Category Archives: doctors

Q is for Quandary


by Lillian Csernica on April 20, 2022

Lexico.com defines quandary as “A state of perplexity or uncertainty over what to do in a difficult situation.” This is a perfect description of the difficulties I’ve faced when trying to balance a career as a professional writer with being the mother of two special needs boys.

In 1993 I joined the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers Association as an Active Member. In 1998 my older boy Michael came into the world at only 23 weeks. That he survived the next three and a half months in the hospital is nothing short of miraculous. The writing I accomplished during that time consisted mainly of the notes I kept in pretty hardback journals, documenting Michael’s growth, his tiny but meaningful milestones, the tests and surgeries and growing list of medications. Once Michael was allowed to come home, life became crowded with doctor appointments and physical therapy sessions. I tried to make the best use of the time available, editing manuscripts while in transit to the various appointments.

In 1998 John came along. Now I had two babies to care for. At that time it was just me while my husband was at work during the day. This is when I developed the habit of writing at night after the boys were asleep. Not the best plan when I wasn’t getting much sleep anyway. John was getting better and better at climbing out of his crib. At age two Michael developed seizure disorder, so I lived with one ear listening for any strange sound that might indicate John had escaped or Michael might be in distress. It’s very difficult to achieve the state of creative trance necessary for writing when one’s attention is constantly divided.

When Michael turned three and was eligible for the Early Start program, one of the benefits was nursing care. Thanks to the RNs who helped out and the support of my family, I wrote Ship Of Dreams. Getting that manuscript research took two solid years, then writing it meant daily labor. I suffered a disk crash that cost me two months’ work. (Words of wisdom: “Finish it!” and “Back it up!”) I found a literary agent who sold the book to a publisher. I’d been having some success with selling short stories and writing nonfiction pieces.

This might sound wonderful, and it was, but it meant struggling against my own fatigue, emotional exhaustion, and what I later learned were the symptoms of PTSD. When your brain already feels like dead coral, it’s almost impossible to summon up the energy needed to string words together. By that I meant just making sense when you’re talking to another person, never mind the effort required for creative writing. How was I going to keep writing? How was I going to complete projects, edit them, and do the marketing work?

There have been many times when I’ve wanted to “do it later.” As many wise people have said, later never comes. Today is tomorrow. I asked myself, “How badly do you want this? How badly do you want to work toward a Hugo, a Nebula, a World Fantasy Award?” The answers to those questions drove me to find ways to do the work even while attending doctor appointments, during hospital stays for Michael, and then facing John’s difficulties.

John had been hitting all the developmental milestones up until age four. We knew he had speech delay. The speech therapist was the first one to suggest we get John evaluated by a neurologist. The neurologist diagnosed John with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. At that time I knew nothing about “autism” other than the really drastic examples most people think of when they heard that word. Mind you, this was twenty years ago when a lot less was known about neurodiversity. I was in shock, frightened, depressed, and overwhelmed. Managing Michael’s care was already a complex challenge. Now John’s doctor and therapist appointments would have to be shoehorned into an already tight schedule. How on earth was I going to maintain a writing career when I couldn’t even manage a regular night’s sleep?

So I learned how to write whenever I had a few minutes. Free writing. Word sprints. Call it what you will. These bursts of writing are manageable, fun, and can be fit into a car ride, sitting in a waiting room, while having a meal in the hospital cafeteria. It’s not always comfortable, and it’s not easy, but practice promotes adaptation. I’ve written a total of seven novels and quite a few short stories. Now that some family issues and the first shock of the pandemic have settled down somewhat, I hope to move forward with editing and polishing these novels.

Living in today’s world makes it even harder to maintain a creative life. So many of us have had to take on the role of caregiver to a family member. Believe me when I tell you it’s essential to carve out some time for yourself, and for your creative work. Somewhere in your waking hours there will be fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, maybe even a whole hour. Use it. Sit down and take a good look at your daily schedule. You may find you have more time than you realize, it’s just a matter of making choices about what you spend that time doing.

Creative success. How badly do you want it?

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Filed under #atozchallenge, autism, Blog challenges, creativity, doctors, editing, Family, Fiction, frustration, Goals, historical fiction, hospital, memoirs, mother, neurodiversity, parenting, publication, research, science fiction, special education, Special needs, specialists, therapy, worry, Writing

I is for Insomia


by Lillian Csernica on April 9, 2022

When I was a teenager I loved to sleep. Stay up late, sleep late, linger in bed, the very definition of a layabout. Science now tells us teenagers need a lot of sleep because they’re growing both physically and mentally. Adolescence takes a heavy toll on the body and the mind. I’ll vouch for that. Living through middle school meant two of the worst years of my life. Sleep as a method of escaping reality became a coping mechanism. I had what the psychologists refer to as “peer problems.” I grew up alone due to my brother and sister both leaving home when I was only seven years old. Now I was in middle school, twelve years old, and my parents had just gone through a really messy, bitter divorce. The divorce meant Dad was gone and Mom had to go back to work, so I was a latchkey kid before the term had been invented. I was miserable. I could escape that only when I was sleeping.

For somebody who liked to sleep so much, how did I develop all three forms of insomnia associated with clinical depression? It’s been a long and stressful road from twelve to fifty-six, and life wasn’t exactly all rainbows and unicorns when I was a little kid. Just to be clear, let me explain the three separate forms of insomnia:

1. I have difficulty getting to sleep.

2. I have difficulty staying asleep.

3. If something wakes me up, I can’t get back to sleep.

Do I take medication for insomnia? Oh yes. Does the medication I take work? Yes and no. If I avoid caffeine, don’t eat the wrong foods and don’t eat too late in the evening, take my pills on an empty stomach and then go straight to bed, I might have an even chance of actually dozing off in a reasonable amount of time. All of that is referred to as good “sleep hygiene.” In general, my sleep hygiene is poor. I stay up too late. That’s when the house is quite enough for me to write. I watch exciting mysteries or detective shows or supernatural movies on TV. Many of these self-defeating behaviors are tied into my depression. Some nights I’m just too agitated to sleep and the medication makes no difference at all. Then there’s the problem of my body’s tendency to acclimate to medication within about four months. Am I still depressed? Oh yes. Will I ever be cured? There is no cure for Major Depressive Disorder. There is only support through medication and therapy, along with healthy living habits and a determination to keep on climbing up out of the darkness.

I know these things for sure:

Sleep deprivation makes depression worse and causes weight gain.

Depression will make weight gain worse.

Weight gain will make depression worse.

See how easy it is to get stuck in the labyrinth with no way out? The answer is sleep. When I’m asleep, my body is restoring itself and my mind processes what’s going on at various levels of my consciousness. That processing is essential. Picture your mind as one big file drawer. When you get enough sleep, all the files are in the right order and new material gets filed and cross-referenced appropriately. When you don’t get enough sleep, information gets filed incorrectly, memory doesn’t work right, and if the sleep deprivation goes on long enough, what you end up with is that file drawer yanked out, turned upside down, and everything dumped on the floor in an impossible mess. Sometimes the mess is so bad you have what the psychiatrists refer to as a “psychotic break.”

Bear in mind I’m talking about myself here. Different people need different amounts of sleep. Newborns do very little but eat and sleep. Teenagers need a lot of sleep not because they’re lazy but because of their mental and physical growth rates. Older people might not need as much sleep as people in their thirties or forties. Your mileage may vary. All I know is I need more sleep than I get, and that’s partly due to my own bad habits. It’s important to be aware of that. The more control I have over the causes of my depression, the more I can fight it. The more I keep up the fight, the more often I win. It’s when I forget that I can stand up against the depression that it takes over. Fatigue, chronic pain, the endless stress of two special needs children, and the pandemic make it very difficult to keep moving forward. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is my friend.

Right now I’m sitting here at 1:30 a.m. It’s been another long day in a long week. Before I go to sleep, I will write down at least three good things that happened today. I will light that candle and keep it lit against the darkness of depression.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, bad movies, Blog challenges, Depression, doctors, Family, frustration, Goals, home town, memoirs, mother, parenting, research, Special needs, specialneeds, therapy, worry, Writing

H is for Headache


by Lillian Csernica on April 8, 2022

Dept. of Noise Pollution Control

County Clerk’s Office

Santa Cruz, CA 95006

Dear Person,

I want to propose a new county ordinance. People who can provide the appropriate medical documentation for a diagnosis of persistent migraines will be allowed to apply for placards similar to the ones issued to people who need to use the parking spaces for the disabled. These “migraine placards” will be large enough to hang in a front window of the person’s residence where it will be easily viewed from the street.

According to Migraine.com, “In the U.S., more than 37 million people suffer from migraines. Some migraine studies estimate that 13 percent of adults in the U.S. population have migraines, and 2-3 million migraine suffers are chronic. Almost 5 million in the U.S. experience at least one migraine attack per month, while more than 11 million people blame migraines for causing moderate to severe disability.”

Public visibility of the “migraine placard” will facilitate awareness of and respect for the migraine sufferer’s condition. While the placard is in place, noise abatement laws will carry additional fines along with whatever further punitive action is determined necessary by law enforcement officials. If, after the placard has been hung in the window and a civil request for peace and quiet has been delivered verbally by the migraine sufferer(or a designated representative), the noise does not cease within fifteen minutes, the migraine sufferer may summon law enforcement officials to settle the matter.

This migraine-related noise abatement ordinance shall encompass but not be limited to power tools, leaf blowers, lawn mowers, motorcycles, dirt bikes, construction equipment, sound systems, and the noise generated by the prolonged and undisciplined tantrums thrown by small children whose parents for whatever reason have not curtailed this behavior.

Thank you for your attention. I will be happy to provide further data on the prevalence of migraines and the impact of noise pollution on the health and welfare of the community.

Sincerely yours,

Lillian Csernica

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, doctors, hospital, Humor, memoirs, research

#nanowrimo Writing Interrupted


by Lillian Csernica on November 16, 2019

I don’t know about you, but I’m having an extremely difficult year. Deaths and departures. The usual endless chaos at home, making sure we have enough aides and nursing staff for Michael. Courtrooms and Emergency Rooms and making room for my writing amid all the uproar.

And now, right in the middle of #nanowrimo, my gall bladder decided to declare war.

I was going to post a gallbladder graphic here, but no.

I spent most of the week between last Friday and today at a local hospital after I took myself to the Emergency Room for really nasty stomach pains. Many tests and much painful prodding revealed that my gall bladder was well on its way to causing me serious damage.

The hospital drama blew my mind. They wanted to send me home to make an appointment with the appropriate doctor in “three or four days.”

I’ll say one thing for this year. It’s put some serious steel into my spine. I repeated back to the doctors everything they’d just told me and demanded to know how they could send me home when they KNEW a medical crisis was imminent. I don’t know if I was persuasive enough or intimidating enough or just plain loud enough. They admitted me and the surgery took place last Saturday.

They discharged me on Sunday, less than 24 hours later, with no apparent regard for me still being on the big time painkillers you can’t get outside of hospitals. I hadn’t walked the ward, my gut motility had not resumed, none of the fundamental criteria for even considering discharge status. Yes, I could breathe, and no, I wasn’t bleeding to death. Apparently those two were sufficient.

And so they sent me home. They also forgot to give me back the bag of my regular medications I’d brought from home. You never know when some of your meds won’t be available in a particular hospital. I didn’t notice the glaring absence of my meds at the time because I was busy recovering from major abdominal surgery.

Two and a half hours after my husband drove me home, he was on the phone to 911. The pain had me in such a vicious grip I could not inhale without trying to scream. In the ambulance I was in such bad shape the paramedic didn’t bother with an IV. She had me ingest liquid painkiller by the simple expedient of soaking some gauze in the liquid form, sticking it up my nose, and commanding me to inhale as hard as I could.

The Emergency Room was not happy to see me again. I’m afraid I rather lost my temper with the doctor on duty who tried to tell me the CT scan they’d just done showed everything looking fine after surgery. Why then, I asked, after you people took out the organ you claimed was causing the problem, am I now in far more intense pain?

That doctor did what I’ve seen other doctors do in similar situations, which was hand me off to the next doctor up the chain of command. This worthy gentleman read the chart, examined my surgical sites, asked me a few questions, then shook his head and said, “We sent you home too soon. I’m admitting you.”

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And so I spent Monday and Tuesday heavily medicated. They managed to lose one of my medications AGAIN, would not call the prescribing physician, and came within inches of me organizing a posse of lawyers to storm the bureaucratic barricades.

All this right in the middle of #nanowrimo. Did I get any writing done? As a matter of fact, I did. Armed with a notebook and pen provided by a writing buddy  who truly went above and beyond for me, I lay there and tried to keep my writing between the lines while this dear and treasured friend coaxed me through at least two word sprints.

My word count is currently at 14,220. I have to write 12, 452 words before midnight tonight in order to catch up. That’s 50 pages. Ouch.

I’m having a blast with these new Kyoto Steampunk stories when I can shut out everything else and concentrate. Right now I’m tired and I’m hurting and there are so many other things that needed to be done last week and five days in the hospital have left me even farther behind.

So cheer me on, people. Please. Help me get all the way to 50k.

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Filed under Depression, doctors, Family, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, hospital, Kyoto, parenting, specialneeds, steampunk, surgery, Writing

#atozchallenge K is for Kids


by Lillian Csernica on April 12, 2019
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by Lillian Csernica on April 12, 2019

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People told me that when I had kids, my life would never be the same.

Those people had no idea how right they were.

My son Michael was born at 23 weeks, weighing 770 grams. That’s one pound, eleven ounces. He was the size of a kitten lying across my palms. This was back in 1996. At that time the age of viability was 24 weeks, because only then would the lungs function. During every single day of the following three and a half months Michael spent in the hospital, we watched and waited to see if our baby would live or die.

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Two and a half years later, John arrived. He went full term, a hefty eight pounds, ten ounces. During delivery, John refused to breathe. By then the hospital staff knew our family rather well, so the head of neonatology was on hand to jump start John and make sure he started life in good form. John had to spend the first week of his life in the NICU, which drove me crazy because I wanted my baby. Then, as John missed verbal milestones and showed other unusual behavior, we learned he has Autistic Spectrum Disorder.

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Now people tell me I should write about my experiences with both of my sons. I should write about battles with insurance, battles with the school district, battles with the boys themselves. I should write about all the doctors and nurses and teachers and aides I’ve worked with through two decades. I should write about what I’ve learned and what I wish I’d known.

It’s not easy to write about difficult events when you’re still in the process of living through them. Now that my boys are legal adults, they face a sharp decline in services, lack of day programs, and the ongoing insurance battles. Michael is still in just as much danger from every medical crisis. John is still learning how to handle some of his symptoms. I am their mother, their legal guardian, and their primary advocate.

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The time is coming when I will write more nonfiction. Right now, I write escapist literature because that’s what I need to write. I don’t travel as much as I’d like to because I simply can’t. In order to hang on to my dented sanity, I run away from home inside my head.

 

 

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Filed under #atozchallenge, autism, Blog challenges, Conventions, cosplay, doctors, Family, fantasy, Fiction, frustration, Goals, historical fiction, hospital, mother, neurodiversity, parenting, special education, specialneeds, travel, Writing

#atozblogchallenge F is for Finish It!


by Lillian Csernica on April 6, 2019

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I can sum up the secrets of writing success in two words: Finish it!

Everybody loves the beginning. Even when it’s difficult and you don’t know where it start. That first flush of creativity, the excitement over a new idea, can be addictive. So addictive, in fact, that when the shine of a new idea wears off and the doldrums of rewriting set in, people often abandon a project for something new.

That way lies disaster.

Most writers have several ideas sitting around in various stages of development. It’s what we do. Successful writers figure out which ideas have the most potential and invest time and effort in developing those projects. Agents won’t look at unfinished manuscripts. Editors don’t buy unfinished stories. Readers don’t read either of these because unfinished projects never get published.

Finish it.

When I wrote my first fantasy novel, I hit a rough patch about 3/4 of the way through. For three solid weeks I thought every word I wrote was worthless. Every single day I had to bully myself through my word quota. Eventually I got through it and completed the manuscript. When I got to that “worthless” section later during the editing process, it wasn’t really all that bad.

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When I wrote Ship of Dreams, my boys were both quite young. I wasn’t getting much sleep. There were lots of doctor appointments. When John was around 4 or 5 years old, we discovered he’s autistic. That was heartbreaking on top of all of Michael’s difficulties. Once again I hit that stage at the 3/4 mark where I couldn’t stand the story and wanted to give up. I also had a disk crash that cost me a chunk of work. Even with all this going on, and with the help of my agent, I completed the manuscript. That book sold.

Whatever you’re writing, finish it. Only when you get all the way to what you think is the ending, will you have a better idea of where the story should start. This is why they’re called roughdrafts. Just do it. Get it written. Throw everything at the page until you reach the end. Take a break. Step back. Let it cool. Then begin the edit and the rewrite.

Checkered, Chequered, FINISH

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, doctors, Family, Fiction, historical fiction, Lillian Csernica, love, marriage, neurodiversity, parenting, pirates, publication, romance, special education, specialneeds, tall ships, Writing

#atozblogchallege A is for Angle


by Lillian Csernica on April 1, 2019

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Welcome to my sixth year of participation in the A to Z Blog Challenge!

How I Learned To Be A Writer

This year I’m going to share with you 26 separate moments from my writing life, moments that taught me something worth remembering. Moments that helped shape my writing style. Moments that taught me how to endure the bad days and celebrate the triumphs.

A is for Angle

 

“Angle” is a term used by journalists when referring to the focus of the article they’re writing. It means which aspect of the subject matter they intend to emphasize as a means of making the article more relevant and interesting to the readers.

The concept of angle is quite useful to fiction writers. As the indie publishing market has exploded and competition for readership continues to increase, it’s becoming more and more essential to find a fresh approach, some new aspect of the stories we want to tell.

In my Kyoto Steampunk series, I chose to leave Victorian England behind and take my protagonist Dr. William Harrington to Kyoto, Japan. Once the Shogunate fell and the Meiji Emperor opened Japan to the West, Japan experienced its own Industrial Revolution, making it an excellent setting for steampunk stories.

Dr. Harrington’s adventures are a mixture of historical science fiction and Japanese fantasy. When I go to conventions to promote the anthologies where my Kyoto Steampunk stories appear, people are often surprised to hear I’ve chosen Japan for my setting. This fresh angle has resulted in a total of seven short stories so far, along with the novel that is my current work in progress.

Find that fresh angle! It will help you on your road to success.

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Filed under #atozchallenge, Blog challenges, classics, Conventions, doctors, editing, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, history, Japan, Kyoto, Lillian Csernica, publication, steampunk, travel, Writing

Clockwork Alchemy 2019


by Lillian Csernica on March 13, 2019

 

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Yes, it’s time once again for top hats and goggles, airships and submarines, international intrigue and more! Join me and the rest of my multi-talented colleagues as we celebrate all things steampunk!

Here’s where you can find me on each day of the con. I do hope you will stop by and say hello. It’s always a pleasure to hear what people think of Dr. Harrington’s adventures in Kyoto.

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Friday, March 22

1 p.m. in the  Harbour Room

DIALOGUE IN HISTORICAL FICTION: Nuts and bolts technique for layering characterization into dialogue.

Saturday, March 23

11 a.m. in the Sandpebble Room

MAGIC IN STEAMPUNK: Practical tips for working magic into a storyline where period technology is the hallmark of the genre.
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Sunday, March 24

1 p.m. in Authors’ Alley

Stop by my table and pick up your copy of Next Stop On The #13, which includes The Badger Epidemic. Dr. Harrington is forced to take a train to Osaka, where a cholera epidemic is killing the railway workers. Something is waiting for him en route that could prove even more dangerous than cholera itself!

See you there!

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Filed under Conventions, cosplay, doctors, editing, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, history, Japan, Kyoto, Lillian Csernica, publication, research, steampunk, travel, Writing

Can You Spot the Monster?


by Lillian Csernica on March 9, 2019

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France, 1300s. A chateau in the Alps. A Russian noblewoman sheltering there and earning her keep as governess to the daughter of the family. Katarina is the keeper of a terrible secret, one she must keep at all costs or face the loss of Yvette, the daughter Katarina herself will never have. Living under the watchful eye of Yvette’s father Sieur Etienne is difficult enough. Then a German scholar arrives, asking too many questions about matters that should be none of his concern.

Who is the real monster in this story? Who is most deserving of the ultimate punishment? Read it and make up your own mind!

 

I am overjoyed to see my story Saving Grace appear alongside some of the greatest masters of horror and dark fantasy:

Alexandra Elizabeth Honigsberg

F. Marion Crawford

E.F. Benson

Mary E. Braddon

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Darrell Schweitzer

Melanie and Steve Rasnic Tem

If you enjoy weird fiction, fantasy with an edge to it, and stories that will keep you up at night, you will love all the treasures brought together in this collection.

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An All-New Kyoto Steampunk Story!


by Lillian Csernica on January 25, 2019

I am delighted to announce the release of Next Stop on the #13, the fourth steampunk anthology featuring stories by the authors of Clockwork Alchemy.

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MoonBase Prints

In The Badger Epidemic, Dr. Harrington is forced to ride a train bound for Osaka through a region afflicted by a cholera epidemic. The Japanese workers needed for building the railways and telegraph lines believe the cholera is spread by the new technology from the West. The British officials insist Dr. Harrington ride the train and prove the superstition is nonsense.

What awaits Dr. Harrington out in the darkness on those lonely train tracks is a danger even greater than the threat of cholera itself.

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Join us for Clockwork Alchemy 2019. Get your copy of Next Stop on the #13 and have it autographed by the authors of each story, including the master of alternate history, Harry Turtledove!

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Filed under Conventions, doctors, editing, fairy tales, Family, fantasy, Fiction, historical fiction, history, Japan, Kyoto, legend, Lillian Csernica, publication, steampunk, travel, Writing