Please bear with me because this sounds like it’s going to be an odd post (and it’s a bit long), but it’ll make sense in the end. This is a cautionary tale about compromised judgement and oxygen deprivation and how a draft turned into written evidence.
A little background.
In 2009 I was incorrectly diagnosed with COPD while living in Wyoming. Despite arguing with doctors for a year I was ultimately hospitalized for a month. While there I was correctly diagnosed with Hypersensitivity Pneumonitis (caused by a bacterial infection), though it took a trip to Denver in late 2010 to save my life. Back in Wyoming, more poor treatment followed (including telling me inhalers wouldn’t help my condition … remember that, it’s important).
In 2014 I relocated to Montana, but required a referral to see a pulmonologist. New battles with new doctors ensued, along with insufficient, band-aid treatments. Sick again in early autumn 2016, I was (again) given insufficient treatment and a follow-up appointment scheduled for that December.
Determined to obtain my referral, I started logging my oxygen saturation readings. For perspective, healthy readings are typically in the upper nineties. Below 89% is considered dangerous. At that prior visit it took the entire session for my saturation to reach a safe level, yet it was shrugged off and I was given a limited supply of prednisone. Sure enough, soon after it ran out my condition rapidly worsened.
The log began on October 12, 2016 when my saturation dropped to 86% twice. It soon became obvious I needed to restrict my entries to drops lasting five minutes or longer. I dropped to 83% on the 14th, and on the 31st I dropped to 74% walking to the mailbox. Meanwhile, my struggling lungs caused my heart rate to soar and I was losing weight at an alarming rate.
As an INFJ it isn’t surprising I was still planning for my third NaNoWriMo. The novel I’d drafted the April before was a success and I had high hopes for November. The planned novel, A River in Each Hand, is the one I’m currently editing.
The writing problems started immediately. I’d written my narrative outline in October and there were strange lapses, like no opening worked out and only my protagonist mentioned.
After less than a week I had to abandon standing at my standup desk because I had no energy. It all fell apart on the 9th. My O2 dropped to 78% at one point and it became difficult to sit up. I’d lean on one arm and typed with the opposite hand when I could get away with it. My writing production plummeted and my saturation sank as low as 73% by the 14th.
By the end of the month my projected 120K novel had come in at about 84K. Of that total, 60% was written by the 9th.
At least I had a novel. Right? Not so much.
I ended up with a glorified version of my narrative outline. Reading it the following spring, I was horrified. It was a Frankennovel, containing some wonderful moments surrounded by pointlessness.
It’s taken me a year to face the mess. Here’s what I found:
• The writing quality was far below the novels drafted before and after it.
• The secondary characters disappeared, including the other three POV characters. Two of them vanished through the middle 60% of the book and it was if my antagonist came out of nowhere at the end. A planned romance between two characters was hinted in a scene—and that was it.
• Instead of conflict there was my protagonist moving from place to place as if checking destinations off a list. She might as well have been on a riding tour for half the book.
• The majority of each scene was my protagonist musing about the same topics over and over.
• Plot development is typically a strength, yet I regularly inserted ideas and never developed them. For instance, my protagonist came upon her abandoned childhood home. What happened? Nothing. Later, in an ancient city dripping with dangerous residual magic, what resulted? Nothing. The residual magic was never mentioned again.
• Most painful of all were the great ideas, arcs, and themes that were there for the taking and never explored: female friendship, renegade wizards, secret sorcery experiments, etc..
I was aiming for a Rembrandt and ended up with stick figures on a napkin.
Ultimately, the draft added some new ideas to the original narrative outline: hint’s concerning Riparia’s missing childhood year, divisions within the sorcerer ranks, residuals, the Mindflow Walk, and my beloved Time Library. Honorable mention goes to the character who made a surprise return at the end.
The Surprisingly Happy Ending
At my appointment in early December I had to see a substitute who was horrified at my condition and baffled I wasn’t seeing a pulmonologist. She gave me more prednisone and set up another appointment for two weeks later. At that appointment my normal person returned. She was curt—but provided my referral without me asking.
On January 16, 2017 I had my first visit with Dr. Beckmeyer (since retired) who looked at my log and scheduled tests. My pulmonary function was 30% of normal. I have permanent lung damage stemming from the misdiagnosis in 2009, but I should be over 50%. He put me on prednisone and antibiotics for three months AND gave me an inhaler. He also sent for my Wyoming pulmonary records, but what he got back was vague, incomplete, and generally shoddy.
Within three months my oxygen saturation was solidly above 95% every day! Since then, my pulmonary function has crept up to around 60% where it topped out. More important, it’s near that every day. Gone are the recoveries on prednisone followed by months of decline. How I am one day is now how I am the next. The goal was to even out my symptoms and he more than succeeded.
My writing takeaway is tied to my cautionary tale. I thought, despite how I felt physically, that my writing was going well. I knew there was inspiration injected into the draft, but what I didn’t know was I forgot it as fast as it came to mind. In other words, I was writing in the moment while forgetting what came before. Anyone talking to me would have thought I was normal, but I wasn’t. My short term memory was compromised.
If you have breathing difficulties, I encourage you to regularly check yourself. I test my O2 saturation and pulmonary function twice daily even though my doctor doesn’t require it (and I write it down). It acts like an early warning system.
Often, by the time you recognize the physical effects, your brain, and therefore your thinking, has already been impaired for awhile.
Think about it. I should have gone to the ER, yet I didn’t. It never crossed my mind.
Stay aware, and if you know someone with breathing problems make sure they’re monitoring their condition. As I discovered the hard way in 2010, 2012, and 2016, it can mean the difference between life and death.