02/12/1996 at 01:00 AM EST
>Dr. Robin Cook
THE DOCTOR IS ON
The man who put the scare in managed care got his literary breakthrough in 1977 with the novel Coma. Since then, Dr. Robin Cook, the 55-year-old Columbia-trained eye surgeon, has left private practice (though he's still on staff at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary), but his thrillers—including Contagion, his latest—continue to infect bestseller lists and small screens. This week, NBC airs Robin Cook's Terminal (Feb. 12, 9 p.m. ET), the TV-movie version of his '93 cancer-research novel. We consulted Cook, whose childless, eight-year marriage to Barbara Mougin ended in '87 ("I got custody of the dog, the only good thing to come out of the marriage," he says), at his Boston home.
Why are medical thrillers special?
They capture everything a thriller should have—all the mystery, the gothic elements. I could write about World War II or spies or great white sharks—but we are all patients. If you read scary medical stories in the newspapers, you know you are at risk.
Where do you get your ideas?
Sometimes I get stimulated by something in The New York Times. It's rare to pick up a paper and not see an article on health care. I also bounce ideas off Fluffy, my bichon frise.
What was your scariest medical experience?
I was a patient once in 1987. After knee surgery, my IV was dripping down, the bottle getting low, and I was worrying about either ringing the nurse's bell or watching the thing run out. Doctors make terrible patients because they know what can go wrong.
You have a small acting part in Terminal. How did it go?
Strangely enough, I play a doctor. I even say something! In the movie version of Coma, I had a cameo, but I was in a wheelchair. I've progressed from patient to doctor.