicians and their relationship with union workers.
He called upon Oros again to do the cover. Reading about history inspired Oros.
"It gave me an idea to look up old pictures," he said.
Set against a maroon background, old sepia-tone photos of pickets and workers jut out from the bottom left corner.
After three books in two years, Sall hasn't decided on his next project, maybe a sequel to "Straightjacket." But for now he's taking a break.
"I thought writing was something a person just did as a side venture. You see a lot of celebrities come out with a book, something they just put together in their spare time," Sall said, with a laugh. "It's really not like that. Writing is like an occupation in and of itself."