26 August 2009

Jesse, by Nick Melazzo

Jesse's journey


This week is Orientation at the seminary where I have taught part-time for five years since graduating in 2003, and next week classes resume after our summer break.

I’ll be teaching English as usual, as well as History of Western Civilization. (Because of his passion for the subject, Robin will be my history consultant and technology assistant; he will team-teach with me and help with Power Point presentations etc. How splendid is that?)

I look forward to seeing all my lovely colleagues again; they have been marvellous during the periodic crises all of us face.

Last Leach update

Dear everybody-who-has-followed-Wallace’s-progress

This will be my last Leach family update for the time being.

It has been a season of suffering in our extended household. In keeping with the Leach family’s month of misery, my mom, Lynn, has laryngitis and my sister, Mari, is in hospital with measles this week. Arrgh. Wallace has returned home to begin his long and difficult journey of recovery. May Chantal and Tyla bring him great comfort and joy. (The attached photos of my sweet niece are to cheer your heart.)

Thanks for your interest and care to date. Our family has been overwhelmed by the prayer support shown by kin and acquaintances alike. I believe God chose to save my brother’s life, and I remain deeply thankful. You are greatly appreciated and we value the ongoing kindness from our local and global community.

God be with you.

Elaine Mary

23 August 2009

Post-midnight family phone call

Two weeks have passed since Wallace’s car accident, and I spoke to my parents and sister last night to get an update on my beloved brother’s health. My dad called Wal to the phone and we chatted for ages. It was good to hear his voice again; he sounded almost chirpy. To state the obvious, these last few days have not been easy. I appreciate all my family’s hands-on care for each other. Wallace saw an ENT (ear, nose and throat) specialist and a maxo-facial surgeon this week and learned that he’d burst his eardrum and that the pain in the ear was caused by an inner ear infection, which is now under control (although his hearing may be affected).

His eye’s lateral rectus nerve (LR) is damaged, caused by his skull-base fracture which means that his eye has lost its ability to move (it appears “squint”); it also dries out quickly, thus needing constant ointment. The right side of his face is partly paralysed, some facial nerves are not functioning, and his broken cheekbones are causing some trouble. This means he has no feeling in part of his face: his teeth and sinuses (etc.) are affected. Most serious is the double vision caused by the damage in his patched eye. Because of his fractured skull, an operation on the base of the brain is not advisable (too risky as the nerve runs along the base of the brain), but in time some of the damage may heal on its own. The body truly is fearfully and wonderfully made!

Please continue to uphold Wal in your prayers; he is on the mend but still has a lo-o-ong way to go. We spoke candidly about many things tonight, as brothers and sisters are perhaps able to do after a(nother) life-threatening incident. (This is not the first—or second—time Wal’s loved ones have held what we thought was a “deathbed vigil” at his side; I pray it may be the last.)

Much of what we said to each other on the phone is personal, but I will say that I was delighted to listen to his lovely voice and hear his characteristic good humour coming my way across the continent and along the line. He knows he’s blessed to be alive (“lucky” is the word the doctor used), and that his life may even have a purpose. May our life-saving Creator help him find it.

{Be well, my brother. I love you.}

12 August 2009

Wallace update

As a result of the tremendous outpouring of concern and kindness since I first asked our global community to pray for my brother, I have decided to send the following auto-response update:

Thank you for your kind thoughts and prayers. We are so thankful Wallace is mobile; there is no spinal or brain damage, although his facial injuries remain serious (both eyes and one ear are being monitored). Wal will see a maxo-facial surgeon (through one eye at a time) to discuss possible surgery on his crushed cheekbone(s).

I spoke to Wallace on Tuesday morning and he sounded ... wonderful! He was his old self, impatient to get on with life. My mom and sister have kept me updated daily and I spoke to my sister-in-law a minute ago; she’s looking forward to her hubby’s homecoming and hopes he’ll rest, hard-headed as he is (thankfully). Although Wal can’t see properly, he plans to be back at work as soon as possible. Imagine.

He was able to hold his baby girl, a highlight during these dark days, and many friends and relatives have visited him in hospital near Pretoria. Thank you all.

Although the road to full recovery is a long one, Wal is alive and we remain thankful that Chantal and baby Tyla Mari were not in the Jeep with him when it flipped over on our cousin’s farm road. Yesterday I saw photos of the Jeep’s shattered window and open sun roof, and Mari also sent photos of Wallace’s black ’n’ blue but beloved face. I am weeping as I type this, and remain in constant awe that my brother is alive. (I called his cell phone earlier simply to hear his voice.)

Personally, I am grateful for the compassion and care shown by our worldwide community this past weekend. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart, on behalf of my family. I have no doubt that Wallace’s life was spared by God, and I am humbled by our Creator’s grace and mercy.

Tyla Mari was delighted to see her daddy after his accident.

10 August 2009

Wallace goes through the roof

On the weekend my brother, Wallace Leach, was in a serious car accident, fracturing his skull and sustaining what we all thought were life-threatening injuries. His Jeep flipped after hitting a pothole on our cousin’s farm and Wal went through the open sunroof. When Bennie found him he did not think he was alive. He was taken by ambulance to hospital and moved to ICU; surgery seemed likely.

However, by today (Tues) he was sufficiently stable to be transferred from ICU to a normal ward. Hallelujah! No operations have been necessary (yet). We are so thankful there is no apparent spinal or brain damage, although his other injuries remain serious. There doesn’t appear to be further swelling on Wal’s brain, although there’s still some bleeding. He is talking and moving (or rather, fighting—a good sign), and even asked for wine gums, a mutual family favourite.

Update to follow.

06 August 2009

Eric the Half-a-Bee

P.S. Here’s a ditty by Monty Python and John Cleese about Eric the Half-a-Bee to cheer one and all:

(I need to check this link and will temporarily delete it; return later or google YouTube.)

Willow Creek Leadership Summit

Coming soon to a blog post near you.

05 August 2009

Making a bee-line

P.S. I am attaching Mary Anna Harbeck’s beautiful bee photo for your comfort and enjoyment. (See earlier post about "the wrong sort of bees.)

The wasp is added simply to attract sympathy.

Part ii: Robin goes south

I have learned that Robin’s journey is his own; I am not to take it personally when he slips away at times; it is not about me. My spouse reminds me that he is irrational during these days of darkness and that I need to accept his illness without trying to “fix” him. I am trying (very trying).

But—believe it or not—I am also learning to embrace the journey, where once I endured it. I have come to see these bouts of blue as a means to grow, to settle my soul, deepen my roots, be more aware of our daily—hourly!—dependence on God.

I am blessed to be walking this often rocky road—sometimes crawling, sometimes limping—but edging forward, one faltering step at a time. We are not alone, and I thank God for our hands-on Cochrane and Calgary community of kindness, and for friends far and near.

I am learning what it means to be covenant-bound, to care beyond the borders of comfort and ease. I am s-l-o-w-l-y learning to reach out and touch Robin’s life with a love greater than my own. (It’s taken long enough, eh?) My frail attempts do little to help—although frequent foot rubs and back massages do seem to help Robin fall asleep.

I also believe that I need to be (mentally) healthy in order to support my mate, and to that end I continue to live a full and rich life, seeking out life-giving friends and spending much time refuelling in solitude and silence.

Thankfully, we have dear friends (and neighbours-who-now-live-in-Pincher-Creek) who provided sanctuary when Robin most needed it. He stayed for a few days and returned home replenished in body and soul to continue his brave journey.

I am learning to say no more often so as to have the energy to say yes where necessary.

That’s my story. My spouse walks as though through molasses. His story does not mirror my own, and all I can do is walk alongside him—sometimes moving ahead or bringing up the rear, prodding him to action when necessary. And always, always praying, often without words.

In Mark Cohn’s “True Companions” one line reads, “When the years have done irreparable harm, I can see us walking slowly arm in arm.”

Please think of our family in the coming days. I know Robin is a private a person from a stoic family; I also know that writers need to tell their own story. This is mine, and I’m sticking to it.

04 August 2009

Part i: Double depression

And now for something completely different. Take a break and pour yourself a fortifying cup.

Recently Robin’s existing dysthymia (considered chronic or “double depression”) has been exacerbated by various triggers. People with dysthymia have a greater-than-average chance of developing major depression. This condition is sometimes called “double depression” because an external trigger can result in a depressive episode, which spirals him downward into a black hole. The usual feelings of low mood are then accompanied by the new intensity of emotion.

As dysthymia is a chronic disorder, a person may often experience symptoms for many years before it is diagnosed, which was the case with Robin. His diagnosis a few years ago did not surprise me; I only wish we’d been able to get help sooner. I almost have to sedate him to get him to see a doctor (not an unusual trend in my family); he insists that they’ll find out what’s wrong with him at his autopsy. Hrmph.

Too often sufferers do not even discuss their symptoms with professionals, family members or friends. (How well I know that to be true. Sometimes I smile when I think about gentle solitude-seeking Robin from his seemingly safe, quiet and very private world choosing to marry into a boisterous family where some of us speak about everything to anyone.)

All this to say, Robin recently slipped into a deeper than usual depression. Thankfully he reached out to a friend who contacted the seminary, and two of my colleagues tracked us down in BC and spoke to Robin at length. They were wonderful. Since returning home he has been for counselling and will more than likely see a psychiatrist as soon as possible (meaning within several months in Calgary).

I do not pretend to understand his mental anguish, which is one of the reasons he reaches out mainly to friends who do—but I’ve certainly learned a great deal about depression since our journey began. Friends ask me if he brings me down, or if I pull him up. Possibly both, but for now the light is stronger than the darkness. May it ever be so.

All hands on deck, and the wrong sort of bees

As I began this letter (written on Heritage Day, 3 August 2009, and updated later), which sensitive readers may need to break into smaller segments (you’ll get the point in a few paragraphs), I was unsure what title to use: “How to provoke a hornet and survive nature’s sting” is perhaps too waspish; “Sting operation” seems too short. I settled for “All hands on deck” and threw in A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh reference to pique the reader’s interest.

Put on the kettle and pull up a chair. Remember me? It’s been a while. My coffee companion, Warren Harbeck, wrote to ask, “What’s buzzin’ cuzzin?” when I droned on in a recent note. Nothing out of the ordinary has happened in the past few months {other than snow on your June birthday, Dad, which isn’t all that extraordinary in Alberta}.

We attended one June and one July wedding (where Robin was the primary photographer), and spent a couple of weeks in Surrey with a sweet and special family. Robin did the post-wedding photo processing at the bride’s home and gave her the albums when she returned from her honeyMoon.

This summer we’re also preparing for the semester ahead: my history-loving husband and I will be co-teaching History of Western Civ. All in all, life in Cochrane’s slow lane has been good.

Let me not forget the bevy of birthday boys and girls. My dear friend Tammy—with whom it is my privilege to spend Tuesday evenings—turned 40 in early July: that was special. And her twins celebrated their 7th birthday.

{Wallace and Dad, do you remember holding the newborn duo in July 2002 when you were last here visiting me?}

And Robin and I spent our annual week at the lake in Vernon with most hospitable hosts. No crises to speak of.

And then suddenly, a couple of weeks ago, all h*ll broke loose in the Phillips household. To test your sense of humour and of perspective, let me begin with today’s wasp attack (and this time I don’t mean those Anglo-Saxon Protestants).

I awoke before daylight (my blinds were drawn) to the melodious hum of my landlord’s chainsaw outside my bedroom window. Finding no alternative but join the crew as a deckhand, I dressed in a long-sleeved flannel shirt and work jeans and reported for duty. This week we are redoing our deck.

Yesterday after church I helped Mike and Pat clear the deck for the tasks of today, and decided to leave emptying the last of several planters (heavy black tyres filled with soil and a variety of tall ornamental grasses) for today because of the recent scorching mid-thirties temps. This morning as I pulled up a clump of grass, an angry array of black-and-yellow-jacketed bugs swarmed up from their cosy earth-nest.

My very first reaction was “Stay calm, they won’t sting you if you stand still.” (Not sure what movie that came from, but don’t try it at home.) Second reaction was an image of Winnie the Pooh holding onto a balloon while stealing bee-honey ... and getting stung by “the wrong sort of bees.”

Since I didn’t know if my landlord was allergic to wasps, my initial instinct was to protect him and get the nest away from him and off the deck. This reaction unearthed a chain of consequences, to say the least. “Mike!” I yelled (since that’s his name and expletives didn’t seem appropriate … yet), but he didn’t hear me because he was wearing ear protectors.
Then I performed what may well be my first ever supernatural act: I picked up the black rubber planter with its full load of earth and flora, and flung it down the deck stairs. (Bear in mind I have not been able to move these planters in five years, even with a helper.) I then jumped—stumbled—down the stairs, closely followed by Mike.

First I felt an unpleasant buzzing in my ear and yelped in surprise. Next I became aware of what seemed to be dozens of insects settling on my sleeves. And then the fiery darts pierced my skin and the wasp-venom entered my blood. (Isn’t that a truly theatrical sentence? See, I’ve made you read it again, savouring the word “fiery.”)

To find out how wasp toxins work, click on this link: http://animals.howstuffworks.com/insects/wasp3.htm

All of this happened in a black-and-yellow blur. In retrospect, I should have left well enough alone and hightailed it off the deck as soon as I spotted the first incensed insect, but … we all know how hindsight works. I slapped wildly at my arms and started to run. “Get into the house!” I heard Mike’s wife yell from the garden below the deck. Instead I made a bee-line to my next door neighbour, Irma, who flung open the front door as she saw me sprinting up her pathway.

All swell that end swell: Mike and Pat were not stung, thankfully, and I received only a couple of stings on my arms and one in my ear. Yikes. A not-to-be-repeated adventure! Outfitted in a beekeeper’s head covering, Mike courageously returned to the scene of the crime and sprayed the nest, killing dozens of insects and hundreds of larvae. Irma kindly provided lotion for the stings on my arms and suggested I take an antihistamine (I doubled the dose); she also administered some much-appreciated pain meds.

Within minutes I was fine and my hands had stopped shaking. (I felt calm but may have acted hysterically.) Surprisingly, the swelling was minimal and I lessened the burn by applying an icepack. Now only an inner itch remains. Secretly I think it was the strong tea with sugar and the serenity of my neighbour-nurse that diminished the shock.

Research suggests that years of antihistamine injections for assorted childhood allergies paid off after all. {Mom, do you remember Dr. Des Sonnenfeld saying, “This is going to hurt you more than it’s going to hurt me”? I always smiled at that.}

There’s more to this letter than meets the eye in this entry. See next post.