In which, as a result of the need for computerized medical records, they’re about doubling the number of codes in the ICD-10, better known as the Tenth Edition of the International Classification of Diseases. You now have a numerical designation for all kinds of things: squirrel injuries! Being bitten by an orca! Falling out of a stationary wheelchair! And there are subcodes for whether it’s a first visit to treat the problem, or a secondary visit. Also whether it was on the left or the right side!
At first glance this is just humorous. You can just read these things out loud, and laugh — an African swallow injury, left side! With a coconut! However, for writers this is an unparalleled opportunity. Once, I had a writer acquaintance who got a gig writing ethnic epics. You’ve seen them: the four fat volumes with a series title like “The Sicilians” (vol. 1 the valiant young couple comes over from Salerno. Vol. 2, against horrific odds their kids make good running rum in the slums of Chicago. Vol. 3, the grandson goes to Yale and gets into heroin while the niece runs for Congress…). From the author point of view these were heavy going, and he was hard put to keep the plots rolling. His solution, when all else failed, was to select two random characters and shove them into bed together. This generated enough angst to get him to the end of the volume.
However, now there is a better solution. With the ICD-10, you can now generate conflict the way they used to use the Bible for divination. Just let the volume fall open at a random page, select an entry with a pin, and go! Now your heroine can suddenly become afflicted, lemme see, with an octopus bite, right side. And pow, the plot is in motion. How did she meet this prepossessing cephalopod? Should it affect her sex life (the right side of what?) and if so is her boyfriend going to get involved? Will it affect her effort to graduate from law school? Run the Boston Marathon?
And oh, there’s more. You could invent fictional entries. The ICD for, say, the Star Wars universe would be even more interesting than ours. (Injury from being stepped on by AT-AT, left side.)
The only failing I can see with this enthralling development is that, so far as I can tell from the news article, it is not on line. Surely the day will come! In the meantime just thinking about it is exciting. And I could always go over to my doctor’s office and ask to see his copy.
The ebook version of my novel How Like a God is now available from Book View Cafe.
My newest novel Speak to Our Desires is out from Book View Café.