The last few years of my family’s life have been stressful. I have written about some of it here, here, and here. A brief summary is as follows:
In 2018, my wife was diagnosed with cancer. After several surgeries and innumerable doctor appointments, we moved on with precautionary medicine (Immunotherapy). In 2019, she was hospitalized for nearly a week in an effort to discover what caused her sudden onset of double vision. (Did the cancer return was the question that the doctors wondered.) We found out it was a reaction to her immunotherapy. As soon as we returned home, while we were visiting friends, a turkey flew through our front window and ransacked our house. Yes, you read that right, a turkey flew through our window and ransacked our house. I spent 2-3 hours trying to get that bird out that night.
We had one heck of a mess to clean up.
By August of that year, too much financial damage had been done (car repairs, cancer, doctor appointments, a rotting bathroom floor, etc…). We had to declare bankruptcy.
Yes, the cancer and other burdens of life had caused irreparable financial harm. We spent months struggling through the discouraging and sometimes shameful feelings of bankruptcy. About that time, we also found out we were pregnant with our fifth child. It was a surprise to say the least. She was a gloriously unexpected surprise. What were we going to do with another child? Where were we going to put her? That still is a question that hovers over us. Our house is ridiculously small, and still is.
During the pregnancy, Liz was diagnosed with severe ICP (intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy). Her liver was not functioning properly and the risk of stillbirth was high. She endured a horrible pregnancy and many sleepless nights that caused so much stress and medical problems that she was considered high risk. We had to deliver at Crouse Hospital in Syracuse. While there, my wife received an epidural. It backfired. Her heart stopped beating. She flatlined. Fortunately, she was revived and the baby was taken out healthy in an emergency C-section. We came home on a Thursday, and on that Saturday, the quarantine of New York began.Through all of this, I finally learned something I always had known.
Life is out of my control.
That was an extremely scary realization. You realize that anything can happen and you can’t do a thing about it. Your wife can die while undergoing a routine medical procedure. A spot on the face can be cancer. A cough can turn deadly. Though the realization of having no control is scary, it can also be freeing.
How, you may ask.
Because I have a God who is in control. What does that mean for you or me in “real” life? Well, for me, it means that I will do my best to trust in Him and no longer willingly give in to the fear that has plagued me all my life. Strangely, before 2018, every day was a day I battled fear. I feared everything – every illness, sickness, muscle pain. Secretly, and my wife can attest, my life was devoted to fear. Strangely, however, it wasn’t until after I experienced these horrible, stressful things that this obsession with fear began to subside.
This brings us to today - the Age of Corona. I have read countless articles out there and you can see, almost feel, the fear that rages in the outside world. It is panic inducing. And it is in times like these that the real character of people are revealed.
I, with the help of God, have committed myself not to give in to the fear. I will not be afraid. I have taken all the necessary measures, even resorting to wearing a mask and gloves while grocery shopping. Yes, I have taken this disease seriously. I don’t go out unnecessarily. I, willingly, as a free man, follow the advice of the government. (I do have a problem with dictates from said government, even dictates for “my own good.” That is another subject.)
I respect the opinions of people that are different than mine, but in the end, I must follow the dictates of my own beliefs. This is what frees me. I ask myself, “Do you believe the Bible?” If I do, then I must believe the following:
“A man’s days are numbered. You know the number of his months. He cannot live longer than the time You have set.” Job 14:5.
So what does that mean? Does that mean that if I forget to scrub my hands with Purell I will drop dead? Does that mean if I pick up the wrong jar of Ragu I will catch this deadly disease? Now your answer may differ than mine, but I say, “No!” It does not mean that. My days have been written down. The hairs of my head have been numbered (Luke 12:7). Now, do I go out and lick doorknobs? No, but does it matter? If I am to die of the Coronavirus, there is little I can do (Acts 26:14).
If I am to die in a car accident, to whom can I protest? I can wear a seatbelt or never drive again. Those are my options - the difference between taking a precaution and living in fear. Precaution says, “Wear a seatbelt.” Fear says, “Don’t you dare drive.” I will do what I can to protect myself from a car accident, but that does not mean I will never drive again. The same goes with the coronavirus. I must acknowledge that God is in control, and I will not give into fear. I cannot give into it. I have lived there for so long and it is a dark, dark world. I cannot, nor will not, return.
So, yes, life is dangerous. It always has been. It is so dangerous, in fact, that you and I will definitely die one day. There is nothing that can stop that. Stepping out your front door is full of risk, even when there was no Corona to Purell away.
What does this all mean?
So, while I have taken this virus seriously, I do believe, on the other hand, the world has taken it too seriously. In 2004, an article by David Ropeik was published. It was called “The Consequences of Fear,” and in it, he states, “We must accept that being worried or not worried enough has real health consequences that need to be understood, quantified, and incorporated into risk management.” (I encourage you to read over it. Much of it will seem very familiar to what is happening now.)
Speaking from experience, I know the hazards of worrying too much. I see the signs and symptoms of it. My body has experienced it. That is why I believe we, as a country and world, are worrying too much. We are giving in to fear. Never have we shut down our country the way we have the last few months. I can’t even get my cats vaccinated. My wife’s CT scans are delayed. We are ignoring known diseases over the fear of an unknown one. We are ignoring diseases of considerably higher death rates over one that is considerably lower. Real medical issues are being brushed away all because fear has taken over the world.
This is much deeper than precaution. This has devolved into a sort of hysteria. Now, that doesn’t mean that people won’t die or get sick from this virus. They will. Frankly, even I could. But my death or my loved one’s death from this disease wouldn’t change the fact that this is nothing to fear. It wouldn’t change the fact that God is in control. If you are a Christian, you are commanded not to fear. What does that look like for each of us?
Now, I don’t write this judgmentally nor to cast aspersions on people. Believe me, I have struggled with fear all my life. I write this, however, in hope and truth. God’s word states, “In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:10. This should comfort you. That is its purpose. Take it from me, fear can be a far more damaging virus. It has the power to take your life and your freedom.
“Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” James 4:14
Life is wonderful and fragile. That truth hit home on Monday, March 9th, more so than ever. There are others out there that can speak to the truth of this better than I can. They have experienced pain and hurt at such a deep level that it is hard to fathom.
For the past year and a half, my family, and more specifically, my wife has battled cancer. That is such a fearful disease that it will change anyone who experiences it. When someone is confronted with death in times like that it is, unfortunately, to be expected. While that is difficult in and of itself, there are other times when the threat of death comes upon you most unexpectedly. Last Monday was one of those times. Though countless women have faced death through the ages while giving birth, it is not as common in this country in this day and age.
“It won’t happen to me” is the typical thought.
While I rejoice the birth of my fifth daughter, Madeline Jane, I want to share with everyone the miracle and near tragedy of Monday, March 9th, 2020.
Liz, my wife, has faced many painful procedures over the past year and a half due to her cancer diagnosis in the fall of 2018. She has also given birth to four girls: two with an epidural and two without one. In all, she was tired of pain and procedures. To be honest, I cannot blame her in the least. Being poked and prodded, even if it’s for your own good, is tiresome. So, with baby number five, Liz was sure she wanted an epidural.
The last five months, she had battled ICP, a disease of the liver that affects pregnant woman. It is a difficult malady to endure for that long. Knowing this, and with the increase in her liver levels, she had a scheduled induction so that the baby would survive. (A stillbirth can be a consequence of ICP.) So, this was no light matter.
Now, before an epidural is given, the anesthesiologist goes through the list of possible side effects. We understood them and agreed to the risks. Liz has had two previously and neither one had been a problem. Unfortunately, this is where it all began.
Around 12:30 PM, the anesthesiologist entered the room to begin the epidural. I stood in front of Liz to support her, as there might be times that it was painful. She had done it before and handled it really well. During the procedure, the anesthesiologist and nurse would ask her a series of questions to make sure that everything was okay.
“Can you wiggle your toes?”
Liz assured them that she could. I glanced down and watched as she did so. This whole time, I was standing next to the heart monitor. Her heart rate was consistently in the 70-80 range. I watched as the paper printed the the beats.
By this time, the anesthesiologist had some trouble threading the epidural and asked the attending doctor to assist. By the time the attending doctor entered the room, the epidural was done and completed.
Liz could still wiggle her toes.
The anesthesiologist said that her legs will start to feel heavy, and that that was normal. The sensation soon spread through Liz’s legs. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop there.
Soon, she began telling us that it was difficult for her to hold herself upright, and Liz began to tip over involuntarily. The nurse assured her that we had her, which we did. When Liz began to tip over, I grabbed her in my arms and held her upright.
Mere seconds passed and Liz said that it was becoming difficult for her breathe. The nurse tried to calm her, but Liz was calm. In fact, she was too calm. She could barely speak.
Again, Liz said she couldn’t breathe. This time, the words were barely audible. The nurse asked, “Are you all right?”
Liz, whose eyes were closing, shook her head, “No.”
I can literally start feeling my heart thumping in my chest.
Once again, Liz says, “I can’t breathe.”
Her eyes close. The nurse says, “Stay with me, Liz. Liz!”
Liz’s eyes snap open, but she isn’t there. Her eyes are open, but she is gone. I’m not sure if she sees me. According to the nurse later that afternoon, Liz looked at her with an “I’m dying” look.
By this time, Liz is mouthing that she can’t breathe. The nurse pulls out an oxygen mask and cups it around Liz’s mouth. It says that Liz’s oxygen is 97 percent, but in the next second it begins dropping rapidly. I watch the monitor. 96. 95. 93. She is quickly losing oxygen.
The nurse hits the emergency button.
In the next second, the door slams open. One after another, doctors and nurses rush in. Mere seconds pass and twelve to fifteen people are already in the room.
My heart feels like it is going to break through my chest. “Is this real? Am I going to have to tell my children today that their mom is dead?”
I’m trying to think. I say quick prayers. “Please, God. Don’t let her die. I can’t do this alone. Please God.”
Then I hear a word that, by the grace of God, I didn’t fully comprehend at the moment. One nurse said, “She’s flatlined.” My eyes went to that same heart monitor from before. I can see it now, just as I did then. The squiggly, scribbled line was straight. There was no movement whatsoever. There was no electrical activity in her heart. Liz was lying lifeless on the hospital bed.
Liz went into cardiac arrest.
I’m trying not to cry. Why? I don’t know. For all intents and purposes, my wife had died. The full impact of this was not known to me at this moment. I almost became stupid. I never had felt so powerless, so impotent. I couldn’t even be near her to hold her hand.
Epinephrine was the next word I remember hearing. The doctors were talking to me at times, but I don’t remember what they said. Even now, I can remember their looks, but not their words. At this point, what could I do? I could barely even pray.
A nurse looked to me and said, “Do you have a family or friends here?”
I remember saying shaking my head and saying, “No.”
I then saw a text on my phone from a friend that said, “How are things going” (Don’t answer if you don’t want to.) Praying for you guys.”
I text back, “Pray. Somethings happening. Something not good.”
I shoot this text out to some family and friends. Even that was difficult.
One nurse says that the baby’s heart rate had dropped in half. She is losing oxygen because Liz is losing oxygen. They talk to me and tell me that they are taking her to the OR. One nurse says that she will stay with “the husband.”
How stupid I must’ve looked. How confused I was. I did not know if I would ever see my wife alive again. I did not know if I would ever see my baby alive at all.
I can feel the adrenaline. My hands are shaking. The nurse is asking me questions. It is difficult for me to answer without my voice shaking.
Is my wife dead? Is my baby dead? These are the thoughts I have to deal with. These are the possible realities that I must face. On a day I should be celebrating life, I may have to mourn death instead.
Even now, it sometimes becomes too difficult for me to think about. I can still hear my wife’s gasp, “I can’t breathe.” I can still see her shake her head when she is asked, “Are you all right?” I can still hear the nurse’s declaration, “She’s flatlined.”
Despite all that, the Word of God says, “In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12:10.
It is only a matter of minutes before I find out that Madeline Jane is born. It is over an hour and a half later when I find out that Liz has truly recovered and is breathing on her own.
The Grace of God is exceedingly rich! He gave breath to my wife, Liz, and my newest daughter, Madeline Jane.
Praise the Lord!
As we enter the Thanksgiving holiday, which, if I’m honest, is my favorite holiday behind Christmas, I thought I’d give a few updates to what’s been going on and what to expect.
On November 20, 2019, the audiobook, Scar of the Downers, was released on Audible. It’s definitely different listening to your own book through someone else’s voice. Scar of the Downers is being read by someone very talented named Stephanie Richardson. I encourage everyone to download it and listen. Of course, I would, right? It does cost money, but you have a chance to win a FREE promo code if you enter the giveaway below. Read the rules below the rafflecopter.
Note: To be eligible for the giveaway, you must click on "Leave a blog post comment," answer the question posted, and leave an email address to receive the promo code. Once you do that, click on the "I Commented" button to enter the giveaway.
This brings me to another subject.
They are the lifeblood of authors. You see, it is a wonderful thing if someone reads your book and likes it. It is even more wonderful if they share the love of the book with the world. That way, other people can decide whether to purchase and read your book.
This isn't about money. Authors make very little money when a book is purchased. This is about future books. Reviews are the only way publishers and agents can see if your work is being read. It sort of stinks, but there really is no other system at the moment.
Coming up next week is a blog tour hosted by YA Bound Book Tours. You will be able to follow me next week as I and my book make the virtual rounds. So, stay tuned!
On another note, I am working on finishing my fourth novel. It is called The Society of the Watchers. I am really excited to be working on something else. I do not have any other information on it other than what I will post below.
When the beasts came, the world we knew had ended. Now, 150-years later mankind has found refuge inside the walled villages, where life continues just as it always had before the beasts came. For Jarvis Graye that means his days are filled with all the normal things of a 12-year old boy: school, friends, dreaded homework, and his new internship as courier.
However, when someone attacks the animals and people inside the village, Jarvis’ tranquil routine is upended. Not to mention that he suspects his neighbor, founder of the strange group called The Society of the Watchers, is the one behind the attacks. With his life and the safety of the village on the line, Jarvis goes to great lengths to find the culprit.
Spurred on by his irritable best friend, Aron, and the new girl, Nan, Jarvis and his friends embark on a mystery that will expose the danger that prowls around Kilhaven. It may also answer the question: Do the beasts still lurk beyond the walls?
So, that is a brief summary of what's been happening in my little world of writing.
As a quick reminder, if you'd like a chance to win a FREE audiobook of Scar of the Downers, don't forget to follow the rules to enter the giveaway.
Click on "Leave a blog post comment" and answer the question posted. Then click on the "I Commented" button to enter the giveaway.
And in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I want to say, "Thank you to all those who have left reviews, liked my Facebook page, and continue to support me through this novel adventure.
On October 25th, I was invited to speak to the students of Sackets Harbor Central School about my third book, War of the Downer King, which was released in July of this year. I was also asked if I could speak about perspective and understanding others. This did get me thinking about the idea of perspective and how it relates to my book.
The following is an adaptation of the speech I gave on perspective and the case for it in the Scar of the Downers Series.)
First, here is some background.
The Scar of the Downers series centers on a group of slaves that are in desperate fight for their freedom. The books follow several people. One is Crik, a Downer, a slave, and the other is Durgan Gryndek, Captain of the City’s Watch, a non-slave, a freeman. These are two people with vastly different perspectives, which is an idea every author must embrace. To write from a different perspective, you must see it first.
This is the scenario.
Crik, one of my protagonists, along with several other Downers, attempt to escape from the dark city of Ungstah. This is the plot for the first book. The result of this is that the city descends into chaos, and Durgan Gryndek is one of the characters that reaps these consequences. He loses his family, his job, and his freedom.
Why did this occur? Well, in Durgan’s mind, it’s because of what Crik and the Downers did – they tried to escape with no thought of the repercussions. They openly defied a king in an effort to leave their life of slavery to pursue a life of freedom. This in turn created devastation in their wake.
Because of this, Durgan is reluctant to join the cause of the Downers. He holds them responsible for the situation in which he finds himself. You see – there are two differing perspectives at odds within this moment. You have the perspective of the slave and that of the freeman. In this case, the freeman, Durgan, cannot fathom the perspective of the Downer. He does not understand, nor does he care about, the situation of the Downer.
In the book, Rise of the Branded, Durgan is confronted by another character about his lack of understanding regarding the Downers’ plight.
“What is it you want from me?” he grumbled.
“I want you to help me,” she said.
“Freeing those people they have caged like animals. Or has Ungstah hardened your heart that much?”
“What do they have to do with me?” snarled Durgan. He spun on her. “Frankly, I’m here because of them. If they never escaped, I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in. My son would still be alive. My wife wouldn’t be alone in the Waste. I’d still be one of the Watch. This is their fault! Now I have to deal with it.”
Aniel’s cloak fluttered and a gust of wind struck Durgan against the wall. “It’s because of men like you they are in the position they are in. You turn your head and ignore their plight. For years they had to deal with your cowardice. Now it is your turn to deal with their bravery.”
Perspective allows you to see things in different ways, and as an author it is imperative to be able to put yourself in other people’s shoes. You must be able to relate to the characters that you create, but more than that, we must be able to relate to the people we meet.
You see, in the book, it wasn’t until Durgan was brought face-to-face with the life of a Downer, with the reality of their situation, that he began to change. Now that he was branded a Downer, he saw the world through a different set of eyes. It was then, and only then, that their cause became his cause.
Changing your perspective changes the way you see the world.
In Scar of the Downers, Crik gets beaten, loses his home, loses his best friend, Jak, and is always searching for food and fighting for survival. For most of his life he has viewed his life as a series of hardships, filled of encounters with people who cared little about him. But as he moves through the Rise of the Branded and War of the Downer King, he discovers that events in his life that appeared dark, hopeless, and meaningless, were actually necessary in his struggle for freedom. The moment that began this transformation was his encounter with Aniel in the first book, Scar of the Downers.
After discovering that Aniel, his newfound friend, had been watching him and Jak for ten years, doubt creeps in. He asks Aniel.
If you had watched us for ten years, why didn’t you free us then? You could’ve saved us a lot of pain.”
"Even if I freed you back then, you still had the mind of a slave. You still thought you belonged to Kilvar. What you don’t understand is that you have to want freedom. I can offer it to you. I can even hand it to you. But freedom is nothing if you don’t take it with your bare hands.
Crik viewed his hardships one way, but as we see him proceed along his journey, his perspective begins to change. What he thought was dark, brought him light, what he thought meaningless, gave him purpose, and what he thought was hopeless, was the very thing that made hope possible.
Because his perspective had changed. You see, perspective is not only related to how we view others, but it is also related to how we view ourselves, and our circumstances.
I will give you an example of a personal nature. I worked at a full-time job temporarily, hoping I would be hired full-time. When the time came, I was passed over and the job went to someone else. At the time, I was disappointed. I felt rejected, upset, even cheated. But when my wife was diagnosed with cancer a few months later, it was only then did I understand how hard a new job would’ve been for my family at a time of crisis. That is perspective, and time has a way of changing it.
I will end this blog post with a quote from War of the Downer King. Aniel, one of the people who fought alongside the Downers, was explaining to Crik why she chose him to be the leader of the Downers. It was all because he was able to see the world through someone else’s eyes. He walked in a young boy’s shoes and rescued (Jak) him. This is what Aniel said.
“If ever you wonder why I have chosen you to lead the Downers, it is not because of your strength. You will always find someone stronger. It is not because of your wisdom. You will always find someone wiser. It is not because of your bravery, though you are very brave. It is because of your heart. You care for those around you. That is what kind of leader I needed… It is what I first saw many years ago when you first took in Jak. After everything you’ve been through, after all that Kilvar had done to you, you have never lost that part of you. In fact, it has only grown stronger.”
You see, it was perspective that made Durgan a hero, and it was perspective that made Crik a leader.
Scott Keen is the author of three young adult fantasy novels, Scar of the Downers, Rise of the Branded, and War of the Downer King.