I’ve encouraged you to share yourself and be vulnerable (Pro Tip 2).
I can’t do that without being willing to tell my own story.
I am first and foremost a husband, dad, and granddad. Hold up! Don’t go! That lead (Pro Tip 1) is boring. Please let me try again.
The nurse came into my hospital room, shocked. “I thought you were 72,” she explained as she looked at me. “I assumed ‘27’ was a typo.”
Nope. I was indeed age 27 when I had my first hip replacement, an operation generally reserved for seniors. This was the first of four hip replacements (two on each side), two ankle surgeries, two knee replacements, and two shoulder replacements—including, recently, six operations in six years.
I have more metal in me than Wolverine. (For those who don’t know this Marvel superhero, his bones are laced with indestructible—and fictional—adamantium.)
All this is due to a genetic disease, multiple epiphyseal dysplasia (MED, pronounced M-E-D), that I inherited from my mother. My more severe form, known as Fairbanks Disease, is a complicated condition, which comes down to this: the joints in my body are deformed.
I was diagnosed with MED at age 6. I spent fourth grade in a full metal leg brace to prevent my hip from dislocating—my classmates called me “the gimp.” (No, not like from Pulp Fiction.)
Danny DeVito has MED. It can cause people like the 4-foot-10-inches-tall actor to be short, but I am of average height and relatively normal looking from the outside.
Inside, my body is a mess. It’s filled with arthritis where my bones meet. The condition is rare, occurring in one out of 20,000 or more births.
I lost the genetic lottery. Think the opposite of genetic winners like Rob Lowe, Tom Brady, and Paul Rudd.
The 206 bones in my body—particularly the long ones that meet at the knees, hips, and shoulders—don’t fit together. Picture metal gears with the deformed teeth grinding against each other. That’s what’s happening inside me. As I age and the joints wear down, the condition gets worse and worse—never better. I also have a perpetually bruised tailbone from sitting in a wheelchair, a warping of the spine and narrowing of its nerve openings, and, quite literally (Pro Tip 41), pain in the neck. I never know when I will wake up with another weird ailment.
You can imagine the outcome: pain from head to toe. Pain that makes it hard to move, think, exist. I feel a constant chronic ache everywhere, punctuated by stabbing spasms in my lower back and other places.
Before I knew the danger, I would take six 80-milligram OxyContins a day, within the recommendations of the manufacturer, Purdue Pharma. The pills didn’t cure my pain; they just took the edge off. Now I use other powerful pain medication plus anti-inflammatories and other drugs.
And still I hurt.
Few understand hurt that is everywhere. I’ve tried to communicate it, but all the doctors and nurses show me is a chart with happy and not-so-happy faces ranked from 1, for no pain, to 10, for the worst pain imaginable. I always say I am an 8, because I don’t want to overstate or understate what I feel. I know that there are people who hurt worse than I do.
But quantifying pain is imprecise. It’s a lousy way to calculate what a person feels inside. My pain is not comparable to your pain; we are each unique.
Policymakers make it difficult to get all the pain meds people need because of the overdose problem. They legislate limits on how much you can take, rather than leaving it up to medical experts and physicians, who are much closer to patients. Pain doctors, fearful of getting into legal trouble, seem suspicious that I am an addict just trying to feed a habit.
I admit I am physically dependent on drugs. I would suffer severe withdrawal symptoms if I stopped. But I am convinced I am not an addict. I believe this because of those six powerful Oxys a day. I never craved them. I never felt like I needed more and more. I never got hooked on them.
When the hazards of OxyContin became evident, I worked with my doctor to wean myself off them without a hitch.
I guess I got lucky that way.
I’ve had a great life doing most everything I wanted, including sports (but never top tier, of course), college, a career, travel, marriage, and becoming a dad and granddad. I can’t complain about that.
(May I say as an aside, thank God for the Americans with Disabilities Act, which dictates access for the handicapped, such as curb cutouts. I am also grateful for the kindness of strangers, who tend to hold open doors for me.)
My most valuable possession? My cane, which I use to get around the house. I also use a walker and a wheelchair when out and about. My 115-pound wife pushes her 180-pound husband when we go on “walks” together. (I thank God for her, too)
One of my three daughters, the science fiction and fantasy writer Katharine Duckett (check out her sequel to The Tempest called Miranda in Milan), inherited my disease. I feel guilty for her struggles, but she is smart, funny, and, in her father’s eyes, perfect.
Despite my disease, my journalism experience spans more than 40 years.
I graduated with a bachelor’s of science in magazine journalism from Boston University. (Go, Terriers!) I coauthored with my wife, the writer Maryellen Kennedy Duckett, and edited two travel books: 100 Secrets of the Smokies and 100 Secrets of the Carolina Coast.
I’ve worked at media firms and marketing companies. I edited and wrote for dozens of specialty titles, now lost to time. Take, for example, Fred, the funky internal news publication for Whittle Communications, which pioneered sponsored media (Pro Tip 10) in the ’80s; Funnnies (yes, it was jokingly spelled with an extra “n”), a humor publication that appeared on the walls of laundromats; and G3: Guide to Goals After Graduation, a career magazine I created for high school students.
I don’t think of myself as a great writer, but I believe I am a pro and good enough to be effective. I am proud that I get the job done.
I have also been an entrepreneur, small-business owner, and executive who cofounded Media Development Group, with Keith Bellows, in 1994 (which still operates and is the publisher of this book) and A3 Creative Group, with Steven Friedlander, in 2006 (Pro Tip 36).
I’ve edited hundreds of writers. That experience shaped Seven Cs: The Elements of Effective Writing. Here I stand not on my qualifications but on the Pro Tips I’ve crafted for this book. Judge whether or not I know what I am doing on the quality of the advice I’ve given. Use it and tell me what happens at randallhduckett.com.
I can’t sit at a desk or on a stool. I can’t stand for more than three minutes unless I lean on something. I can’t walk more than 200 feet without resting, which gets me great parking spaces.
Those and other limitations forced me to retire early due to disability in 2012. It was depressing to leave my career behind because I’d made work a major part of my identity. Since then, I’ve struggled with finding a purpose.
To pass the time, I’ve kept my hand in by writing and editing an unpublished (as yet) novel and this book. I wrote these slowly, in one- to two-hour sessions per weekday. I created this book on an iPad from the relative comfort of my La-Z-Boy.
I haven’t written Seven Cs: The Elements of Effective Writing for the money—self-publishing on Amazon doesn’t make you rich. Instead, I hope to help you and your fellow readers find your voices (Pro Tip 7) and speak to the world about your story (Pro Tip 2), your ideas, your passions.
For me, creating this book is healing. The lesson for you? Do what you can despite life’s limitations. Take time for writing. Possibly make it your job (Pro Tip 10). You never know where you’ll go.
This essay is not a pity party nor intended to complain or solicit your sympathy.
It is simply my story. Now I release it to you. Be gentle.
I hope that Seven Cs: The Elements of Effective Writing informed and inspired you. I enjoyed writing it. If you find this book engaging, valuable, or wise, please write an honest review on Amazon and tell your friends and colleagues.
Thank you for your time, treasure, and trust.