Saturday, October 24, 2009

Going too far for art? "Method writing" laid bare

My characters have a way of being very real to me, but perhaps I identify with them a little too closely at times. I've sometimes had migraines when a character complained of them (mind you, she's always complaining), and when another character was having repeated pregnancies I started suffering the Worst Cramps Ever. But my most recent experience is, I think, the furthest I've gone yet.

I went for my annual check-up. My GP did the usual bits and pieces, then pulled out her stethoscope to listen to my chest. And she went "Hmm..." And listened some more. And said, "I think you may have a heart murmur."

Now, I'm blessed with excellent health. I had an ECG years ago for a job application, and my heart has never given me the least pain, other than metaphorically. My response was to laugh. And then, because my GP is a lovely lady and very easy to talk to, I told her why I was laughing. You see, I'd just given one of my characters a heart murmur - and in her case it was no laughing matter, as she was pregnant. In 1907, a weak heart in a pregnant woman was highly dangerous.

I had an unexpected bonus from sharing this with T. She worked for several years in one of the Pacific Islands that New Zealand has close associations with. Rheumatic fever is common there, and it often leaves a legacy of a damaged heart. Many of the first-time mothers T. was caring for had heart murmurs as a result of rheumatic fever. In a third-world country, this is almost as dangerous as it was in Edwardian New Zealand. We had a fascinating, albeit short, chat.

Oh, and my heart? It turned out that the "heart murmur" I'd caught from my character was a phantom one. I had a few interesting tests at a cardiologist's, and the most interesting thing noted was that I have a very slow (in a good way) heart rate.

I'll have to be more careful about what I put my characters through, though.

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