By John Raffensperger, MD


The ship’s gunnery officer with numbness and tingling in his right fourth and fifth fingers inspired my first medical article. When he flexed his elbow, the ulnar nerve popped out of its canal behind the elbow, causing the symptoms. I had never heard of ulnar dislocation nor did the medical literature mention this condition. The Illinois Medical Journal published my case report in 1957. I enjoyed the research and writing and continued to publish articles on unusual diseases, surgical techniques and history during my years in practice as well as in retirement.

The vital role of nursing in the recovery of children after surgery led to “Pediatric Surgery for Nurses”, published by Little Brown in 1968 and a second edition 1976.

Doctors often misdiagnosed children with diseases such as appendicitis because of the difficulty in taking a history from the parents and examining the child. This led to a book on diagnosis, “The Acute Abdomen in Infancy and Childhood”, [J.B. Lippincott, 1970].

While at the Children’s Memorial Hospital I wrote and edited two editions of “Swenson’s Pediatric Surgery”, a nine-hundred-page tome, to help doctors with surgical problems in children. [Appleton, Century, Croft] Medical journals don’t pay and the royalties from medical books are miniscule but the process of reviewing patient’s records and the research was satisfying and excellent self-education.

The rich lore of the Cook County Hospital led to “The Old Lady on Harrison Street, the History of the Cook County Hospital, 1835-1995”, [Peter Lang, 1997]. My interest in medical history resulted in “Children’s Surgery, a World Wide History” [McFarland, 2012] and articles such as “Was the Real Sherlock Holmes a Pediatric Surgeon?”  This essay inspired a series of three novels about the adventures of Arthur Conan Doyle and Dr. Joseph Bell, the Edinburgh Surgeon who was the model  for Sherlock Holmes. MX publishers of London put the series in a single volume, “The Diaries of Young Arthur Conan Doyle”.   This book was the Kirkus Indie book of the month for April 2018.

The switch from medical writing to fiction required new skills such as character development and plot. For years, I typed the first drafts, made corrections in longhand and my secretary typed the manuscript. I now write, and revise the previous day’s work on a computer, which is more convenient but the end result is no better.

Writing requires the discipline to work every day and at age 89 keeps the brain from stagnating.  Writing must be its own reward because finding an agent or publisher is difficult, self-publishing is a dead end and small publishers don’t do marketing.   I have three more novels, all with medical twists that are like lost puppies looking for a home and am re-writing a story about a boy who learns to love the outdoors. His grandfather just fell overboard on a sailing trip to the Dry Tortuga islands. Do you know of an interested publisher or agent?


Dr. John Raffensperger is Former Surgeon in Chief, Children’s Memorial Hospital, Chicago; Professor of Surgery, [emeritus] Northwestern University, and author of the many books cited in this essay.