My daughter had spinal fusion surgery last February. It was areal challenge on a number of levels. She's doing great now and sees her surgeon for follow up very soon. She's hoping he will clear her to do two of her favorite things: go rock climbing and ride roller coasters. My fingers are crossed for her as she's been a real trooper through a challenging recovery. She's definitely been my hero.
In reflecting on that as we approach her surgical consultation, I'm revisiting my thoughts the day after her operation. Here's hoping for rock climbing!
Yesterday was a very long day. Actually, it feels very much like I’m still experiencing the same day without interruption. They’ve made some real strides with those hospital fold-out chairs over the years, but there’s little one can do to block out the lights and sounds of a hospital recovery wing, while still keeping one’s ear finely attuned to the sounds of your child.
Dad was proud to serve as the first line of nausea defense. Vomitus is normally my kryptonite, but as I said yesterday, I had my “game face” on and I was on point. Only had to change my shirt once, which was good as I only had one extra.
I won’t spend much time getting into the medical details except to say that she did phenomenally during surgery and was a trooper all day. Sleep was difficult for us both, and as I write this she’s asleep in her new fancy room upstairs, the recovery center now behind us.
The wife and I were together when her surgeon came out and told us that she was in recovery and that it went “pretty straightforward and she did great.” I didn’t, as I thought I might, lose it. I did however feel an immediate relief upon exhale, and it felt like I’d been holding my breath just a little for the past two months. I felt an immense sense of gratitude.
I felt thankful for her doctors and nurses and all the staff here at the hospital that have cared for out family in a variety of ways for years. I thought “Thank God” pretty much right away and I meant just that. I felt grateful to our friends and family who’ve supported us all and my firstborn in particular of late. Honestly, I was just so grateful that the surgery part was done and we could then focus on the “taking care of her” part. The recovery, which won’t likely be a cakewalk began in earnest yesterday, and that, at least, is something we can be a part of. We can hold her hand. We can remind her of how loved she is. We can help her stand up and walk down the hall and feed her ice chips and stroke her hair and show her Hamilton clips when they need to draw blood again. We can be understanding and patient and all of that stuff. But she had to get clear of the surgery first. I felt such a sense of relief when the doctor came out and told us she was ok. It was like I’d been wearing ankle weights for two months and then, upon taking them off discovered that while I still can’t dunk, I can hit the backboard. It was a huge relief.
Overnight was a challenge. It’s bright and noisy and it was too warm in our shared room. There were moments overnight where it felt like morning would never come. They had to reposition her body every two hours, so between that and dealing with the nausea, there was very little time to sleep without interruption, if one could fall asleep at all.
We’ve had two mottos over the last few days that we really tapped into last night. The first one is a line I’ve known for years, and it really fit. It’s attributed to like 5 different sources, so who knows where it came from, except that I’m certain it came from someone who went through some stuff.
“The only way out is through.”
The only way to get her spine situated is through the surgery. The only way to the nice room upstairs is through the recovery room. The only way home is through the PT and recovery. The only way back to activity and school is through healing up and learning to move again. She seemed to connect to this one a lot, especially late last night when all she wanted to do was something other than lay there and try to sleep. We made it though the night and she’s sleeping much more comfortably now that we are through the recovery wing.
The other one was given to me by a good friend earlier this week as we were talking about the impending surgery. She mentioned something that had been told to her before she’d faced her own surgery. She said, “Let her know that while it will hurt, it will only hurt for a little while. And you can do anything when you know it’s only for a little while.” I told this to my daughter on the eve of her operation, and it really seemed to help. We’ve repeated it several times since then. It’s really helped. She’s been a trooper about her pain and a rock star with the nurses, who have the unfortunate responsibility of making her uncomfortable on purpose at times.
Anytime I’m in the hospital, I reflect back on my own visits there over my life. My own back surgery in 2001, the birth of the kids, the wife’s surgeries. Inevitably, I come back to the time I spent in the hospital with my father during the end of his life. I think of the years my eldest sister spent in the hospital. She died when I was a newborn, so I never got to know her, and I can only imagine what that was like for her and my parents and sister. I always think of these things when I’m in the hospital. I wonder if I’m the only one who does that.
I thought of them last night in particular when things got a little extra challenging. I thought of my dad and my sister and thought, if they can get through their challenges with grace and dignity, which they did, I can aspire to the same. I’m not even the patient this time.
The only way out is through. And this is only for a little while. And my kid is a rock star.
I’m supposedly old and well-adjusted enough now to understand when I need to ask for help. That said, I’m also apparently old enough to make the same mistakes I did as a younger person.
What a time to be alive!
In all seriousness I learned a valuable lesson this week, one that I hope I will continue to use as I move my writing and my publishing business forward.
I’ve been working on my upcoming novel, The Last Good Day for the better part of six years. Now, I wasn’t working on it at the beginning the way I am now. There were periods of dormancy in the middle years and there were times I was focused on other projects. Over the last two years, I decided to really focus my energy, attention, and most recently, my resources onto completing and publishing this book. Along the way, I asked for help regularly from friends and family and people in the industry. My team of Beta Readers is a wonderful group and they’ve been remarkable. I’ve asked everyone I know at one point or another to either review something or give me a general opinion. Heck, if we’re friends on Facebook, you may have even named a character along the way. It’s taken a village to be sure.
As we get closer to book launch I find myself looking more deeply at things I can do myself and things I need to hire someone to help me with. My company is small and we are just starting out so, the budget is somewhat limited. Wherever I can learn something new and save myself money, I try to do just that. Learning new things at my age is pretty exciting and occasionally intimidating, but it has saved me money.
So, when it came time to design a cover for my novel I figured, sure, I can do that! I had an idea what I wanted it to look like and there was a template to follow so I gave it a whirl. I liked what I came up with and felt so good about it that I shared it in one of my online writing groups. I didn’t exactly ask for critical feedback but I sure got it, in the kindest and most supportive and positive way possible. That made a real difference.
The group, “Create If Writing,” operates on Facebook and it’s one of several such groups I’m a part of. This one has been particularly helpful over the last year. The people are kind and encouraging and we run the gamut from people just starting out to others who have been in the game for many years. This is significant because there are many such groups online and they all have their own, well, let’s say they have their own “flavor.” Some are very aggressive about marketing and using data analytics. Some suffer no questions from “newbs.” Others are focused on self-promotion and still others are all about writing. They all have their place. The “Create If” group has simply occupied a very helpful place in the process of this book and that was nowhere more evident than when they got me to hire someone to design the cover of my novel.
After I posted my cover pic on the group site, things started out nicely, with several “Congratulations” and “Yay!” comments. There were a few questions about what genre/audience the book is aiming for but discussion remained pretty basic until the comments moved, very gently into: “have you looked at the top-selling books in that genre?” and “It’s pretty, but it looks more grown up than a YA book would usually be, but, hey, good for you!”
They were right. Once I read their comments and really thought about it, I knew that my cover wasn’t right for a book targeting John Green fans. Young adults and the people who love them weren’t going to see my cover and say “gotta have this!” But I didn’t WANT to hire someone for this! I didn’t WANT to have to pay a brilliant artist at this point! I just wanted to be done!
But I wasn’t done. I was just getting started. I didn’t want to hear it. They told me anyway. As a result, I realized that I needed help. It just took a while.
The leader of the group actually messaged me and said something like “Listen, send me your basic cover photo and give me five minutes.” She created a mock-up of a new cover using my image and it was so much better than what I had made. My first response was “Wow, that’s way better!” Then I had a brief moment of “Man, what I had really stunk! Aw…” And then, I had a moment of clarity. I realized that over the days that this conversation went back and forth on the group page, everyone had been trying to help me, for no other reason really than that they could. And they wanted to. I clearly needed the help but I don’t know most of these fine people in real life. I only know them as part of an awesome community of writers. I clearly hadn’t asked for input and honestly, I was really just hoping everyone would love it so I could move forward.
But I clearly needed help. Once again, I had to get out of my own way and let others, who knew better, help me. That seems to be a theme I keep coming back to, over and over and over again, not just asking for help with the book cover, (which I’ve done and the initial proofs look great. I’ll share it once it’s perfect. We are close.), but the idea of getting out of my own way. That one keeps popping up for me.
I made a big move in founding Four Leaf Publishing and it’ll be another big move releasing The Last Good Day. Big moves have always been easier for me. They are big! They are dramatic. They are easy to get behind in the moment of passion and inspiration that defines them. The everyday moves, the day to day moves, the learning and the moments when I’m faced with crippling self-doubt; those are the ones that are more challenging. Those are the ones I need help with and it was really amazing to find that help, unsolicited from the Create If group. It was a truly effective reminder of the fact that I simply can’t do it all because I can’t be good at everything, no matter how much I might want to.
The bigger learning is that I don’t have to be good at everything. I’m not knee-deep into all this only to publish this one novel. I’m in this to build a company and a platform that means something. I know I’m at the starting line now but this is not a sprint. I’m already working on book two and three and beyond. I’ve got more stories with Avery and Angela and other stories with characters that are dying to get out into the world. My goals are modest in scope but go far beyond this one quirky little novel but I won’t get anywhere going it alone. I won’t learn anything that way either.
I have a lot more to learn and I will need help along the way. I’m going to fail at things, but as Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl MVP quarterback Nick Foles said, right after winning the Super Bowl, “Don’t be afraid to fail…without failure, who would you be? If…you’re struggling-embrace it, because you’re growing.” (Fly Eagles, Fly!)
It’s been an interesting time getting ready to release this novel. When it’s finally ready I hope it does well and I hope people enjoy it. There were many hands and many hearts that led this story to the page. It’s a big step, but it is in the end, only one step of many. I am humbled by the good fortune that I’ve had to surround myself with good and generous people, all of whom seem willing to tell me the truth. I appreciate that more than they know because I needed their help. I didn’t ask for it at first but it was given to me anyway. It made a real difference.
I hope that I’m the guy that just asks for help next time.
Guest Post: Helenipa Stephens: “If you don’t do it, you’ll regret it!” Wisdom from an American Teenager
Today I have the pleasure of sharing my first ever guest blog, featuring the work of Helenipa Stevens. She’s the daughter of Jennifer McBain Stevens, who’s brilliant work can be found by clicking HERE and you can find her latest book, The Vitamix and the Murder of Crows can be found HERE. Please show them some Aloha.
Helenipa’s article was for a school assignment and focuses on a story of a Girl Scout trip she took with my daughter’s scout troop to Wildwood last year. From the stories I’ve heard from both my daughter and my wife (assistant troop leader along with Jennifer), it sounds like it was a pretty epic journey for all in one form or another.
I really enjoyed Helenipa’s take on the whole thing and her commentary about how “If you don’t do it, you’ll regret it” really resonates with me as I dive feet first into the world of independent publishing. My soon-to-be-released novel The Last Good Day is set in large part in Wildwood, NJ, and there’s a lot about what Helenipa wrote that hits home not only for me, but for my characters. Getting out of my own way and finishing the book, learning the industry, and building a platform are important parts of my journey to here. More so was learning how to turn away from my own often crippling self-doubt and anxiety. That’s a work in progress to be sure but I am inspired by this young lady’s take on her own journey outside of her own comfort zone. As Helenipa might say, “It was a thing that had to be done.”
Without further ado, I present Miss Helenipa Stevens, my first ever guest on the blog.
The Sea Serpent
I was going to New Jersey! I was kind of scared because I heard there was going to be a lot of roller coasters there. Let’s just say I don’t like dropping to my death. My girl scout troop from Virginia was going to “Beach Jam.” Other girl scout troops were sleeping at the amusement park. Luckily, one of our members had a beach house there, and we got to sleep in comfort. Well, sort of. It was cramped and hot, and I felt congested. But I thought it was better than sleeping outside. Little did I know I was about to go on the coolest, scariest, dropping to deathest roller coaster ever. I woke up the next morning and felt groggy. We quickly got ready and started walking. When we got there the leaders talked about some ground rules like, stay in a group, meet back here, don’t talk to strangers. Then we splitted into our groups. I believe we were split by the type of roller coasters we were comfortable with going on. There was medium and majestic (or something like that.) I was in medium (no surprise), then we were off. As the “medium” group walked farther into the park we walked past a monster. Not an actual monster of course, a ride. But it sure looked like one. I couldn’t see the name of the ride, (I assumed it was on the other side) but I felt like I had heard about it before. Then is struck me: The Sea Serpent! Oh my gosh, it was a monster. This was the ride my friend Jensen was talking about (the one who had the beach house). This was her favorite ride?!
It had a white skeleton-like figure, winding super high. I had to crane my neck to see the top of it. As my group was looking at it a cart on the ride zoomed by. I couldn't really see what the people looked like because they were going so fast. I shuddered. My mom who was chaperoning us smiled. She, unlike most of my group liked those kinds of things. The first ride my group had decided to go on was the swings. There was probably a specific name but I didn't pay too much attention to it. I remember when I was younger I would love swings (I still do). It was like you were flying. The ¨swing ride¨ was like a merry go round for swings. It looked super fun. We got to the front and buckled ourselves in. I sat next to Bryn. We went around and around and around. It definitely felt like I was flying.
We went on another series of rides too. Some, I was surprised I went on. As we were going from ride to ride my mom kept bringing up the Sea Serpent. I was to scared to even think about it. My mom suggested a really good bribe: if I went on the coaster, I could get my ears pierced for my upcoming birthday. It was hard to say no. My life was in danger! After many minutes of convincing, I decided to give in. I mean, it wasn't that bad right? It was bad. I got some of the people in our group to come. I sat with my mom, and my friends Nora and Bryn sat together. The lady came around and made sure all our constraints were strong enough. She asked a man about mine. What?! Are you saying I´m not safe? I wanted to shout. After they confirmed I was okay she left and a few seconds later we were off. My mom said something like, “Remember it’s less than a minute,” (we’d timed it before.) We were slowly rising, like when you are anticipating a “jump scare” in a horror film. I still had my eyes open. I knew I was going to close them when we dropped. We dropped. I closed my eyes and screamed. I remember being shaken around quite violently and thinking this isn’t that bad… Then we stopped at the opposite hill from where we started. I remember my mom saying, “Halfway there!” Then, I opened my eyes for a split second. Then immediately closed them as we headed down hill backwards. It was done.
I was so proud of myself, my friends, and my mom (even though she had done things like this before.) I turned around and faced my friends: Bryn look petrified and Nora looked slightly shaken (Nora being the bravest “child” in the group.) We unbuckled ourselves and left. As we did Bryn and I talked about how thrilling it was. We called it the “cycle”.
Do you know the phrase: “If you don’t do it, you’ll regret it”? Well, this was the biggest “If you don’t do it you’ll regret it in my life.” I mean, I totally would have regretted not going on it.
It was a thing that had to be done; and now I have my ears pierced.
I read with my kids.
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