Island Practice is the mesmerizing story of Dr. Tim Lepore, the only surgeon on Nantucket Island. Thirty miles off the coast of Massachusetts, Nantucket is known for its beaches, red pants, and sky-high real-estate prices. Author Pam Belluck reveals a different side of the island, a diverse year-round population with quirky medical problems and a doctor as quirky as his clientele. Dr. Lepore does not shy away from mysterious strange cases.
I don’t want to give too much away, but among the interesting cases Dr. Lepore encounters is narcolepsy with cataplexy. The book describes two brave individuals with narcolepsy, Alexandra and Justin, searching for answers and exploring treatment options. I was honored to interview author Pam Belluck!
Julie Flygare: You’ve done a great job describing narcolepsy. Were you familiar with the disorder before writing the book?
Pam Belluck: I knew very little about narcolepsy and nothing about cataplexy. As a journalist and medical writer, I try to listen and take in a situation as it is and meet people where they are.
Julie: Your descriptions of cataplexy are so accurate and true to life. Have you witnessed any cataplexy?
Pam: Alexandra and I talked in great detail about cataplexy. Then, I did see Alexandra and Justin experiencing cataplexy on one occasion – they each had one episode while I was visiting with them. I was aware of what it was and knew not to panic, but it was very interesting and supported everything they had described.
Julie: Your book raises invaluable awareness about narcolepsy. Have you gotten any feedback?
Pam: Yes, I’ve had a great response from the narcolepsy community! Narcolepsy Network’s Executive Director Eveline Honig attended the book launch party in NYC. NN’s website featured the book. I’m thrilled to help raise awareness.
Julie: Narcolepsy affects 1 in 2,000 people, yet it’s not on doctors’ radars. Dr. Lepore doesn’t seem deterred by things that are “off the radar.” Why do you think this is?
Pam: Dr. Lepore doesn’t judge. He has a insatiably curiosity for learning and cares about his patients. He doesn’t sugar coat things, but he’s honest and very human.
Julie: I’m currently finishing my narcolepsy memoir, so I’m curious how long Island Practice took from idea to publication?
Pam: About 4.5 years. I was the New England Bureau Chief for The New York Times, and the national editor asked us to find somebody doing something interesting. I found an owner of a nude bowling alley in Maine. Then, I read about the only surgeon on Nantucket in a Tufts Medical Center alumni newsletter. I decided to write the article about Dr. Lepore and in August 2007, received calls from book agents. Every time I spoke with Dr. Lepore, new interesting material surfaced, so I wrote the book.
Thank you to Pam Belluck for her keen accurate descriptions of narcolepsy in Island Practice. Thank you to Dr. Lepore for his honest hard work and incredible heart. Last but not least, thank you to Alexandra and Justin for bravely sharing their experiences with the world. We are a stronger community because of their courage!
Ironically, my own narcolepsy journey includes Nantucket. In August 2007, I fell against the glass storefront outside Lily Pulitzer and slithered down to the cobblestones. The 30-second cataplexy incident disrupted the busy sidewalk traffic and embarrassed me deeply. I was diagnosed a month later.