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20 May 2023

Ricardo Nuila’s Q&A: “I need to be nicer to my family”

The doctor and author on falling in love, The Simpsons, and the caring side of Sasanian King of Kings.

By New Statesman

Ricardo Nuila was born in Ohio in 1978. An author and associate professor at Baylor College of Medicine, he is also a practising physician in Houston, Texas.

What’s your earliest memory?

My father arising from our bed, hitting the alarm clock, and coming back to sleep. He must have been a resident doctor in obstetrics at the time. For some reason, I’m convinced this occurred in the afternoon.

Who are your heroes?

The lead actor from the TV show The Greatest American Hero was my childhood hero. Adulthood heroes are hard to think of. The author George Saunders is one.

[See also: Russell Tovey’s Q&A: “In another life, I’d run the Tate Modern”]

What book last changed your thinking?

Jacques Barzun’s From Dawn to Decadence: 1500 to the Present – 500 Years of Western Cultural Life. It gave me a framework for how to absorb and interpret the current political strife and feeling that things might be imploding. “They are!” argued Barzun in 2000. His argument is that individualism, upon which we base our society, has become decadent and is falling off.

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Which political figure do you look up to?

Khusro, the King of Kings of the Sasanian empire. He lorded over much of what is modern-day Iran prior to the Muslim conquest. He took the money given to him by Byzantine emperor Justinian I to build a teaching hospital that provided healthcare for all in his empire. Doctors from all disciplines – Greek, Roman, Ayurvedic, Jewish – flocked to the teaching hospital he established, the first in history, at Jundi-Shaphur. He cared about real social reforms for his people.

What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

How to talk with patients.

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In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

It wavers between pre-First World War Europe, as characterised by Stefan Zweig’s The World of Yesterday, and Latin America at the time of the revolutions.

What TV show could you not live without?

I haven’t watched it in many years, but I have to say The Simpsons, for its influence and because I can’t wait to watch it with my children.

Who would paint your portrait?

Magritte. With apple as face and all.

What’s your theme tune?

Jon Brion’s opening theme for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

[See also: Beau is Afraid review: a cartoonishly Freudian horror]

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

My dad said this to me every day, multiple times a day: be nice. Be nice! I believe I follow it best with strangers and people outside my immediate family. I need to do so more with my own family.

What’s currently bugging you?

The lack of listening.

What single thing would make your life better?

A “stun” feature on my iPhone that would kick in after too many hours of mindless scrolling.

When were you happiest?

While falling in love with my wife. Everything that soaked up the hours of the day prior to this – medicine, writing – appeared secondary all of a sudden as we visited the Oaxacan coast, the Salvadoran coast, even the grocery store.

In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I would be a Sherpa. 

Are we all doomed?

It’s worse than that: only some of us are doomed. Who’s doomed, and for what reason, will tear us all apart.

“The People’s Hospital: The Real Cost of Life in an Uncaring System” by Ricardo Nuila is published by Abacus

[See also: Kae Tempest’s Q&A: “I can go from ‘Stayin’ Alive’ to Mozart in an afternoon”]

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This article appears in the 24 May 2023 issue of the New Statesman, The Tory Crack-Up