Capt. Edward A. Drum, MD, USNR-ret, has never been one for idle pastimes, nor has he ever been one to shirk the call of duty.
“I don’t like taking on simple projects,” he said.
His recently published novel, “Quarantine Access: A Novel of Faction,” serves as testament.
The book is a complex amalgam of six storylines, each tying into central motifs like speculation on government conduct, the AIDS epidemic and medical-political intrigue.
The plot is based on his experiences as a medical professional working in the years in which the AIDS epidemic first emerged in the US.
“The implication is that it kind of applies to today as much as it applied to the time he was practicing medicine. It’s all very similar today,” Drum’s wife, Rita Bartell-Drum, said during a recent interview at the couple’s Penn Cove home.
Several of the characters are also based on real-life individuals, though names and other identifying details have been changed.
Bartell-Drum likened the nature of the novel to those authored by Eric Larson, a bestselling author of non-fiction thrillers like “Devil in the White City.”
It was she who found the copy of Drum’s manuscript underneath a stairwell and encouraged him to edit and publish the novel he had written several years prior.
“This never would have seen the light of day if it weren’t for Rita,” Drum said.
Drum began his post-collegiate career working shipboard as a ship’s physician, fulfilling a duty required at the time under the Ensign 1914 program during the Vietnam War.
After a two-year tour, he practiced in the private sector for several years before returning to the Navy Reserves, where his positions included senior medical officer at Bangor Sub Base and flight surgeon for EA-6B Prowlers.
Some of the situations detailed in the book occurred while Drum was employed at Bangor, he said.
Drum said many of the issues discussed in the book are relevant to today.
“One of the main issues was managed care and how destructive it is to the profession of physicians, the dominance of the political types that absolutely completely dominate medicine,” he said. “The doctors are basically stuck in a dilemma of how to practice their profession. It’s really serious. I mean I have friends in various specialities, and they are dominated by the Medicare/Medicaid dollar, as are hospitals.”
The main focus of the story, however, is upon the way in which the AIDS epidemic was handled by the U.S. government and the effect it had on the nation and the medical community.
He said he initially took on the project because the epidemic had just begun as he started working in the private practice.
“None of it made sense,” he said.
Drum contends that much of the onus was placed on medical professionals. He recalled that he and others received instructions from government agencies on how to handle AIDS patients, but he believes little if anything was being done to curb the spread of the disease or discover its root cause.
There was minimal understanding of the nature of the virus or how it was transmitted, he said. Effective treatment had yet to be developed; AZT, which can treat HIV but cannot cure HIV or AIDS, was the only anti-viral available.
The Drums contend that a form of quarantine, similar to that enacted at the onset of the ebola epidemic, could have been a more effective method of reducing the spread of the illness.
“You can quarantine activity,” Drum explained. “Restrict activity so you can deal with the underlying problem.”
The medical community was in a state of terror, interacting with infected patients and coming into contact with infected or potentially infected blood on a regular basis.
Drum was alarmed, he said, that he and others were not privy to certain information — even as professionals working with the U.S. Navy.
“‘Quarantine Access,’ in a novel format, is code,” he said, explaining that through the story, he aims to challenge readers to ask questions and engage in critical thought in regard to policies and events.
“It’s written as a novel so that people follow the players,” he said. “If they don’t grasp onto that, they’re not going to get the message.”