Coma Author-Physician on His New Medical Thriller, Cell

Eric Topol Talks Medicine and Murder With Best-Selling Author Robin Cook

; Robin Cook, MD


February 03, 2014

In This Article

In the Navy

Dr. Topol: At some point you went into the Navy. Were you drafted?

Dr. Cook: I was drafted after my surgical residency. I had a deferment under the Berry Plan.[1] When I finished my surgical training, it was hot in Vietnam and I was drafted by the US Navy. I was immediately assigned to the Marines and I knew that I would be sent to Da Nang as a trauma surgeon. Maybe some people might fault me for feeling as I did, but I regretted this interruption of my medical education and I wasn't really excited about going to Vietnam. I mean, by that time all of us had a lot of questions about why we were there.

Dr. Topol: But you wound up in a submarine, right?

Dr. Cook: I did, and I usually say that I've been a very lucky boy, because while I was in medical school (and destitute, by the way), I had to work at night. I worked for the open heart surgery team running blood gas analysis. I ran that lab, and it turned out that a professor of anesthesia knew Jacques Cousteau and knew that Jacque Cousteau needed [blood gas analysis] for his Conshelf experiments in Villefranche, where they were living under the sea.

I was asked if I would be willing to bring the same equipment over to France, to Monaco, and set up the same lab and teach everybody there how to do blood gas analysis. And I thought, "Oh, this is a terrible thing to have to do," but I volunteered to do it. So here I was, a destitute medical student spending my summers doing this. My medical school allowed me to combine my month vacation and my month elective and spend my summers at the Oceanographic Institution with the Cousteau group. And lo and behold, a high-ranking Navy officer who was in charge of SEALAB, which had the aquanauts living under the sea, was there visiting. When he left he said, "Young man, if you find yourself in the United States Navy, give me a call." Of course I dismissed it at the time, but when I got drafted I did give this man a call. I ended up doing diving research, which required me to go to submarine school.


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