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Personal Stories

F. Alexander Brejcha

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"From Sweden to Outer Space"

...I was diagnosed with M.S. in 1980 when I was up to over 90 of the 128 needed credits for my Bachelor's degree. My art education studies were going well and I had a local gallery interested in my work, but they wanted me to have a few more pieces before they would do a show. Unfortunately, the first problems I had with the M.S. (aside from some gait disturbance and balance problems) were extensive fine coordination impairments and some visual problems (the latter fortunately cleared up fairly quickly). And as luck would have it, my specialty in art was etching -- which requires extremely fine detail work and concentrated nitric acid. Wonderful when your eyes and hands don't work right!

After a little time off, I transferred to the psychology program -- losing the majority of my credits -- and continued part-time while working full-time in my (then newly acquired) present job. Fortunately it is a position where my gradually decreasing mobility was not an issue. Since 1980, I have worked the overnight shift as a telephone operator and code and trauma dispatcher for two Philadelphia hospitals (our lines are connected), and I also act as answering service for several hundred doctors' offices (one hospital now as the other closed in '97). The night shift was good for studying, and more recently, I keep busy in between calls with my notebook computer by working on my writing. That leaves me time for volunteer work and personal time during the day.

Then in the very busy year of 1984, I was inducted into -- and the next semester elected vice-president of -- the Temple University chapter of Psi Chi, the National Honor Society in Psychology. And after several more semesters, I was accepted into the Psychology Department Honors Research Program, and with the approval of the hospital where I work, I began formulating a study of open-heart surgical patients. I wanted to study the correlation between pre-operative depression and complications in post-operative recovery. I was particularly interested in any correlation between pre-operative depression and PCD, or post-cardiotomy delirium. This is a fascinating near-psychotic state which sometimes develops in the ICU after surgery and then resolves with no sequelae. After a thorough review of medical journals (MedLine search and journal photo-copies courtesy of the Department of Psychiatry), I had found a number of PCD studies, but with contradictory findings -- and often with procedurally invalid results (no control for the Hawthorne effect when comparing chart review studies with experimental ones) -- and few studies looked appropriately at depression. Ergo: a ripe subject for study.

And along with my Psi Chi vice-presidency, I started a different use of my first computer, a transportable Commodore 64 (a neat little [relatively] eighteen-or-so pound, large briefcase-sized unit with integrated 5" color monitor, keyboard and disk drive). I started, printed, edited, and did much of the writing for the Psi Chi/Psych Majors' Newsletter. I started it as a resource for my fellow-students and for fun (and to be honest, probably to score points with my professors).

Now you can understand another reason why I only went to school part-time. But more seriously, another reason was that I was hiding myself in the safe world of school and work, and at home with reading and watching movies (and with depressive spending racking up a hellacious credit card debt that had me reeling until I was finally forced into bankruptcy), all to avoid facing the major depression I was going through myself. Hind-sight is wonderful. Ironically, while I was studying depression, I was blithely unaware that I was suffering from it myself. Or maybe subconsciously I was?


The psychology was fascinating, and the straight A's I got in it pulled up my good, but not outstanding, G.P.A. -- but something was missing: creativity. Already a voracious science fiction reader, I decided to put my computer to some less concrete use and to try some fiction writing on the side. Not unexpectedly, my first thirteen attempts met with rejection (some form letter, but also few nice personal ones). And not yet having the supreme ego needed to survive in this profession (no longer a problem -- can you tell?), I was not yet applying Heinlein's rules (in brief: a writer writes, a writer submits, and a writer keeps writing and submitting), and I was taking a lot of time to get started.

But my fourteenth attempt, a submission to Analog Science Fiction and Fact yielded an encouraging letter from the editor, Dr Stanley Schmidt, which basically said: "nice story, a couple of problems (which he detailed), and it is too long". Not being too good at taking direction, I added several thousand words and fixed the problems (at the time, not consciously realizing that in adding those thousands of words, I also got rid of a lot of unnecessary ones). Then I waited, until I got another letter: "Much better. Just about right, but on page..." and so on. Several specific page numbers with minor corrections, which I quickly made and sent off -- cursing the inevitable minimum delay of at least six weeks for a response. But this time the response was a contract (followed fairly quickly by a check!). Now I was a professional!...

continued in Alex's website.........

F. Alexander Brejcha ©1997

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