The story takes place in the town of Weston, the site of Weston Medical School, with its teaching hospital and private faculty clinic. The main characters are a group of seven men (six physicians and one administrator) who met while serving together in the Army during the Korean War and later joined to form the nucleus of Weston Medical School. These men all occupy prestigious positions as chiefs of various clinical departments and conduct lucrative private practices at the clinic.

Their wives meet regularly in what they call the "Dissection Club." While the women are said to be friends, their meetings consist primarily of backbiting, cattiness, and expressions of profound boredom. Mostly, they are bored with their sex lives. While the wives generally engage in small-scale infidelities (including a medical student in one case), Lorrie Delman, the wife of the biochemist, is exceptional because of her voracious sexual appetite, about which she is highly vocal. Lorrie obsessively "sleeps around." In fact, she proposes that the group devise a regular sequence of husband swapping, a suggestion that her friends vote down in favor of a more random approach to adultery.

The drama commences when Mort Delman catches his wife in bed with Paul McGill, the dermatologist. Delman shoots a single bullet that goes through Lorrie's back and chest, killing her (she is lying on top of Paul) and then lodges in her lover's heart. Marissa Feldman, the brand new female physician, accurately diagnoses and treats Paul's life-threatening cardiac tamponade in the emergency room, after which Anton Dieter, the cardiac surgeon, removes the bullet lodged in the victim's right ventricle. Needless to say, Paul McGill recovers uneventfully, and Drs. Feldman and Dieter engage in a sexual escapade.

Meanwhile, members of the "Dissection Club" begin to re-assess their lives and loves. After all, they conclude, any of their husbands could have been caught at Lorrie Delman's house having some "afternoon delight." Perhaps the wives should pay more attention to their husbands, or otherwise enhance the meaningfulness of their lives. While this is going on, Mort Delman, the biochemist-killer, has no fear of languishing in jail because he has a perfect "impassioned husband" defense. In addition, he also manages to pull off a scheme to extort money from the other physicians in return for his leaving town and not revealing everyone's secrets. If this isn't enough to whet your appetite, Doctors' Wives also features additional plot twists and a surprise ending.


Doctors' Wives is a good example of popular writing about doctors and medical practice during the 1960s. It is also characteristic of the novels of physician-writer Frank G. Slaughter (1908-2001). Slaughter was a surgeon who published his first novel at the age of 33. After serving in the Army Medical Corps during World War II, he gave up his practice and devoted himself entirely to writing, becoming a bestselling author whose books sold over 60 million copies. In addition to medical fiction, Slaughter also wrote biblical and historical novels. In his medical writing, he often portrayed the latest advances in medical science and technology.

Doctors' Wives is full of cardboard characters and stereotypical situations. The plot is simply a convenient framework upon which to hang a string of titillating social indiscretions and medical "miracles." However, the latter serve as examples of leading-edge developments in the mid-1960s and how they were perceived by the general public. For example, when Dr. McGill is brought to the emergency room with a bullet in his heart, the whole hospital goes into a "Cardiac Alert." This requires everyone from the operating room staff to the telephone operator to drop what they are doing and assume their "alert" duties. The hospital operator doesn't even take outside calls when a Cardiac Alert is going on.

There is also the dramatic "Special Care Unit," a precursor to today's ICU. Slaughter titillates the reader with the possibility that Dr. Dieter might take the extreme step of using a "heart-lung machine," although this turns out to be unnecessary. This material, as well as the later description of the "iron sludge" technique for treating cerebral aneurysms, are good examples of early mass-market depiction of medical technology.

The novel also reveals a small, but important, crack in the monolith of male medicine. With one exception, the important physician characters are male. They are the bread earners, while their wives play golf, drink cocktails, and do an occasional charity stint. Nonetheless, the lone female physician character plays a crucial role in the story. Dr. Marissa Feldman demonstrates her brilliant clinician skills and nerves of steel on her very first day at the hospital. I don't think that Frank Slaughter's readers in 1967 could have imagined that Dr. Feldman was the beginning of a new demographic for medicine, or that someday one might just as well entitle a novel Doctors' Husbands. Nonetheless, for a few shining minutes Dr. Feldman brings the house down.



Place Published

Garden City, N.Y.



Page Count