Saturday, January 14, 2023

REVIEW: The Bad Doctor: The Troubled Life and Times of Dr. Iwan James (graphic novel) by Ian Williams

Content warning for suicide and suicidal ideation.

The Bad Doctor is a contemporary-set graphic novel about a doctor, his dealings with patients, and his struggles with his own mental health. As a doctor, Iwan James has a responsibility to make diagnoses and decisions that could have a huge impact on his patients' lives. He's also a human being who makes mistakes and has his own doubts and problems.

We see several of his patients in this volume: a man struggling with intrusive thoughts, an elderly lady with ulcerated legs, a man who creeps out Dr. James and others, and more. Flashbacks to Dr. James' childhood and college days show him struggling with OCD - he believes those around him can only remain safe if he does things a certain way, and at the same time his actions and the things around him have the power to harm those he cares about. A lot of his intrusive thoughts are rooted in religion - he worries that listening to heavy metal ("blasphemous music") led to the death of his dog, and when his girlfriend becomes pregnant, he worries about what music might have been playing when she conceived and what exposure to blasphemous things (or even his own blasphemous thoughts) might do to her and the twins they eventually learn she's carrying. 

In the present, Iwan James is going through a bit of a midlife crisis and has intrusive thoughts about shooting himself. He never sought treatment for his OCD, but now he starts to consider whether it's time he does so.

This was okay. It made for somewhat disjointed reading, especially since I didn't initially realize that the child in the first few flashbacks was Iwan. I wasn't sure which, if any, of the patient storylines would prove to have some larger importance to the story, Iwan's intrusive suicidal thoughts were jarring (always an image of himself with a gun in his mouth standing in front of a mirror, shooting his own brains out), and his clear interest in his colleague, Lois, was awkward to watch.

I appreciated the way it presented OCD and intrusive thoughts, and it definitely drives home that doctors aren't superhuman. I've read better medical graphic novels, though.

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