Sappy Bio Rob Penczak

Evidently there are cacti in Tampa, Florida.  I say that because someone (no, it wasn't me) managed to toddle into one shortly after I was born.  After removing the thorns, our family fled north, to Massachusetts for six years and New Hampshire for three.  Then, having come to forgive our prickly nemesis, we drove across the country and settled in the desert city of Phoenix, Arizona.  In the years that followed, I spent the bulk of my time on sports, piano, and science fantasy – reading and role playing. 

Since I liked helping people and did well in school, it only seemed natural to become a doctor.  And to that end, I volunteered at a hospital, spent Sunday mornings researching water ecology, and devoted the summer after my junior year to studying metabolism in the diabetes prone Pima Indians.  Then, with my future well in hand and college on the horizon, I took the next summer for myself and started writing a fantasy novel.  Hooked immediately, I cranked out a hundred and fifty pages within a few weeks. 

That’s when I went for a bike ride and bumped into a kid I’d never met before, one who was swerving down the wrong side of the street.  When we hit, the steel hub in the center of his handlebar shattered my forehead and the bridge of my nose.  There was a lot of blood, it was hard to breathe, and although this last part turned out to be a false alarm, the folks in the ambulance kept talking about cerebrospinal fluid.

I spent a while in the hospital after that - hallucinating, getting worked on by surgeons, and waiting for someone to remove the sutures that were pinning my eyelids shut.  Still, given the severity of the accident it could have been worse.  So I counted myself fortunate.  Months later, I found out that the kid who’d hit me had been high on marijuana and was bragging about the episode at school.  It changed my perspective, made me a bit jaded.

Haverford College restored my faith.  It was a place with a vibrant Honor Code, a place where the laudable aspects of humanity thrived.  As for academics, I was intrigued by the complexities of molecular biology and the notion of understanding life to the utmost detail.  But while many of the pre-med courses were fascinating, they always felt like work.  Others did not: creative writing, mythology, shamanism, religion, history, political science . . .

Next up was the Medical College of Pennsylvania, then Duke University for internship.  The training was superb, but the weeks were long, the dying usually died, and the debilitated rarely got much better.  The experience took a toll, and I realized for the first time that internal medicine might not be my niche.

I spent the next year in Mebane, North Carolina working with an old time doc.  We saw a surprising breadth of skin disorders, and I developed an interest in dermatology.  When I moved to New York to pursue training in the field, I met my beloved wife Rachel.

Residency provided more fodder for cynicism, and following that, it was time for the practice of medicine HMO style.  Reimbursements were down, overhead had skyrocketed, and the only way to remain solvent was to churn through one patient after the next.  Speed was paramount.  Teaching people about their conditions was a luxury doctors could no longer afford.  There really wasn’t any choice . . . except, of course, that there's always a choice.

In 1998, Rachel and I moved to Richmond, Virginia to be with her ailing grandfather, and shortly after he passed, we learned that Rachel was pregnant with the first of our three children.  One door closed, another came open.  Two years later, when the multi-specialty group I’d been working for went belly up, a medical conglomerate stepped in, new contracts in hand.  With the support of my gracious wife, however, I turned away at the threshold and returned to a door I’d cracked open long ago, and there was my niche, just waiting for me. 

I’ve been writing full time ever since.