Local retired physician’s new novel, ‘Is the Cat Lady Crazy?’ is based on impactful encounter
Truth can be stranger than fiction, especially when it comes to the medical profession, says Dr. Beverly Hurwitz, a retired physician who lives in Park City.
To illustrate, Hurwitz recently published a novel titled “Is the Cat Lady Crazy?” which was inspired by a true-life patient incident she encountered while she was the admitting resident in 1984 at a teaching hospital in the northeast.
Hurwitz didn’t divulge the hospital’s name and location, so as to not disclose the actual case due to privacy laws.
“A call came from a specialist office saying that they were sending a baby to be admitted to the emergency room for testing, and I was to do the admitting by taking the baby’s physical and ordering the tests,” she said.
The mother and 5-month-old baby were both in hysterics when they arrived at the ER, according to Hurwitz.
“It was impossible to take vital signs, and do any exams because they were both so distressed,” she said.
When the baby, who had been seemingly screaming in pain, stopped for a bit, Hurwitz was able to talk with the mother.
“She told me that the baby has been constantly screaming, and that she had spent most of her baby’s life running from doctor to doctor, emergency room to emergency room and alternative therapists to see what was wrong with the child,” Hurwitz said. “Everyone who checked the child told her the baby was normal and that she was crazy, and that the baby was screaming and interfering with the family’s daily life because they believed the mom to be crazy.”
The mother embarked on an emotional distress cycle while telling Hurwitz the story.
“At one moment she was jumping for joy because she believed she wasn’t crazy, and then the next minute she was bawling because there could really be something wrong with the baby,” Hurwitz said. “It was 30 minutes in my medical training that I will never, ever forget.”
The incident’s diagnosis, which unfolds and is revealed in the book, haunts Hurwitz’s thoughts and dreams to this day.
“I would always go back to it anytime I encountered a patient who was difficult to deal with, who presented an incredulous story or had a mysterious illness,” she said. “I mean I had watched someone who had been kicked around to such an extent that she had been convinced she was crazy.”
While the encounter inspired the book, the main patient isn’t just based on the mother, Hurwitz said.
“As I was writing the story, I started to remember all the difficult patients throughout my career, and the mother in the book is a composite of those people,” she said.
Likewise, the doctors who go on to solve the baby’s medical mystery in the book are composites of physicians Hurwitz had met throughout the years.
“The experience helped me look at my profession in a different way,” she said. “In fact, one of my colleagues told me to never assume someone is crazy until you ruled out an organic reason for their bizarre behavior.”
The advice has helped Hurwitz through her own practice in pediatric urgent care for more than 30 years.
“After probably seeing a quarter of a million people, I saw all kinds of things that appeared to be psychiatric illnesses, which maybe were and maybe weren’t,” she said. “The lesson from this case is don’t start with the assumption that it is mental. And that had a major impact in how I view people in the world. I mean, I’m a golfer, and sometimes I meet strange people on the golf course.”
Hurwitz spent five months writing “Is the Cat Lady Crazy” and three months on edits before publishing it through Surrogate Press, owned by Parkite and author Katie Mullaly, in April.
“Having a publisher of her quality here has been an inspiration for me to take this book to market,” Hurwitz said.
Working on the book also helped Hurwitz distract herself while she and her husband, Dr. Kenneth Hurwitz, were dealing with COVID-19. Although both were diagnosed with the disease in March, Hurwitz didn’t require hospitalization, but her husband was put into a coma and placed on a respirator for three weeks.
“I don’t think I would have written it if it weren’t for Katie’s encouragement and support,” Hurwitz said.
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“The goal with these workshops is to give providers and parents a framework and some tools so they can triage resilience on a daily basis, whether it’s with a 4-year-old who has a meltdown or with a colleague or ourselves.”