Reimagining ‘The Metamorphosis’ by Franz Kafka

Thought experiment series: famous writers of history

For our third thought experiment, we take a look at the work of this piercingly-eyed, well-dressed gentleman: Franz Kafka. His work, so surreal and macabre, led to the coining of the term ‘Kafkaesque’, defined as, ‘having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre or illogical quality’.1 As no strangers to regulatory processes, Clinical Study Reports, and Veeva tagging, we medical writers are all too familiar with things Kafkaesque. 

One of Kafka’s most well-known pieces, ‘The Metamorphosis’ could be reimagined as a Med Comms tale. And if it was, it would go a little bit like this…

One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug; a medical writer.

In bed, Gregor thought about his transformation. What did the future hold for his new life? Perhaps it was just a bad dream. He tried to go back to sleep, but couldn’t. So he thought about what might await him. The work, the deadlines, the clients…Tossing and turning, he could not rest.

“Gregor, Gregor!” shouted his mother. “Wake up! You’ll be late for work!” Gregor sat up, now facing opposite the mirror in his bedroom. His pallid reflection vacantly glanced at him, with the haunted look of someone who has spent the past week datachecking. Gregor returned to his horizontal position. He thought to himself, I can’t. Look at me. I’m a medical writer.

“Gregor!” His mother yelled, with increasing urgency. Gregor heard his mother’s footsteps steadily approach his room. Then, three solid knocks on his door.

“Don’t come in!!” Gregor yelped frantically. He did not want to alarm his mother. Of course, she did not yet know of his transformation, and as far as she was concerned, Gregor was still her lovely son, the travelling salesman.

“Gregor, enough, you must get up.” His mother said resignedly, and opened the door. She shrieked in horror, seeing what had become of him. “Oh my!”

Gregor, now fully clothed and sitting upright in bed with a laptop open, was studiously  searching through literature on PubMed. A notepad sprawled open with ideas for sales aid straplines lay to his left, printed pages of a first draft for a review article messily spread across his legs to his right.

Hearing the commotion, Gregor’s father had come upstairs to see Gregor studiously working away. “DEAR GOD!” He exclaimed. Gregor’s father, now enraged at what had become of his son, picked up a broom, prompting Gregor to leap out of bed, pages of work fluttering into the air. Gregor’s father shooed the poor boy to the back of the room, into a wardrobe, and slammed the door closed. “DON’T COME OUT UNTIL YOU CONSIDER A CAREER CHANGE!” But for Gregor, he did not choose to be a medical writer. He merely fell into it.

Gregor’s sister was more understanding than his parents. Sympathetically, she left some useful tools for medical writers at his door, which Gregor put to good use. A laptop stand, an ergonomic keyboard and a dual monitor set-up (she thought it would be helpful for what Gregor called ‘datachecking’ – not that this word meant anything to her).

Days later, Gregor, locked away in his room, began to adapt to his new life: a broadened vocabulary, a cerebral sensation when new Microsoft Office shortcuts were committed to his muscle memory, and a deep, stomach-churning discomfort upon seeing ‘which’ used for restrictive clauses.

However, the story reached a tragic end. Gregor’s new life thrust him into a role at a nameless, faceless and soulless big network agency, with fantastic glossy offices and sparkling water on tap. Working 70h weeks to produce marketing materials for pharmaceutical companies certainly takes its toll, and Gregor quickly spiralled into abyssal burnout.  

One morning, the family found that Gregor had passed away – all the family could deduce from his laptop is that he stayed up all night taking in 14th round amends to an e-Learning module that had a budget factoring in 5 minutes per slide. As Gregor’s family began packing up his worldly possessions, they couldn’t help but lament. Could things have been different if he had worked for an agency with a fully-remote, life-first culture?

Gregor’s family, now free from the burden of living with a medical writer, moved house. Gregor’s sister considered her life ahead, and decided to become an artist.