How I came to write a book called This May Hurt A Bit

This May Hurt a Bit Blog

How I came to write a book called This May Hurt A Bit

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“Because I could not stop for Death, he kindly stopped for me.” 

                                    — Emily Dickinson


It was while riding in the back of an ambulance that I decided I could no longer put off writing a book. In particular, a book called This May Hurt A Bit: Reinventing Canada’s Health Care System. Lying on the stretcher, my heart playing “Babalu” against my chest, I promised myself that if I made it to the hospital and somehow managed to survive whatever the hell was going on with my heart, I would finally write the book I’d been threatening to pen for years.

I spent three long days in the hospital while a team of specialists poked, prodded, and sent me for a bunch of tests, trying to figure out what had caused this episode. One of the specialists was convinced I had an abnormal heart. Another was keen to put in some kind of pacemaker. Still another thought I’d simply had a bad reaction to the cold medication I’d taken earlier that day, and they should just wait for things to stabilize and keep me under observation.

Meanwhile, I had a book to write.

After three days full of many questions but few answers, I signed myself out of the hospital and returned home. My dogs, who according to my wife had endured the lonely hours I was absent by howling like wolves at the door, greeted me like the prodigal son. I hugged my wife and high-fived my boy and made my way down the hall to my office, where I plopped myself down in my chair and switched on the computer, determined to carry on as if the past three days were just a bad dream.

Long story short, I found myself an agent, who found me a publisher; I signed a contract, and then set about writing the story of health care in Canada. As someone who has always loved books in which the main character stumbles into a bar and begins telling his life story to a complete stranger, I decided to do the same thing. Only instead of spinning my yarn in a bar, I hit upon the idea of sharing a lifetime of secrets and adventures with you ― my readers ― while we go for a walk in the woods. What I refer to in the book as “a journey that starts with but a single step.”

I began writing my book on Halloween 2017, finished the first draft on April Fools’ Day 2018, turned sixty years of age on New Year’s Eve 2018, and finally saw the book published in Canada on Groundhog Day, February 2, 2019. Magical dates, one and all. And while my heart did jump around in my chest from time to time, like a fish flopping in the bottom of a boat, I managed to avoid taking any more ambulance rides during the writing, rewriting, and editing of my book.

One last thing. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank my co-author ― no, not Dr. Brian Day, who was kind enough to write the foreword for This May Hurt A Bit ― Riggs (otherwise known as Roo because he has a habit of sitting on the couch like a kangaroo). Riggs is a brain-damaged dog we rescued and nursed back to health eight years ago. It’s his habit to lie on his favourite pillow in the office when I’m writing.

On a cold day in January, when I was having trouble getting started, I asked Riggs if he had a line I could use so I could begin that day’s work (I was trying to write about the failings of our long-term care system that particular morning). My co-author thought about it for a minute, then said, “You should just say that the way we provide long-term care for our seniors and most vulnerable citizens is little more than a dog’s breakfast of programs.”

I smiled and patted him on the head and began typing. The rest, as they say, is history.


Stephen Skyvington’s book, This May Hurt A Bit: Reinventing Canada’s Health Care System, was published on February 2, 2019, by Dundurn Press. Follow him on Twitter @SSkyvington.