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Hartford Healthcare doctor starts book club for his colleagues to ease stress of COVID-19, gets overwhelming support from authors

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Only those on the front lines can truly understand what it’s like on a daily basis to battle an invisible and deadly opponent like COVID-19. One Hartford Healthcare doctor has created a book club for his peers to ease the stress.

Doctor Michael Hallisey, an Interventional Radiologist, was worried about his colleagues fighting the coronavirus every day. He could see the toll the effort was taking on other doctors, nurses, and medical assistants, so he did something about it.

Hallisey has been practicing medicine for more than 30 years and has found that reading provided a welcome distraction. So, Hallisey has started a book club for his colleagues. He enjoys a series by Author Michael Connelly, so he is starting with those books.

“I bought a series of books for them,” he said. “The one we’re reading right now is called ‘The Poet,’ which is the one I like the best for them. The next one will be another one of his books, depending on how long this goes on.”

Hallisey is a sports fan, as well, and often uses sports to make an analogy. The books give Hallisey and his team something else to talk about.

“Just like you would talk in the hallway about a sporting event that took place or some sort of bit of news, it’s something non-COVID to talk about,” he explained.

Something interesting happened when Hallisey visited the author’s website. First, he wrote a thank you to the author, saying, “I just want to say thanks because his book has given us an opportunity to be distracted from the stress of this pandemic. It’s a great way to do it, to read.”

Then, the person who runs the site forwarded the message to Connelly.

“He was surprised and was expressing his thanks and said he couldn’t express how much he felt that we were heroes for working to fight the pandemic,” Hallisey gushed. “In particular, he said we were more of a hero than his lead character, this guy’s name is Harry Bosch, whose phrase is ‘Everybody counts, or Nobody counts.'”

Bosch’s moto got Hallisey thinking; he reached out to Hartford-based GIMA Sport to make up tee-shirts for his team with Bosch’s phrase on the front and “Live life like you stole it” emblazoned on the back.

Now, Connelly’s books have inspired the TV series ‘Bosch’ on Amazon. Harry Bosch is played by actor Titus Welliver, who was born right here in New Haven. Hallisey said the one question he would ask Welliver is Pepe’s or Sally’s?

Well Dr. Hallisey got his answer.

News 8’s Rich Coppola tweeted the story knowing Welliver would see it. Welliver tweeted back, “Pepe’s, sir, hands down. Thank you for all you do #heroes.”

“I’ll tell you something, that really gave me a thrill,” Hallisey said.

Since our story about Hallisey’s book club aired last week, he has gotten a lot of requests for more.

“And then I thought to myself, alright, if we’ve got all these other people who are clamoring for something, they really want something,” he told News 8 Tuesday. “They see value in trying to have their minds stimulated after work. So I said, ‘alright, I’ll start a parallel second book club and I’ll get additional people in that.'”

He says he immediately got a dozen people signed up for a second book club: “within an hour,” he said.

Not only did his coworkers take notice, but so did his CEO of Mednax, Matt Devine.

“The division head is Matt Devine,” Hallisey explained, “and he wanted me to expand it to the division. It would be about 800 doctors, and as I said to you earlier, if I did it with 800 doctors I might as well be a publisher.” Hallisey said.

The book club is growing and becoming the diversion for which Hallisey had hoped.

“Ten minutes ago one of the women in the book club walked into here in my office..she blurts out, ‘I didn’t see that coming.’ I said ‘what do you mean?’ She goes ‘what just happened in The Poet. I didn’t see it coming; it totally blindsided me.’ I said ‘that’s perfect, that’s what we want to do. That’s what we’re trying to do.’ It’s a great diversion from the pandemic. It’s the idea that you’re thinking about something else,” Hallisey said.

This all seems pretty good, right? Well, there’s a little more to the story.

Someone in the Los Angeles Times Book Review saw what Hallisey was doing. That ‘someone’ reached out to New 8’s Rich Coppola, who got the two in touch.

That ‘someone’ happens to be an author who wanted to know if Hallisey would start another book club.

“And he would zoom in with us and read the book along with us. I told him we would take him up on it after we were done with a few of these other books…he liked what we’re doing. He gets it,” said Hallisey.