When the doctor says, “You know, you almost died.”

Photo: Marcello Semboli (Creative Commons Flickr)
Photo: Marcello Semboli (Creative Commons Flickr)

The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps.
(Proverbs 16:9)

Three weeks ago to the day I stumbled into the emergency room. I thought I was having an allergic reaction to an antibiotic I’d started taking for a urinary tract infection. Little did I know that the infection had crossed into the bloodstream and had become septic.

At once I was put into a wheelchair, and before the triage nurse had finished her questions, I was in a room, being helped into a hospital gown with a team of physicians hovering around.

I was impressed. Ten o’clock on a Saturday morning was obviously the right time to come to the ER. Like Disneyland on a Wednesday—no crowds.

“Laura,” the head ER doctor said to me, “you are very sick.”

“Oh,” I said, “okay.” How else could I reply? I wasn’t in pain and I didn’t feel sick. Other than the fact that I was shaking and laboring to breathe, even with an oxygen mask.

“I don’t think you realize how sick you really are,” he added.

That’s me, Miss Shake-It-Off. The one who doesn’t get sick. The one with the high pain tolerance who just keeps going.

Nobody mentioned that my blood pressure was 40/10, and that I was going into shock. I do remember the doctor carefully explaining that I needed to be sedated, intubated, and put on a ventilator. Horrific-sounding procedures that never registered as scary. “Oh,” I said, “okay.”

After that I imagine things happened very fast, though I didn’t know it. The battle to raise my blood pressure was on. My son Nathan, who basically lived at the hospital and followed the doctors whenever they went into my room (at times up to 14 people!), tells me I was given three different blood pressure medications—everything they had—and loaded up with antibiotics. Then came the waiting game, as the doctors had done all they could. For two days I was the most critical patient in ICU.

Talk about surreal.

God is gracious, and I am a scrappy fighter. I came out of sedation Monday morning, still on the ventilator but feeling okay—in other words, not sick. On Tuesday I began breathing on my own. Only once during my hospitalization was I truly scared, when they drained a liter of fluid from my right lung (doctors get excited about the strangest things). But that’s because all I could think about was the episode of Downton Abbey where the poor farmer has fluid drained from around his heart. Yes, I have an over-active imagination and a memory that retains images.

“I only write historical fiction,” I remember telling myself. “Thank God I do not live it.”

Thank God indeed. Many people were praying for me, including some of you. I thank you sincerely.

And the news isn’t all bad. Because my white blood cell count was high, the doctors ordered an analysis. Everything looked normal under the microscope, hooray. In other words, no evidence of cancer. (I was treated for Hodgkins lymphoma 16 years ago.) And hey, I lost 17 pounds!

The doctors are encouraged and the numbers look very good. My kidneys and my liver are functioning normally, and I am well on my way to recovery. But for Miss Shake-It-Off the road to full strength has been irritatingly slow. The rule of thumb is seven days for every day in ICU (5 times 7 is 35) plus three days for every day in the regular hospital (5 times 3 is 15). So it will be a while. I am sleeping on the downstairs sofa, using a walker to access the bathroom and kitchen. I doubt I’ll be able to return to school this year for more than just visits.

As for finishing my novel—those three elusive final chapters!—I hope to start working in June.

Thank you for your prayers and love. I tell my students that life is an adventure when we walk with God, and isn’t that the truth?

U is for Unwillingness

Celebrating the A to Z Blogging Challenge with quotations on the writing life.

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In battle, you forgive a man anything except an unwillingness to take risks. Sometimes you have to put it on the line.

Tom Clancy

What Tom said.

Because doing something meaningful with your life always involves risk.
 

Photo: Charles Hoffman (Creative Commons Flickr). Image is link.

T is for Trust

Celebrating the A to Z Blogging Challenge with quotations on the writing life.

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Creativity comes from trust.
Trust your instincts.
And never hope more than you work.

Rita Mae Brown

 Fair skies, a following sea, a flower-strewn path. How’s that for ideal?

Ah, but that path, it climbs steadily—and so must we as working writers.

Trust, Hope, and Work travel together. And Creativity provides beauty along the way.

Photo: Thomas Tolkien (Creative Commons Flickr). Image is link. Visit his website

S is for Sell

Celebrating the A to Z Blogging Challenge with quotations on the writing life.

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When you sell a man a book you don’t sell just twelve ounces of paper and ink and glue—you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night—there’s all heaven and earth in a book, a real book.

Christopher Morley

I am increasingly aware that time–free time, in particular–is a precious commodity. The fact that someone would spend theirs reading my novels is both humbling and motivating.

Readers deserve my very best as a storyteller–they deserve a real book.

Photo: Paul Hamilton (Creative Commons Flickr). Image is link.

R is for Read

Celebrating the A to Z Blogging Challenge with quotations on the writing life.

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So I want a story, wit, music, wryness, color, and a sense of reality
in what I read, and I try to get it in what I write.

John D. MacDonald

Here’s to the wonder of joyous discovery.

A good book, one that resonates. One we can’t bear to see end.

This is why we write, friends. To capture for others the kinds of stories we love.

Read. Let your favorite books be your mentors.

 

Photo: Camdiluv (Creative Commons Flickr). Image is link.

P is for Praise

Celebrating the A to Z Blogging Challenge with quotations on the writing life.

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The same spirit which makes us love the praise of men
makes us dread the threats of men. You cannot be pleased with the adulation of mankind without becoming fearful of your censure.

Charles H. Spurgeon

There’s nothing like the satisfaction that comes when a job is done well.

I have overcome the blank page. Not only that, but my awful first-draft word clutter has been tamed and even made to sing. My story isn’t perfect, but I have told it well and I like it.

But satisfaction has a dark side.

Once the book is released, there comes a subtle shift in my thinking. Pride at doing well slips into pride of validation. In other words, I have done well not because I like it, but because others do.

Thus begins the desperate scramble to maintain popularity.

In fashion, one day you’re in and the next you’re out.

Heidi Klum, Project Runway

Fame is elusive, and mass appeal is fickle. Chase them to your peril.

I cannot leave this subject without sharing Jeff Goins’ excellent article: The Truth About Going Viral: What I Did After 1 Million People Stopped By My Blog.

 

Photo: Amanda M. Hatfield (Creative Commons Flickr). Image is link.

Q is for Quitting

Celebrating the A to Z Blogging Challenge with quotations on the writing life. 15703375152_e12ea2a683_z

Age wrinkles the body, quitting wrinkles the soul.

General Douglas MacArthur

There is a big difference between quitting something you dislike (piano lessons) and quitting something you truly love (writing).

One brings joyous relief, the other quiet despair.

Ah, but did you truly quit? Or did you simply stop for a while?

Quitting is fundamentally different from stopping.
The latter happens all the time. Quitting happens once.
Quitting means not starting again—and art is all about starting again.

David Bales and Ted Orland, Art and Fear

Think it over. Are you able to find the strength to face that abandoned project you truly love? And start again?

Let’s have Spurgeon weigh in:

There is hardship in everything except eating pancakes.

Charles H. Spurgeon

And people think the Victorians were boring…

 

Photo: Elvert Barnes Photography (Creative Commons Flickr). Image is link.

O is for Occupation

Celebrating the A to Z Blogging Challenge with quotations on the writing life.

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A human being must have occupation,
if he or she is not to become a nuisance to the world.

Dorothy L. Sayers

Though I am loath to admit it, I do need occupation. That is to say, work. You know, a job. But it’s more than just the necessary paycheck. I need to be challenged, to be made to interact with people and find solutions to problems. Work forces me to grow.

I am quite skilled at doing nothing.  I’d rather read books, or analyze movies, or sail back and forth in a little boat, gazing overhead at soaring birds and clouds. (Or sleep—hey, I teach teens, okay?) But life is more than a just a job and housework. You and I have been given the privilege of being creative.

My choice to write, therefore, is a choice to work—on my own without a boss or manager. How else will my daydreams come to life for others to enjoy?

Write it. Shoot it. Publish it. Crochet it, sauté it, whatever.
Make.

Joss Whedon

Besides, who wants to be bored and therefore risk becoming a nuisance to humanity? Although there are days…

 

Photo: Matthias Ripp (Creative Commons Flickr). Image is link.

N is for No

Celebrating the A to Z Blogging Challenge with quotations on the writing life.

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Learn to say no. It will be of more use to you than to be able to read Latin.

Charles H. Spurgeon

By nature and by upbringing, I am a people-pleaser. I genuinely enjoy helping. I like saying Yes.

“Sure, I’ll help in the kitchen.”
“Yes, I can fill in to teach the three-year-olds today.”
“I’d be happy to make copies of that music. Right now? Okay.”

Unfortunately, when it comes to gauging time, I am too much the optimist. I keep trying to pack 30 hours into a 24-hour day.

“You’re doing the A to Z Challenge? Hey, I’ll do it too.”
“Camp NaNoWriMo is in April? I think I can write 10,000 words.”
“I bet I can write three chapters this weekend and finish my book.”

Basically I take on too much, right? And then I flounder. So one of the lessons of my adult life has been learning to say No.

Sometimes I say No to people in order to carve out time (and energy) for writing. Other times I say No to writing in order to make time for people.

Photo: Pedro Ribeiro Simoes (Creative Commons Flickr). Image is link.

M is for The Middle

Celebrating the A to Z Blogging Challenge with quotations on the writing life.

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Nobody reads a book to get to the middle.

Mickey Spillane

 Ah, the middle. The meat of the story is here, and yet it’s the place where writers often lose their way. I know I do. I liken it to the Slough of Despond where, as with John Bunyan’s deep bog, we sink under the weight of the story.

My high school fiction students are here right now. They look forward to the 30-page story assignment with such delight. And then they hit the middle and become mired in discouragement. Right about the time the first 20 pages are due, despair arrives. “I’ve run out of ideas!” they wail. “I hate this! Can I start over?”

I’ve said this many a time. My laptop houses a graveyard of abandoned stories.

My students have this benefit: they must finish. (I do allow them to start over, but they must be willing to put in the work—a lot of work.)  “Press on to the ending,” I tell them. “Ramp up the conflict, work toward that Bleakest Moment. Keep spitting out words. Trust that ideas will come.”

Because ideas do come, but only if you keep writing. How many times have I written myself into a corner? And then discovered a clever solution that I’d never thought of? Readers of my novels have no idea how many times I wanted to quit.

Press on, writing friend.  Trust your creative mind to provide ideas. Consider too, that novellas are gaining in popularity. Your story’s ending might be nearer than you think.

 

Photo: KOMUnews (Creative Commons Flickr). Image is link.