21 May 2019

Lefty Calls the Shots


by Michael Bracken

Late evening, Thursday, April 11, 2019, I entered the emergency room and spent much of the night there. Temple thought I was having a heart attack. I felt confident I was not, but I knew something was wrong.

Traitor!
Many of my symptoms were consistent with a heart attack—chest pain that extended to my left shoulder and shoulder blade and spread down my left arm and up the left side of my neck—but the pain had begun on Sunday and had grown progressively worse during the days prior to my hospital trip. I had lost grip strength in my left hand, my fingers on that hand weren’t functioning as they should, and my blood pressure was about thirty points higher than my normal.

Were I having a heart attack, many of these symptoms would likely have occurred in a brief amount of time—fifteen to thirty minutes—rather than over the course of days, but that didn’t make them any less concerning. The doctor and the nurses—none of whom appeared to be playing cards—asked questions, poked me with needles, ran tests, and ultimately ruled out a heart attack. Having undergone quadruple bypass surgery in 2008, this was good news.

The prognosis: Chest wall inflammation or costochondritus. The doctor recommended over-the-counter anti-inflammatories and rest.

I returned home in the wee hours of Friday morning having learned that, except for the registration process, a stay in the emergency room is much like a stay at Motel 6: The bed is uncomfortable, there’s no room service, and the people in the next room make lots of noise.

AFTERMATH

For several days, full use of my left hand—regardless of whatever level of pain I felt—was curtailed. I could not, for example, carry a full dinner plate to the table with that hand, and when I attempted to type, those fingers never seemed to strike the keys at which I aimed them.

As a writer, this was, perhaps, what most concerned me about my situation. If the words in my brain never get transferred to a page, am I really a writer?

I attempted to dictate, but this proved as futile now as it did in 2008 when, following bypass surgery, I purchased my first dictation software. The amount of time I spend cleaning up gibberish and reformatting to something resembling proper format makes the process cumbersome and counter-productive, and requires nearly as much use of both hands as straight-forward typing.

Using my right-hand only, I handwrote a fair amount on a notepad. Unfortunately, this requires me to eventually type everything, which is akin to doubling my workload and postponing but not diminishing the use of my left hand.

Thumb typing on my iPhone proved perhaps the best of several bad choices, and I wrote much of the opening scene of a new story this way. Though the file required formatting when copied into a Word document, there was far less gibberish to clean up than when I dictated.

Note of these solutions proved ideal, in part because I tried to force the process to fit my method of writing rather than adapting my method of writing to fit the process.

LOOKING AHEAD

As I write this, about two weeks after my emergency room visit, the pain—except for occasional twinges—has diminished to barely noticeable, and my grip strength has mostly returned, though a bit weaker at the end of the day than the beginning. Unfortunately, the fingers of my left hand continue to vex me.

All of this suggests that I am not prepared for aging. I have not planned for infirmities, lapses in mental prowess, and the like. Despite toying with dictation software and thumb typing, I have no clear plan for how to continue writing when I lose control of my body. And will I someday be tended to by medical personnel who think I’m hallucinating when all I’m trying to do is tell them the cool story I thought up while idling away my time in some home for the aged?

I don’t have answers, and I don’t have solutions, so I suspect these thoughts will occupy a fair amount of my time going forward. I only hope that I’ll not let concerns about the future interfere with today’s production.

Throwback Tuesday: My first novel, Deadly Campaign, released as an audiobook in 1994 and as a trade paperback in 2000, is still available from Wildside Press and can be ordered from Amazon. Covering City Hall during an election year was all the excitement reporter Dan Fox needed—until he discovered Alderman Bill Franklin’s bullet-ridden body. While Fox digs for the story, long-hidden secrets rise to the surface—secrets that threaten the political fabric of the city—and Fox soon discovers he’s caught in the middle of a Deadly Campaign.

NEWS FLASH!

Between writing the above and the date this gets posted, I attended Malice Domestic and returned home as co-editor of Black Cat Mystery Magazine. A few months ago, Carla Coupe announced that she was stepping away from Wildside Press and, following wonderful discussions with both Carla and publisher John Betancourt, Ive become her replacement.

Wildside Press has published several of my books and Ive had a story in every issue of BCMM, so I have a long and positive relationship with John and Wildside, and Im looking forward to what the future holds. The next few issues will contain stories Carla and John have already selected, so my initial impact may be minimal. Carla and John will be guiding me through the transition, and Ill share important information when I have it.

20 comments:

Paul D. Marks said...

Michael, congratulations on your becoming editor of Black Cat. As for your medical issues, I hope they'll continue to improve and won't interfere with the things you really want to be doing!

John Floyd said...

Michael, I'm glad to hear you're recovering. And sincere congrats on your new position--Black Cat MM's a great magazine, and it's good to know you'll be co-steering the ship.

Richard Krauss said...

Whoa! What a shocking development. Hope you continue to improve and get back to your old self soon.

O'Neil De Noux said...

Great news on the editing front but the medical issues are scary. Just when things are going smoothly ...
Hang in there, buddy.

Steve Liskow said...

Echoing everyone else, it's great that you're going to be editing BCMM, but the medical developments are scary. Every time we think we know how to take care of ourselves, something new pops up. It's like creating a new plot without a happy ending.

Glad your recovery is progressing well.

Art Taylor said...

Michael!!! I had no idea about all this when we chatted at Malice. You play things very close to the vest (in person, at least, and then sharing here). Glad you're doing better--and so pleased with the news about Black Cat, of course. Celebrating again. :-)

Eve Fisher said...

Glad to hear it wasn't a heart attack, Michael. If it makes you feel less insecure, I had a costacartilage infection in my chest back when I was 14, and antibiotics mopped that right up. Meanwhile, if you want to plan ahead, get one of the voice-to-text softwares on the market:
https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/voice-to-text
I haven't gone that far yet, but I've upgraded to an ergonomic keyboard and mouse.

Michael Bracken said...

Thanks, everyone. I was on the mend by the time I went to Malice Domestic, Art, so I didn't think my medical adventure worthy of mention. Now, several weeks after the emergency-room visit, my typing is on par with what it was, my grip strength is almost where it was before, my blood pressure is where it used to be, and nothing else appears to have been impacted.

Carla Coupe provided me with detailed instructions on Black Cat Mystery Magazine's production process, and John Betancourt and I have developed a tentative production schedule for future issues of the magazine. If everything works as planned, it should soon be on a regular quarterly schedule, with three numbered issues and one special issue each year. So, watch the BCMM website for information on when the next submission window(s) will be.

Robert Lopresti said...

Michael, glad you have kept your sense of humor. As a Washington resident I appreciated (?) your reminder of our state legislator's brilliant remarks about card shark nurses. Sigh. I assume you are right-s?

And congrats on BCMM. I have a story in the next issue, so don't mess it up!

Leigh Lundin said...

Wow, talk about bumpy-ride emotions. Michael, I'm sorry to hear about the rough time, but congratulations on BCMM.

Since grade school when teachers nicknamed me Absent=Minded Professor, I've fretted folks might think my situation normal is senility.

Again, congratulations, Michael. Give 'em hell.

Leigh Lundin said...

Michael, I know I'm doing that guy thing, slipping into problem-solving mode, but your article piqued my interest.

Direct to Mac

Among the great things about the early days of the Macintosh were some of the clever input devices companies brought to market. The Flying Mouse glasses frames was one such product. Another was a one-handed full-character keyboard. In photos, it looked like half a baseball. Wondering if anyone makes anything like that today, I googled one-handed keyboards.

Nothing like the baseball showed up, but there is a nice collection of 1-handed devices, some of them made for gamers. One gadget is almost the opposite form factor of the half-hardball, kind of a hollow geeky sculpture.

iPad/iPhone to Mac

A number of Macintosh word-processing programs feature iPhone and iPad counterparts, the most obvious MS Word, but also Apple Pages, which Apple recently made free to all users. I've seen some dedicated programs for writers such as Scrivener. If you could move story templates from the Mac to the iPad/iPhone (if not installed along with the program), you might be able to tap out fully formatted manuscripts.

We now return you to your regular programming…

Michael Bracken said...

Luckily, Leigh, my inability to type was short-term, but it was a wake-up call for the future.

Eve and Leigh, I've used Dragon Dictate for the Mac and tried to dictate using Siri on my iPhone. Alas, both are functionally illiterate. Or we don't speak the same language.

Robert, I'll try not to screw anything up until after your story's been published. (Nice catch on the card-playing reference!)

R.T. Lawton said...

Michael, Dragon Naturally Speaking a few years ago would occasionally produce nonsensical sentences, but always got the curse words that followed correct. Siri can have the side effect of one side shouting in frustration. And the dictation program for texts on my iPhone, sometimes has me explaining and/or apologizing to text recipients who text back, "Huh"? And yet, I know I speak good English with no accent at all.

Hang in there.

Barb Goffman said...

Wow, Michael. That must have been scary. I'm glad you're doing better. And congrats again about Black Cat.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

Glad the costochondritus cleared up. It can become permanent and it can flare up without warning. Often times a mild cold or alergy episode can trigger it, as can a sneeze or cough. My late wife had it for a number of years. What finally stopped it for her was chemo. That is not a recommendation I make for anyone.

I won't bore you with my health stuff, but I have issues with typing so I write everything out longhand. Sandi used to type for me. Now Scott does it. I am not looking forward to the day when no one is here to type.

Bruce Arthurs said...

Sorry to hear about recent health concerns. I've been mostly healthy most of my life, but in my late 60s and really starting to notice the slow deterioration in strength and stamina.

When I had my right arm in a sling for several months following 2012's hideously broken arm and shoulder joint replacement, I got to be a pretty proficient left-handed typist. (I don't recommend that particular learning process, although being off work for months kickstarted me into writing fiction again after years away.)

Congrats and good luck with BCMM. I'll try to keep current on its submission openings.

Michael Bracken said...

Thanks again, everyone.

Debra H. Goldstein said...

Glad to hear you are feeling better. Hoping the hand is just a blip .....

Edith Maxwell said...

Your post - and glad you are much improved, by the way - made me also think about my future as a writer if at some point I can't do the physical/mechanical part. Scary stuff! Jessie Crockett has had great luck speaking her books into the Dragon software, so I might try that in the future if needed.

And congrats on the editorship!

Earl Staggs said...


Glad you made it through all that, Michael, and I know you'll do a great job with Black Cat.