Ten Days

Title: Ten Days
Published by: Kensington
Release Date: September 25, 2012
Pages: 352
ISBN13: 9780758269447
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Although Anna and Jake Campbell interact with the world in very different ways, she as a cautious worrier and he as an optimistic realist, they successfully navigate the everyday problems that percolate through their marriage until the night their young son becomes ill. Anna has a bad cold and longs for the peace of evening and Jake, an orthopedic surgery resident, spends the night at the hospital, taking care of other people’s sick wives and children. As a result of their irreversible, achingly regrettable inactions, Anna and Jake face losing their child.

Anna, who works part time as a linguist, is devoted to her two young children—Chris, who irritates her with his friskiness, and Eddie, the placid baby that everybody adores. With Eddie’s illness, she is both crushed with guilt and embittered with blame toward Jake. As she withdraws into her distorted perceptions, she becomes increasingly unable to trust the medical system that is as familiar to her husband as a stormy spring evening.

Like many surgical residents, Jake has blindly embraced professional commitment to the point that he is wedded to his medical responsibilities and a relative stranger to the concerns of his family. Once Eddie’s diagnosis becomes clear, Jake struggles to orient himself to his new position in the medical sphere – parent of a seriously ill baby – about which he has no understanding, no patience, and no control. In his misery, he reaches to a former lover for solace.

If she weren’t the widow of a no-good guy who left her nothing but debts and two bossy adult daughters, Rose Marie wouldn’t have to run a day care home to support herself. Rather, she and Beefeater, her wine-loving Jack Russell terrier, would lead leisurely lives loading the bird feeders and weeding the petunias. Two cases of meningitis among the children in her day care bring her nose to nose with the public health system and threaten to close down her business.

Illness, particularly that of a child, is heartbreakingly cruel but Anna, Jake, their healthy son Chris, and Rose Marie, like most people who face daunting life challenges, find their way.


“Gilsdorf weaves a gripping story about the toll illness takes on families and communities. Using her medical expertise, Gilsdorf paints a realistic picture of the symptoms and impact of meningitis, without using overly technical language. This novel is both heartwarming and raw, with an ending that will stay on your mind long after the book is closed.”
—RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars

“A heart-twisting spiral through one family’s nightmare and their journey home. Authentic and insightful, Ten Days is a mesmerizing gem that reminds you to laugh, to weep, and to relish all that binds us together in love.”
—Carol Cassella, National Bestselling author of Oxygen and Healer

“From the opening scene tension rides high and there were moments when my hand trembled turning the page. Janet Gilsdorf writes with a surety that allows her to bring this difficult, dramatic tale to its life-affirming conclusion and leave the reader wanting more.”
—Holly Chamberlin, author of Last Summer


Most of the time parents get it right when their children are ill. They recognize the problem, accurately assess its magnitude, and appropriately seek medical care. But, what if that doesn’t happen? And, what if one of the parents is a physician? This is the essence of the novel Ten Days.

The novel began, years ago, as a short story. It didn’t work (some of those elements are now in the epilogue). Then I decided to write it as a cautionary tale about vaccine-preventable diseases, but a sermon makes for terrible fiction. Finally, after many, many revisions, it evolved into its present form.

I recognized early that readers would tire of the endless angst of the desperate parents, so as relief, I included chapters spoken in the voices of supporting characters. Originally I had three chapters in the voice of Len, the gay technician at the state health department laboratory. His narrative focused on the laboratory methods used to determine the causes of the meningitis cases in the day care and the community “outbreak.” Although I really enjoyed writing about pulsed gel electrophoreses and PCR primers and DNA extraction, my book group convinced me it was too much. So, even though I loved Len, he and his chapters had to go. They currently reside in a file on my computer, awaiting their appearance in another piece.

In the middle of writing this novel, I set it aside to write the memoir Inside/Outside: A Physician’s Journey with Breast Cancer. Upon publication of the memoir, I returned to Ten Days, which benefited greatly from the literary skills and perspective I acquired while writing Inside/Outside. I continued attending summer writing workshops: the Split Rock conference in Duluth, Minnesota; the Stone Coast conference in Brunswick, Maine; and the Tin House conference in Portland, Oregon…all chosen for their terrific locations and highly regarded writing programs. An agent at the Writing the Medical Experience workshop in Squaw Valley suggested I begin the novel with a functional family rather than beginning the night the baby became sick. I revised and revised and it kept getting stronger and stronger.

Finally, satisfied with the manuscript, I began searching for an agent and eventually found Cynthia Manson through my continued contact with Mary Bisbee-Beek, the former publicist for Inside/Outside. Cynthia used her considerable skills and literary network to identify the right publisher, Kensington Books. After an incubation period of about ten years, Ten Days finally arrived.


Chapter 1

The car rounded the turn and she spotted the bridge. From that distance it was tiny, a faraway cobweb stretched over the foggy Straits between St. Ignace on her side and Mackinaw City on the other.

Her fingers gripped the steering wheel. “Who’s going to drive over?”

“You don’t want to?” her husband asked.


“Think of it as a highway.”

She turned toward him, bit her lip, and shrugged. She hated the bridge.

“Okay, okay,” Jake said. “I’ll drive.”

Before her, the Mackinac Bridge—graceful, majestic, enduring—spanned the waves, its far end lost in the morning mist. The support cables that looped from the concrete stanchions moored deep into the lake bed grew greener, thicker as she drew near.

“Hey, are we going on that bridge?” Chris called from his car seat in the back.

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