Holy Water

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Published by: CreateSpace
Release Date: November 21, 2011
Pages: 354
ISBN13: 978-1463694128



Holy Water is a novel about how influences within and outside of the medical profession contribute to the development of a physician’s professional identity.

A young physician’s professional identity is challenged and forever changed by his experiences at a medical convention in New Orleans.

Like most young physicians, Landon Ratliff is idealistic and dedicated to learning his craft; like most young physicians, his specialty choice is based on little more than a hunch. Hoping to impress the directors of training programs in his chosen specialty, Landon travels to New Orleans to present his research at a surgical convention. Caught between the pull of St. Charles Avenue and Frenchmen Street, by the lure of Maison d’Jardins and Lafayette Passe Partout, by the promise of a lucrative practice and the realities of safety net medicine, Landon is forced to confront his past and his future by a homeless alcoholic, a Tarot reader, a zydeco band, and the doctors, nurses, and patients of Charity Hospital, and is reborn—baptized in the holy water of the French Quarter.

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"In many ways, Holy Water is a coming of age book, not just for those in the medical professions, but for anyone searching to identify how their talents and passions can best be used in life. Holy Water will not only warm your heart, but shed light on what it means to find your calling in life.  I really, really enjoyed this book."
—Lee Woodruff, New York Times Bestselling Author of In An Instant and Those We Love Most

“Four Stars….an artfully constructed first novel. Schwab is a capable and engaging storyteller.”
—Clarion ForeWord Reviews

“Holy Water is a well-written book that not only tells a good story but also explores the complexities of walking the tight rope of balancing one’s life and career choices along with one’s morals and convictions. It reminds us as physicians to try to remember to put the word human back in humanity. I highly recommend this novel by physician and first-time author Robert Schwab to those both inside and outside of the medical profession.”
Annals of Emergency Medicine 

“What really makes the book is its prose…The quality of sentence-level writing is sustained throughout the novel…the details are sensuous and lush…. Landon himself is a fascinating character….The supporting cast is colorful and entertaining, and the book winds up being a rather moving piece of self-examination on Landon’s part….Holy Water succeeds beautifully.”
—Judge, Writer’s Digest 22nd Annual Self-Published Book Awards


I have been captivated by the cultural stew that is the French Quarter ever since my first visit. The water metaphor that gives Holy Water its title, and is woven through the novel, came to me gradually after observing the post-bacchanalia scouring of the streets and sidewalks every morning. It evolved into a reflection upon the city’s sub sea-level location, and its historical and sociological role as a low place where washed-away things collect. I wondered how my own professional identity might have been altered by such an experience, and the story followed from there.


If you tattooed a map of the United States onto the tanned, toned back of a pretty girl in a skimpy top, the Mississippi River would coincide roughly with the course of her spine. That’s the way Dr. Landon Ratliff’s mind worked when he was tired, and he was very tired standing in line in the jetway, waiting—as he had been waiting all day, it seemed—to board his plane for New Orleans. It had been a stop-and-start kind of day—inbound delay, gate change, mechanical problem, crew change.   After all that, the flight was overbooked.

Here it is, Landon thought, 1993 – seven years from the twenty-first century—and they can’t figure out how to fill an airplane properly. He had never been mistaken for a patient man, anyway, and now, fueled by sleep deprivation, he was twitchy. He wanted to see the river from the air, as Mark Twain never had, and if they didn’t get going soon, it would be dark before they arrived. He needed something to take his mind off the wait, and then he found it; just as they began to move, like cattle to the slaughter, Landon found himself staring down his narrow, crooked nose at the finest-looking map of America he’d ever imagined.

Her shoulder blades (scapulae to a surgeon like Landon) were at eye level, and between them a trickle of sweat made its way along her spine and under the skinny clasp that held her top together. Landon traced the trickle to its origin at the base of her neck, where a few stray hairs had escaped from their clip. That would be Minnesota, where her neck muscles came together. Her scapulae would be somewhere around St. Louis; New Orleans was hidden someplace below the belt line of her shorts. Like most single twenty-six-year-old men, Landon pondered the mysteries of her New Orleans area, then dismissed any thought of striking up a conversation.

It wasn’t that she was taller than Landon—lots of women were, and that didn’t seem to matter to many of them. He was just too tired from being on duty all night. Last night’s call hadn’t been as bad as some, but he still had gotten almost no sleep, and now the familiar late-afternoon fatigue descended upon him like a clammy fog. His eyeballs felt sandpapered; light and noise and movement were all part of a conspiracy to irritate him, get on his last nerve. He wasn’t sure that he could even spell his name right now, much less chat up a pretty girl. And besides, Landon never had any luck on planes. He always got the fat, sweaty businessman who leaked into his paid-for personal space and talked his ear off. No, today Landon wanted to read Huckleberry Finn, to get ready for the river, so he contented himself with watching the miniature Mississippi River flow past the woman’s waistband toward the Gulf of Mexico.