The Tale of My Rebellious Flesh

My few loyal readers may have noticed that my monthly column for Psycho Drive-In as been a bit lacking in content of late. This has nothing to do with any sort of editorial interference, far from it. In fact the editor, Mr. McCoy has been remarkably supportive of my column despite most of its contents falling well outside the magazines usual content. He gave me an opportunity to essentially write whatever I wanted in my editorials.

A choice not many people who know me would have made, but that shows if nothing else that Paul is willing to take risks. That he took a risk on me I shall always be grateful for. Its not my first published material by far (magazine articles, newspapers, screenplays, and a series of novels) but it is the first time I have directly worked for an editor who gave me carte blanche to write whatever I wanted. Whatever struck my fancy that might be entertaining, and for that I am very, very grateful. One does not often get that sort of freedom as a writer when you are playing in someone else’s sandbox. Its practically unheard of. Which is why I feel so guilty that my output dropped to zero in the last few weeks.

It wasn’t caused by boredom or laziness. The former being the biggest personal enemy I have had to contend with in my personal life and career until now.

You see, about a month ago I had a stroke. Yes, that kind of stroke. I can’t tell you what it was like, as it happened in my sleep.

This isn’t a pity party, I am choosing to write this as a sort of explanation, but also a log of what exactly this has done to me physically and emotionally. Not one of my strong suits, being emotionally open with an audience of any kind, let alone strangers. It is a rare thing for me to discuss my feelings or problems in-depth with anyone save my closest and most trusted confidants. Those I consider my family. But every once and awhile, usually after too much whiskey, I will open up. So here you go. Enjoy the tale.

About a month ago, I was making notes on how to put my latest novel to bed, only three chapters left, having a few drinks as I tend to do in the evening. Nothing was amiss. It was a normal evening here in Mexico. I was feeling pretty good about the endings for various characters and the overall ending, which, spoiler, leads directly into the third book with a time delay of only two weeks. So I was also making notes about that as well.

I love writing. Either fiction or non-fiction, which is why I think I am enjoying writing The Subcontractors so much. Incorporating weird, obscure history with Lovecraftian themes in a big blender along with a liberal dose of conspiracy theories, cryptids, and other strange themes. The point is that it was not just a normal night, but a good one. I went to sleep in less pain than normal, and despite my chronic insomnia managed to fall asleep nicely. No nightmares, no waking in a cold sweat, nothing at all to indicate anything was amiss. It was one of the most peaceful nights of sleep I have had in ages.

Then I woke up. It took about 5-10 seconds to realize something was wrong. I threw off the covers with my left arm and attempted to push myself up with my right. Instead I found my right arm virtually unresponsive and were it not for my bed being pressed against the wall I would have slipped right out of bed onto the floor. I felt no pain beyond what’s normal for me and tried again, same response, same conclusion.

So I laid there and lifted my arms into the air above me and began stretching exercises thinking perhaps I had slept on it wrong and just needed to work the kinks out. That was when the horror of the situation dawned on me. My left arm was perfectly fine, as were my legs, but my right arm was a different story. I guessed  based on what I could do and how difficult it was that I had lost about 80% of the movement in my right hand and arm.

My body had, for some reason in the night, turned against me. I lay there struggling to get my now disobedient appendages to do what they were told but it was no use. I spent my childhood reading every book in my mother’s home, and she was a scientist who had studied for a time to be a physician. I knew the symptoms, and barring something exotic, I realized what had happened and it damn near broke me on the spot.

I had a stroke.

This was a shock to the system, to say the least. Usually, I can see problems coming from a mile away, if I wasn’t good at that particular skill (situational awareness its often called) I would be a dead man many times over. Not just due to my occasional forays into journalism, but from life in general. This was something I could not have foreseen. I have virtually no risk factors, I’m under 40, if anything its my liver that should have told me to go fuck myself a long time ago.

Instead a random blood clot formed… somewhere; the doctors were unable to determine its point of origin, only that I did not seem to have any more lurking about. To learn that I ended up spending all the money I have raised and saved for my move back to the USA.

In the middle of a global pandemic. My timing is nothing if not consistently, hilariously terrible. So my savings vanished in a flurry of tests and exams to tell me what I already knew. What I didn’t know was if there were more waiting for their chance to find a home in a new, less crowded part of my brain. So like one of the cheap magic tricks I used to do for my quasi-stepdaughter, my money vanished in a puff of smoke. It sadly did not reappear in my bank account. Though at least I know, for now, that there are no more tiny time bombs waiting to screw my brain in fascinating new ways.

Well, 85% sure. Not to disparage Mexican medicine I found it much the same as getting tested and such in the states, only the nurses had generally friendlier bedside manners… unless you were an asshole, then you were no longer dealing with a kindly nurse trying to help you but instead an angry Mexican woman who was going to tell you exactly what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and your wishes and inclinations were no longer her concern. I found myself being even more polite than usual…

As an aside, I don’t see at all the issues with allowing women into combat roles in the Armed Forces. Those nurses were as hard as any drill instructor I have ever met (I never served, but come from a long line of soldiers).

I can however tell you what it was like to wake up and find that my right hand and arm weren’t doing what they were told. They were barely doing anything at all. I’ve spent a good portion of my life around the medical field, and was familiar with my mother’s medical and scientific texts, in addition to the small library of classics she insisted I read and absorb due to the serious lack of effort on the part of the Florida public school system. The point is, I knew.

I knew almost right away after doing a series of mirroring exercises, trying to see if my left and right hands could do the same things. To my dawning horror they couldn’t, and the weakness and lack of response in my right arm confirmed my growing suspicion that I had a fucking stroke.

Thankfully medical care in Mexico is fairly cheap compared to the US, but it still ate my entire savings to confirm what I knew. I had a stroke, and nobody could tell me why. I have virtually no risk factors for that sort of ailment, tend to stay in pretty good shape. The only thing that had changed recently was I had been donating plasma for extra cash, and unlike when you give blood they return your red cells. Due to a peculiarity of blood that runs in my family this is what likely caused the stroke. Thankfully, I wasn’t giving plasma on a regular basis, or the stroke could have been much worse.

Fortunately, it was fairly mild, though still serious. Its left my typing speed drastically reduced as it afflicted the right side of my body, specifically my right hand and arm. My dominant hand for most tasks. I can still fence for example, just with my left hand. I trained to fight ambidextrously and it took years to get to the point that I could win matches with either, or both hands. Fencing, I know, right? It’s the only sport I ever got into. Just one more checkmark on my nerd resume.

I did not however train to write with my left hand, and having only one hand worth a damn for typing has made things rather difficult. Leaving a note for my neighbor since I lack a printer took me almost ten minutes of concentration, and more than a few do-overs, to write out a 6 line note letting him know that I had taken his backpack into my apartment as he left it outside when he left to enjoy his new car and it began to rain. I don’t think writing something so simple has ever humbled me that much.

So here I am. Still in Mexico, using what funds I can muster to build an exo-skeleton (yes, really. I was unimpressed with the aide devices on the market, and their prices, so I designed one of my own that could be worn all day if need be and would serve both to aide me in daily tasks and help with rehabilitating my arm and hand) for my right arm to allow me to do basic tasks again without struggling to do something as simple as put the keys in my cars ignition with my right hand. So now I get to experience a new kind of prejudice. I’ve dealt with racism my whole life and now I get to deal with the generalized mistrust and dislike of the augmented people have after the incident a few years ago where… wait, that’s the Deus Ex games. Nevermind. Still, never thought I would have a stroke, let alone before 40, and end up building an augmentation for my hand and arm to help with physical therapy and basic daily activities. Life does take some strange turns.

Sadly, there are no photos of my augmented arm out in the wild. For one, its only 75% done, and for another I was advised by my attorney due to its unique nature that I should probably patent the design before I post photos. So you’ll just have to take my word for it that I’m building something that looks like its right out of the Deus Ex games I just mentioned and so far it actually seems to work, and work better than I anticipated. The thought of weaponizing it, for self defense, has crossed my mind… but I want to make sure it does the things I’m building it to  do before I start attaching the various weapons pods I may or may not be designing for it that can be swapped out as needed. I would never do such a thing, surely.

All that being said, I am still writing, you will still be seeing my by-line on here and my second novel in the Subcontractors series will be published in the not too distant future.

Unless I have another stroke out of nowhere that impairs me to a greater degree. Then I, and anyone who is a fan of my writing, are proper fucked.

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