Thomas Keech spent 16 years as legal counsel for a medical board, so the fact that he has written a novel about a doctor who sexually abuses a teenage patient immediately raises several questions.
Is the doctor based on one Keech encountered during his years with the State Board of Physicians in Maryland? And is the story based on a case he helped resolve?
The answer to both, he said, is no.
“You don’t see a lot of people as narcissistic and sociopathic as Dr. Zeus,” he said, referring to the novel’s central character, Dr. Hardwicke Zeus.
The book, due out Aug. 1 (Tuesday), is “Doc Doc Zeus: A Novel of White Coat Crime.” It’s Keech’s fourth novel but first delving into the realm of physician sexual misconduct.
Keech, 70, was a lawyer working in the Maryland attorney general’s office when he served as the staff attorney for the medical board from 1997 to 2013. Two years after retiring, he returned to the medical board as a consultant, primarily to help with drafting regulations and investigations, and he still works in that capacity.
He said medical board members and staff know the subject of his latest novel but haven’t shown any great curiosity.
“They say, `Oh,’ and that’s about it,” he said.
Although the book is purely fiction, Keech said it does draw on some themes from his experience, including a 16-year-old victim who falls prey to her OB/GYN and a board investigation that haltingly moves forward.
Keech said his major takeaway from his time with the medical board is the reluctance of victims to report what happened to them, especially when the abuse occurred during an exam.
“To some extent, it’s the nature of the offense,” he said. “(Victims) just want to get out of there and find another doctor. `I just want to forget this.’ We heard that a lot. Or sometimes it was, `Maybe he’s just having a bad day.’”
Keech said he was nearing completion of his book when he became aware of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s series Doctors & Sex Abuse. He said the series was spot on in its portrayal of the world he knows.
“The woman who went undercover, that was incredible,” he said, referring to AJC investigative reporter Carrie Teegardin’s story on former GBI agent Swanee Owen’s work on the case of Cumming physician Dr. Abbas Demetrios. “Basically, I felt (after reading the series), `You’ve done it.’”
Maryland is one of the states that have reacted to the AJC’s findings by enacting new laws or medical board policy. Legislation signed into law this year requires the Maryland board to make it easier for the public to access information when doctors are sanctioned for sexual misconduct.
As for his book, Keech said he believes it can provide a “window” into doctors who sexually abuse their patients. But ultimately, he said, it’s merely a work of fiction that he hopes readers will enjoy.
“I’m not a crusader,” he said. “I’m a novelist.”