Lea Wait, here.
Mystery writers work to perfect the first line of their book or story. Is that sentence intriguing? Does it hint at challenges to come? Is it perhaps … scary?
Well, today I’m writing a very scary first line.
One week ago my husband, artist Bob Thomas, had a stroke.
A roast chicken was in the oven, we were talking and getting dinner, and he dropped the dishes he was taking out of a cabinet. As they shattered on the floor, he turned to me. His mouth was distorted, and he drooled as he said, in amazement and anger, pointing at the broken dishes, “My hand doesn’t work.”
He spent five or six hours at our local emergency room having tests, and then was admitted to an intensive care room where he could be monitored. Fifteen hours later his speech was better, although, normally left-handed, he couldn’t hold anything with his left hand, and he couldn’t eat, because he couldn’t swallow.
Thirty hours after the stroke he had another episode. His speech slurred again. He had another CAT scan.
And we both started to be educated.
His (thankfully, small) stroke had destroyed connections between his brain and both his left hand and the muscles in his mouth and throat. Speech and occupational/hand therapists immediately started to work with him to re-learn those skills; skills that had been automatic hours before. He could hold a spoon as long as he focused on holding the spoon. As soon as someone spoke, or came into the room, or he thought of something else … the spoon fell. He choked when he tried to swallow.
His major worry was that he wouldn’t be able to paint again. How could he hold a paint brush?
Seven days after his stroke, Bob’s now home. He’s determined to regain the functions he lost, and he’s making major strides. Despite dropping his brush several times, he’s even completed a painting he’d been working on before his stroke — completed it well. He’s eating, small bites, in a quiet room, as he focuses on the process of swallowing. His voice is normal.
He’ll be seeing therapists and doctors for a while. But he’ll recover. It may take some time, but, with continuing work, his body will come back to close to what it was before his stroke. We are thankful and hopeful.
Bob and I have both learned a lot in the past week. We’ve learned that we’re ready to tough out what will come. We’ve learned not to take our bodies (or our lives) for granted. And we’ve learned the power of focus.
When Bob didn’t focus on chewing and swallowing he choked. When he didn’t focus on his hand, he dropped things. When he did focus, his body worked – and each time it worked he retrained it to work better the next time.
Which brings me to the third part of the title of this blog — “words.” Because, like our bodies, our words can also be taken for granted. We speak sloppily, using whichever words come first, whether or not they reflect exactly what we want to say. We don’t worry about this because, we assure ourselves, “people know what we mean.”
But the truth is, often they don’t. They don’t hear the nuances behind our thoughts. And those nuances can lead to major misunderstandings. (Think: voters who believe grandiose political promises without specific, credible, plans to turn those promises into realities.)
Those of us who write are guilty of the same thing: we write hurriedly, casually. We excuse incorrect grammar as “too formal.” We use the same words over and over because they’re the easiest, the most common. Not because they best reflect our thoughts.
Editing does for writing what focus is doing for Bob’s body: it retrains us to recognize when our writing is imperfect; when it doesn’t reflect exactly what our brain intended it to do. (It may mean realizing that our thinking is also sloppy.)
This kind of focus takes time. It means not assuming “people will understand.” It means writing precisely what we mean; choosing the perfect word and sentence construction, and, ultimately, putting together tightly written paragraphs, chapters and plots.
If we don’t take the time to convey our thoughts in the best possible way, we are letting our readers, and ourselves, down. We are leaving our brains in the “idle” position.
Focusing is exhausting. But it’s also strengthening. It keeps our minds and skills in peak condition.
Because we need to do our best today. We can’t take for granted that we can put it off until tomorrow.
Praying for a speedy and complete recovery for Bob.
Thank you so much, Joan, from Bob & from me!
What a beautiful, and useful, column, Lea. Thank you so much. And John’s and my heart-felt best wishes to you and Bob. The truth is, you can’t keep an artist down, and Bob’s the living proof.
Thank you, Gayle! We missed seeing you and John yesterday … but yesterday was only one day. We’re focusing on the future! Thanks for your optimism!
An inspiring post, Lea. As an editor as well as a writer, I thank you for your encouragement to focus. No wonder I’m exhausted at the end of a manuscript.
Above all, my very best wishes to Bob and to you. May there be many more beautiful horizons ahead.
Thank you, Nikki — that’s what we’re hoping (and working) for! Lea
Wonderful posts, Lea. And thinking of you both.
When in crisis mode, I turn to books. Here’s one for you. The Brain That Heals Itself by Norman Dodge.
Thank you for the recommendation Jewel. I’ll check it out.
Thank you for your comments and support — and your book recommendation, Jewel! We’re doing all right … life, thank goodness, goes on …. Lea
Positive energy and thoughts headed your way. Monica
Thank you for sharing something so personal, for making me stop and think and for the inspiration to do better. My best to you both.
Thank you, Pat!
The last two lines of your post are now hand written on the wall of my office where I can see them often. We do it all the time…assuming we can do it later. Time and time again events have disproved that assumption, but we do it anyway. Life can change in a flash. Thanks for the well worded reminder.
Thank you, Julianne! And good luck!
Thank you for sharing insights I’ll hold dear forever. Even in crisis, you’ve found the courage and clarity to give. Please take care of yourself, Lea, and get enough rest.
Thank you, Karla! Both Bob and I have been caretakers in the past, so we’re aware of the repercussions… so far, I think we’re doing well.
Oh, Lea. My heart was jolted as I read your post and thought of the underpinnings of what this all means in your day to day. I am so glad we are becoming friends and I am sending prayerful thoughts in these days ahead.
Thank you, Calla!
Wishing Bob a continued recovery! I’m just delving in to revisions on my fourth book. Thank you for your excellent advice.
Thank you, Sherry! I’m sending revisions in to my 4th Needlepoint mystery today — a lot of edits done in the hospital last week. Good luck with yours!
Best wishes to you and Bob. Wise words in your post
Thank you, Triss. I know you understand.
Our best wishes to you and Bob for a strong recovery. The best outcome of these health challenges is exactly what you’ve written about. Beautifully eloquent and inspiring.
Thank you, Vicki. Much appreciated.
Thank you for sharing. My prayers are with you and Bob.
Thank you, Mary Emma!
I’m sure Bob’s stroke rocked both of your worlds, and am sending good wishes to both of you as you move past the emotional jolt of that big change in your life. On the practical side, good for Bob for going back to the paintbrush straight away. That is so impressive. And thank you for turning this into a lesson for all of us, and such an important one, about the essential nature of focus.
Thank you, Brenda!
That’s pretty scary stuff, but it sounds like Bob is making a solid recovery. We take so much for granted, and then we get a warning. So glad Bob has gone back to painting. Thanks for sharing. My best to you both.
Indeed, Susan! We’re toughing it out!
A beautiful, touching, and inspiring post. We all need a reminder not to take our loved ones or our daily lives for granted.
A-men, Susan. Thank you!
Lea, thank you for sharing this most intimate and terrifying experience with us. Sending you love and light and healing thoughts.
Healing thoughts to you and Bob as you continue growing and strengthening together.
Thank you, Amy! Appreciated!
Dear Lea, thank you for sharing not just the news, but also the experience. I am so glad that Bob is well on the road to recovery. I sometimes think that as humans we are hard-wired to forget how fragile our bodies are and how tenuous our existence is. Perhaps we could not function otherwise. Indeed every minute and every word we have should be focused.
Thank you, Linda! So glad we can be in touch, even if only on FB. We’ve seen each other through a lot over the years … all best wishes to you and Silvio!
Oh, Lea. I am so sorry that Bob had those strokes. What a scare for both of you and what major changes to your lives. He’s in my prayers as he does all the work that recovery from a stroke involves. God bless you both and know my positive thoughts and prayers are with you both. Take good care of yourselves.
Thank you, Mary Anne. We intend to do our best!
Wow! What a scary experience! I’m so happy Bob is doing so well! It’s good you were there with him. Praying for continued recovery.
Thank you, Elaine …!
A great post. Thank you for sharing the experience. Thoughts and prayers are with you both.
Much appreciated, Liz!
Thanks for sharing this, Lea. As terrifying as this must have been for both of you, I’m heartened to hear Bob is already making steps toward recovery. His determination is inspiring. Best wishes to you both.
Thank you, Chris! Look forward to seeing you and your wife later this spring!
Wishing you both the best and I hope that the recovery is speedy.
Thank you so much, Bethany!
A wonderful way to tell of a very scary episode. It will be lots of work, but best wishes on recovery.
Thank you, Gram. Appreciated.
My prayers go out to you as you recover from this change in your lives. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and insights. Continued recovery.
Thank you, Candy!
So sorry to hear about your husband. I am an occupational therapist (and mystery writer) in NH, ME, and MA. If you need advice, please feel free to contact me and I would be happy to help.
Best wishes for his recovery.
Thank you so much, Susan! I’ve just made appointments for Bob’s occupational and speech therapy … I’ll keep your name handy! Lea
Lea, so sorry you two had to go through that. Best wishes to Bob as he continues to recover. And thank you for those thoughtful words.
Thank you for your thoughts, from Bob and from me.
Lea, you know how Bill and I feel about both you guys…
It is good that you were both leading intentional, artistic lives before this happened. Returning to something is better than starting anew. As Bob has said elsewhere, time is the most precious thing we have and it’s up to us to use it well. You and Bob are shining examples of that, and inspirations to both Bill and me.
Take care of yourselves.
Thank you so much, Barb! And thank Bill for calling Bob yesterday — it meant a lot — even if at first he was confused about who was calling! (That’s age — not the stroke!) We feel honored by so many people being in touch … I can’t believe how many people have read this blog, and commented, or sent me a note. Social media is sometimes a wonderful thing! Look forward to seeing you guys in April …
Thanks so much.
I had a small stroke in 2012 (a different kind of stroke than Bob’s) and I am doing quite well now. I lost the use of my left hand for a while, but it slowly came back. Never-the -less, the psychological impact of the thoughts of my mortality still have me appreciating every day. Mystery writer Elaine Viets, who had been a victim of stroke also (her’s was more like Bob’s), wrote to me to encourage me and to warn me of certain things I might experience. She was wonderful and I was so grateful and thankful.
Among the things she mentioned were that depression and frustration were common and quite normal, so if you see this in Bob, know they’re part of the healing process.
My best wishes to you and Bob and if I can be of further help, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
Thank you! I’ll admit — depression (and it’s opposite, anger) and frustration are certainly present. It’s good to know that’s normal. In the meantime … we’re doing everything suggested, and hoping for the best! Your story is encouraging …
Thank-you Coco for sharing your experiencer. It helps.
Prayers for Bob’s speedy and complete recovery and for strength for both of you. I appreciate what you have to say about words and usage. In this day of the 140 character tweet and the abbreviated text message, I think we need to remember what we want to say and to pay attention to how we say it. I skim so many books that are completely muddled because the writer didn’t stop and think. If I re-read something for the 3rd time and I’m still thinking “Hunh?”, I don’t bother with the rest of the book. Thankfully, that doesn’t apply to any of the Wickeds. Please keep on writing!
Will do! Thanks for the encouragement!
Ooops, sorry, I forgot which blog I was reading. It also doesn’t apply to any of the Maine Crime Writers! Love your books!
The Wickeds are kind of our soul sisters — no problem! 🙂
I know this post must of been very hard to write and do appreciate your sharing and Bob for letting you. You are often in my thoughts and will be more than ever. Bravo Bob for finishing your paintings and Lea working on your newest book, they bring so much joy to people. Tell Bob I’ll look forward to more of his wisdom, I’ve learned so much from him. I’m so glad you have each other. RUTH
I’ll tell him, Ruth! Thank you … and good health to you.
We really don’t know each other, but my husband and I have visited with Bob at the at the Stable Gallery and I have read all your books, so in a way I do know you.
By the end of reading this post I had tears tracking down my cheeks and I immediately got in touch with my husband to let him know how much I love and appreciate him.
This post should be in the MWPA, no, maybe it should be everywhere.
Thank you for the words. I promise not to put myself into the “idle” position.
Jeff and I sen blessings and well wishes to you both,
Thank you so much, Sharon — Bob and I decided together that I should post this .. and have been very moved by everyone’s comments. Yours are very special to us.
Thank-you Sharon. Your reaction inspires me.
Dear Lea, my best wishes to both of you. What a shock, and what a fine, supportive, loving team you are for one another. A couple of thoughts–one, I love his paintings! They’re just my kind of cup of abstract tea. Two, a year or so ago, I had a dream that had only one thing in it: a sign that said in big, illuminated letters: FOCUS. It was, I knew, pointed at a particular thing I was doing and learning, but its more generally-applied lesson is the same one you guys are teaching-by-doing, and a valuable one it is!
All best and all healing to you,
So glad! (That you love his paintings — and that the post made sense to you. Sometimes writing about events close to home clarifies … and I’m glad this one seemed to work, for so many people. It gives purpose to the frustrating parts of life! All best —
If you’d like to see more of his work, check http://www.blankcanvasnh.com or http://www.stablegallerymaine.com,
two galleries he shows at. His work is also in the “pictures” section of his FB page.
Thanks for sharing the lessons about writing and life you have drawn from your loved one’s stroke. To live consciously and speak and write with precision and sensitivity is a fine mission statement. I’m in awe of your ability to spin gold from straw.
Thank you, David! That’s what life requires, so often …
So sorry to hear about Bob. Will keep you both in my prayers. Thank you for sharing this.
Wishing both of you the best. This brings back the phone call Kate and I got (in completely different locations) when Mom had her first stroke. The next night, the three of us worked with Kate using her laptop to write a column for the Camden Herald about what happened. Amazing things come from determined people in times of crisis.
So true, John. Thank you!
thank you, Lea, for letting us all know.
My very best hopes are with you.
You can recover Bob. You will.
I will be thinking of you and know its difficult, but you are a tough and determined man.
Frustration will give way to success and power.
If there is anything…..i am here.
Thank you, Kathleen — from both Bob and me. Appreciated.
Thanks for sharing and you guys are in my good thoughts and prayers. Focus is the key.
That’s it, Dru. Working it day by day!
I just read your blog.
I am sending you wishes for a very speedy recovery. I’m sure Bob will work assiduously to regain all functions.
Cherish each day!
Love with all your heart!
Bobbi Livingston Reitzes
Thank you, Bobbi! Appreciated.
Sending you and your husband prayers for healing, peace, and comfort. A very thoughtful article. Thank you. Our Needlepoint group love your needlepoint series. You bring us such fun and joy through your writing.
Best wishes to you and your husband.
So glad! And thanks so much to everyone in your group. Your thoughts are very much appreciated.
Lea, I was sorry to learn of your husband’s stroke. I’m sending positive thoughts and prayers that he has a complete recovery.
Lea, I’m so sorry you and Bob are having to go through this but, at the same time, I’m very grateful that the future is looking so promising. I wish the best for both of you along with lots of love and comfort as part of Bob’s recovery 😉
Bob and I got acquainted while he was hosting at the Stable Gallery in Damarascotta, and I had stopped by after a meeting of the Death Cafe at Savory Maine.
He showed me his work, and we talked about your writing, and we shared our NJ connection, as I had worked in Parsippany from the late 70s to 96.
It was a lovely connection.
Since then, I have taken Sandra to the gallery and shown her Bob’s work, and I’ve pointed out your home as we’ve passed by, and shared your news of book deals.
Reading this post was quite sobering, and a reminder that it is important to let people know when they have added something to my life. Please let Bob know how much I appreciated his hospitality that day at the gallery, and what a nice connection it was for me.
I hope his healing goes smoothly, and quickly.
Thank you for the reminder of the importance of focus. Being present to anything makes it more special. Seeing how he can use this habit to make things work inspires me to focus more, whether I am doing a task, walking the dog, of eating an apple.
Thank you for sharing your story about Bob’s strokes and the amazing progress you’re making together. Your words are informative and enlightening, and a reminder to be grateful for every day we awake alive and healthy. Our prayers are with you both for continued strength as he recovers.
Carolyn & David