Snow, milk and bread. Still a mystery.



Snow, milk and bread; still a mystery

(I resurrected this post from 2009, as our entire region of Upstate, SC is on lockdown from ice and snow.  Thank God we have tea and sugar!)

Living in the South for over 21 years, I’ve always been amazed by the general response to snow and ice. In particular, I am constantly fascinated by the grocery store dash for milk and bread. I grew up in West Virginia. Sure, we didn’t have winters like Michigan or Maine, but it was still cold and snowy. Nevertheless, I can’t ever remember my family saying, ‘Run to the store and get milk and bread!  The storm’s a comin’!’

This comes to mind today because all around our hill-top home, the forest is an ice covered work of art and the roads are slick highways to death and disability.  Being South Carolina, of course, everything is shut down.

But I digress.  The point is that I have contemplated this for quite a long time, so I have a few ideas. It may be that there is some secret knowledge that born and bred Southerners possess. Milk and bread may constitute the keys to some Gnostic cultural insight that I’m not privy to knowing. Or, it may be a kind of generally accepted joke.  If so, it’s a lucrative one for grocery stores. Whatever it is, I’ve decided that, in honor of winter, I’ll suggest some reasons why we might actually want, or need, milk and bread when ice and snow descend.

1) The most obvious answer is that we can drink the milk or eat whatever cereal we can find in the cabinet.  We can make sandwiches out of the bread.  And yet, this simplistic explanation it leaves me unsatisfied; hungry for some other answer, so to speak.

2) When the wind is stiff and the house (or camper) poorly insulated, we can mix milk and bread into a paste and caulk the walls for warmth.

3) When mixed into paste, milk and bread could also be used to write HELP, NEED CHEESE PUFFS! (or OXYCONTIN or XANAX) onto the sides of our houses. Unless they’re already white, or too snow covered for the letters to be visible (thus, food coloring).

4)) If a new ice age suddenly descends, we can use the milk and bread to lure animals like squirrels, rabbits, black bears and stray cats onto the porch, then drop cartons of frozen milk onto them, or snare them with nets made of plastic bread bags. We can then make breading to use whilst cooking them. Also applies to gerbils, guinea pigs, hermit crabs and large goldfish.  In a pinch, annoying neighbors may suffice.

5) Milk and bread may be combined with sugar to make some sort of winter confection to satisfy our need for something to eat besides milk and bread.

6) Milk and bread can be bartered on the black-market and exchanged for more exciting things like i-Pods and liquor, or more useful things like ammunition and camouflage. Except that everyone else also has milk and bread, so…

7) If one has purchased enough bread, it can be put under the back wheel of a vehicle stuck in the ice and snow to provide traction, so that the driver can venture forth to find… more milk and bread.

8) When the children are bored from being stuck inside for the 4-5 hours that snow actually lasts in the South, we can play games like ‘dunking for bread,’ ‘pin the cap on the carton,’  ‘cover baby sister in milk’ or ‘bread Frisbee.’  And our children can entertain us for hours asking ‘Mama, can we have something else besides milk and bread?’

9) Because we always get milk and bread but always forget dog food, we can mix the milk and bread and give it to the dogs (who will roll their eyes and eat it out of duty, but who will have already torn apart the trash for chicken bones).  But if thus conditioned, this will make #4 above much easier.

10) We can burst upon the art world with ‘milk and bread sculpture,’ which is almost as cool as ice sculpture but does not require power tools. (But may, unfortunately, sour before art critics can descend upon our area to review our work for the New Yorker.)

11) We can make hot chocolate and toast until the sun shines again. Unless, oh, you forgot the chocolate, didn’t you? Well, it’s back to milk and bread for you.

12) Milk and bread can be used in some sort of odd, Southern fertility ceremony. It must be true, considering the number of children born 40 weeks after the happy couples stocked up.

13) Milk and bread can be substituted for pseudoephedrine and ether in the manufacture of methamphetamine. Well, not really, but it’s much less dangerous and way more healthy.

14) It gives Southerners something to laugh about that people from other countries, like New York and Miami, don’t understand.

15) Going to the store for milk and bread reminds us of the things we need that are really important!  Like sugar and tea-bags,  chicken-livers, pop-tarts and Red Box movies to help us through the next 24 hours until everything melts.

If any of these are right, please e-mail me and let me know. I have to get to the bottom of this! And if it turns out to be a carefully planned conspiracy by dairy farmers and bread makers, then bravo, guys, bravo! Capitalism is alive and well.



Watch for mysteries everywhere! (Especially in the shopping cart!)

Here is my column in today’s Greenville News.  Enjoy!  And remember what you put in the cart at the store…

Everyone loves a good mystery, don’t they? It’s why we enjoy shows like CSI, and The First 48. The idea that we can take the evidence before us and construct an explanation for events, why that’s good fun! And I wonder, sometimes, if folks aren’t taking notes in anticipation of future misdeeds!

It all makes me wonder. Someday, when I’m long gone to glory and the children are far away, someday when these woods and fields are unexplored and wide open before other occupants, I wonder what they’ll think?

How will they explain the assorted animal bones that litter our yard and woods ? I know that they’re the consequence of keeping a pack of dogs around the yard. Thanks to the dogs, I am never surprised when the law-mower flings half a mandible across the yard, or a small skull crunches beneath my foot as I work around the porch. Not that the dogs take the energy to kill anything, mind you. But they’re great at dragging things out of the forest that have been killed by other, more enterprising carnivores. Of course, the collected skeletons may seem a little odd to future excavators, since this place clearly wasn’t an active farm.

Coupled with the scattered shell-casings, lost arrows, abandoned hatchets and machetes characteristic of boyhood, future excavators might take this for a battlefield, a sacrificial location or an abattoir! Small creatures buried in boxes might also make it seem like a burial ground. My daughter recently interred a tiny tortoise in a wee box She tenderly wrapped it in a leaf and flower, with the kind of gentility only a child can show for a thing that seems so inconsequential to silly adults. Of course, I had to dig the hole, but that’s papa’s work.

When the kids were smaller, I wondered what an investigator would think of my last car. Somewhere, under a back seat, there were probably a couple of forgotten diapers, at least two pounds of potatoes in the form of petrified McDonald’s French Fries, enough straws to make a snorkel, enough loose change to re-fill the gas tank and multiple forgotten crayons. The seats themselves likely had enough DNA from childhood incidents and accidents to reconstruct a very confusing crime-scene involving blood, saliva and urine. I imagined the detective scratching his head next to my body, wondering if I had been killed by a diaper wearing short-order cook with a creepy penchant for coloring books.

However, I never wonder about the ‘story’ more than when I’m in line at WalMart or some other store that has a wide variety of items. As I check out, someone must be asking, ‘why would he need 500 rounds of .22 ammunition, 50 pounds of dog-food, a blade for a power-saw and scented hand soap?Can I get a deputy on aisle 20?’

And there’s the dietary issue. Sometimes our kids have friends over to visit. I always enjoy the look in the clerk’s eyes as I check out with 10 pounds of hamburger, 6 boxes of Swiss Cake Roles, 10 bags of assorted chips, batteries for the X-box controllers, 10 liters of Coke products, three boxes of Oreo Cookies and an archery target. ‘You don’t want to know,’ I think to myself. The only thing better would be adding a vial of insulin.

So it is with a smile that I view a big screen TV, a leopard print bra, stiletto heels, four gallons of wine and a packet of steaks. ‘Happy Father’s Day,’ it cries out! It is with a laugh that I watch Star Wars action figures, a box of Vanilla Wafers, a pack of juice boxes and some frozen kids’ meals. Mommy needs a little down time, apparently.

It is with wonder and a little surprise that I see frozen dog cookies, a car battery, a stroller, a chainsaw chain and a set of socket-wrenches. Just what sort of vehicle are we building, eh dad?

And it is with a sense of foreboding that I watch as 100 feet of rope, a set of steak knives, a shovel and a gray tarp roll down the conveyor. Family coming to visit? Big plans? I wonder if someone is going to show up on America’s Most Wanted.

I’m fairly easily entertained. But few things entertain me like constructing stories, whether it be from tiny corpses in my yard to scary purchases at the store.

There are mysteries, and stories, all around. Just you watch!

Sparky starts a fire…and learns a lesson

One of my children, who shall henceforth be referred to as ‘Sparky, recently ignited a small brush-fire in our yard.  He did not intend to do it.  He was using a flint and steel device when some dry broom-straw ignited and spread like, well, wild fire.

Sparky loves fire; always has.  But then, most boys do.  Fire represents power and danger and mystery.  What’s not to love?  Give a boy a fire and a stick and he’ll spend hours poking the fire, making smoke, smothering the fire and re-igniting it.   And also wondering, in the deep recesses of his mind, what would make the fire explosive, what material would make it more dangerous.

This time, however, Sparky met his match.  Sparky, who had recently begged for a lighter, ran inside yelling, ‘help!  Help!  Fire!’

Of note, he was also saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, I’m really sorry!  Take my fire-starter away!’  (And to his mother, ‘Papa said I could!’  A statement which was only partially true…)

Sometimes, the best lessons (in life, in parenting, in medicine) come from near disasters.  From the times when, through our pride, our carelessness, our reckless risk-taking, our simple, unfettered sense of adventure, we make grave, dangerous errors.

Given that we live in the woods, and that our water-hose couldn’t effectively reach the fire, we formed a family bucket-brigade, dipping containers in the pool and filling them with the hose.  We used coolers, ice-buckets, mop-buckets and whatever we could find.

In no time, the fire was out.  Our heart-rates settled down and life was normal.  The cats were a little stunned by the whole affair,  but the dogs weren’t the least bit surprised, having seen more bizarre things in the past.

I was initially angry, but soon let it go.  First, Sparky’s mother (aka, my wife Jan) has a history remarkable for two (count ’em two) forest fires which she started whilst trying to burn brush-piles, both of which required the fire department.  Genetics is a powerful force.  Depending on how one views nature vs. nurture, it’s possible that Sparky couldn’t  help himself.

Second, and absolutely true (where as the first point was more for comic relief) there was no better lesson he could ever have learned than by watching how quickly, how aggressively and how uncontrollably his fire traveled across the grass and almost into the pines and undergrowth.

My sense is,  Sparky learned his lesson.

We should all be so wise as to learn, really learn, from our near-disasters.  And give thanks to God for the wisdom they bring.


Oh Socks, where art thou?

This is my column from Friday in our local paper, the Daily Journal Messenger.

Oh Socks, where art thou?

Small losses can leave deep wounds. This is why my son, Elijah, still gets misty when we mention Socks, the cat. Not everyone is a cat person, you see, but Elijah has been one from way back. Socks came to us one Christmas when Elijah was about six years old. ‘What do you want, son?’ ‘A kitten, and some snacks for my dog.’ How do you argue with that?

Well, we didn’t. So Socks, and his brother Barbie (it’s a long story) came to live in our home. We knew they were for us when we found them at Fox’s Nest, lying in a hammock, arm in arm. Barbie, sleek and black, Socks gray and white, with (you might have guessed) a white moustache and white socks on his feet.

Not long after his arrival, Socks slipped outside into the woods. He cried his plaintive meow all night from a tree, and eventually my wife talked him down and eased him into the house where he was comforted with food and petted nearly silly. Since that time he was as content as can be. He slept with the children, ate more than he needed, bathed endlessly, slept like the dead and for fun, bit mouthfuls of fur out of his brother, who returned the favor. In short, he was a regulation cat. Standard issue, standard features.

Of course, Socks was also more than a cat. Socks was deeply religious. Every night, as the children and I sat down to read the Bible and have prayer, Socks would practically run to our side and lie nearby, listening to me read stories of our faith. I don’t know what he understood, not being sentient or literate so far as we know, but perhaps what he recognized was the stirring and soothing nature of the words. Maybe he sensed hope in them. Perhaps he heard the voice of his Maker, from deep in the recesses of time, echoing along the verses I spoke at bedtime. But then, I’m a writer. Maybe he just liked hanging out with everyone!

So it was with sorrow that, one evening in January, I noticed that Socks did not answer the call of rattling cat-food. Sometimes he slept soundly…as cats do. But I could not find him. No matter what I did, he did not respond. Our hearts sank when we realized that he might have slipped outside. He was curious, our Socks, but not the brightest bulb in the box.

We knew he wasn’t hiding when, for days, Barbie roamed the house meowing in the night. I imagined him saying, ‘come out, come out! You win! You’re the best at hiding!’

Later, I put up signs on our road. I knocked on doors, and my wife drove our sad little boy about the area, looking, hoping. I placed an ad in this paper. I had him announced on the radio. There was one call, near our home in Tamassee, for a gray cat. But it was a stripped feline, not our patchy Socks.

We don’t know, to this day, what befell our little buddy. I’ve watched cats before, as they looked out the window at birds and beasts. I wonder if they ever desire a little ‘walk-about.’ Or if, like the dog ‘Buck’ in Call of the Wild, they ever just disappear into the forest to be wild. Perhaps, for some of them, the house is too warm, the food too easy. Maybe they need to find themselves.

All I know is that my son still misses, and likely will always miss, Socks. And Barbie, the lonely brother with no desire to roam, is still lonely. And sometimes still calls out for his pal.

On the other hand, Socks was a cat of faith, it appears. So maybe we will have a miracle. A return of the ‘Prodigal Cat,’ though he really didn’t have anything to waste in foreign lands. And he was neutered, so there’s that.

But I know cats that have returned after years, so as our state motto says, ‘Dum Spiro, Spero.’ While I breathe, I hope. So if you took a cat in over the past few months, and if he could have come from Tamassee, and if he is gray and white, and seems to have an inordinate love of God, please drop me a line. We’ll reward you handsomely, from parents to child to elated feline sibling.

Because a cat is often more than just a cat. Especially Socks. Amen.

Stupid doctor tricks and a wasp assault


A physician friend of mine recently bragged that, while driving along a rural South Carolina road, he had stopped, chased a timber-rattler into the bushes, located said rattler, then urinated on it.

‘I wanted to say I had peed on a rattlesnake!’  He beat a hasty retreat (and I imagine a hasty zip-up) when the snake rattled and struck at the air.  Who can blame Mr. Snake?

You can take the redneck to medical school, but you’ll just get a redneck with a medical degree.

Which brings me to me.  I have to work on our tool-shed/work-shop in the morning.  The tool-shed/work-shop is, however, over-run with red-wasps.  I counted no less than ten nests inside.  These are irritable, contentious creatures with no love of humanity.  If they were humans, they would be Jihadists.  Convenient, as I have little regard for them.

So, with my wife and children out of town (and unavailable to help me should I be over-whelmed by wasps, or need someone to kiss my boo-boo), I made a plan for a 2300 raid. Plan and outcome as follows:

1)  Find and check expiration date on epi-pen.  Check.

2)  Refresh memory of how to use epi-pen.  Check.

3)  Make sure cell-phone is charged, to call 911.  Check.

4)  Leave cell-phone in house in case I have to jump into pool in desperation.  Check.

5)  Strap large knife to belt.  Check.  (It’s a redneck thing.)

6)  Obtain flashlight to locate wasp-nests.  And hopefully blind them.  And search for nocturnal rattlesnakes (not for purposes of urination).  Check.

7)  Obtain two cans of wasp spray.  Check.

8)  Worry about wisdom of using partially emptied cans.  Check, check.

9)  Use military hand-signals to convey plan to confused and sleepy hound-dogs.  Check.

10)  Slip outside to building, watching carefully for rattlesnakes, while dogs wisely hang back (having correctly interpreted hand signals).  Check

11)  Open door of building and look at rafters.  Check.

12)  Oh no, oh no, oh no.  They’re everywhere!  Worry.  Look overhead (something always lands on your head in horror movies).  Check.

13)  Find largest, meanest-looking nest and spray.  Check.

14)  O h no, oh no, not enough spray.  Check

15)  Spray other can around wall, feebly attempting to kill wasps probably alerted by dying brethren.  Check.

16)  Other can empty too soon.  Oh no, oh no.  Check.

17)  Run as fast as possible to house.  Lock door as if wasps were giant and had thumbs.  Check.

18)  Put away epi-pen for tomorrow.  Check.

19)  Wonder if dogs can be trained to use wasp-spray.  Check.

20)  Go to bed, realizing I am a huge coward when it comes to wasps.  Check, check, check.

Animals are wonderful, but they just aren't people!

Animals are wonderful, but they just aren’t people!

My Greenville News column from yesterday.

(Incidentally, this column has the distinction of generating the most immediate hate-mail of anything I can recall writing in years!)

We have five dogs and two cats. They are standard-issue canines and felines. We enjoy their company. We expect the dogs to kill rats, frighten snakes, chase coyotes, bark at strangers and generally to hold the porch in place against the random disappearance of gravity. The cats are for entertainment and otherwise useless. They leave hair-balls on narrow counters, shed and keep their kids awake by rubbing bristly kitty faces against them, all night long, in ecstacies of purring and love. So they are tolerable despite their cat proclivities.

I’ve had many animals down the years: a Shetland pony, a parakeet, various cats, dogs, hamsters and fish. But one thing I know is that none of my pets were ever more important than the humans in my life. And none of my family ever put their pets before me. Though I did wonder about my grandmother’s Chihuahuas, whose sole function was to eat fried chicken necks, shiver and growl at me in their little blanket-lined laundry baskets, dreaming of the Mexican desert in their West Virginia home. Still, she would have chosen me over them.

But in our society we have, officially, crossed the line on our relationship with pets. It’s an odd kind of devotion that treats animals as human. And it reflects an upending of values and priorities. Pets are now elevated above humanity, in part because ‘after all, they’re innocent!’ Animals then, through no intent or capacity of their own, wield power and maintain a mystique that is troubling.

If you fall into a river, a stranger might hesitate to help. The same person might well jump in for their own Golden Retriever, who is after all, ‘part of the family!’

This change in our thinking has other ramifications. It leads sick persons to refuse hospitalization so that they can go home to feed the dog or cat, who ‘can’t be alone.’

It manifests in the family which obsessively adopts every animal that crosses their path, caring for twenty dogs, thirty cats, five donkeys, two horses and a psychotic llama in renal failure. ‘They’re my babies, you know!’

The problem is that for one thing, the animals aren’t their babies (science fortunately hasn’t gone there yet). And for another, the proud parents of all God’s critters frequently can’t afford insurance, medications, vacations or much of anything else because all of their money ‘goes to the dogs.’

Tragically, many people who who now adore and worship their pets are enslaved to them. It happens with all forms of idol worship; it controls but does not reward. They will not visit grand-children because the dog is too mean and bites the kids. They cannot leave the dog alone because ‘he gets upset.’ They cannot leave town because the cat gets depressed, or has end-stage heart disease and might die (an eventuality difficult to avoid). These couples will take separate vacations so that someone is always with their beloved pet. (‘He gets really angry when we board him, you know!’)

Meanwhile their old, and/or sick pet does less and less. Its illness worsens, it cannot see, can barely walk, cannot control its bodily functions and may even act aggressively for no obvious reason.

Please believe me when I say that I understand affection for pets. We had two puppies die some years ago, and I cried like a crazy person as I buried them. When our beloved old dog Ruger developed a brain tumor, we all huddled around him during his seizures, and tried to keep him as comfortable as possible.

But never would I have considered putting his needs above the needs of my wife, my children, my parents; even my friends. Or for that matter, my own mental or physical health.

And for me to even entertain the thought that I might one day forgo my grandchildren, my very line on earth, so that Spot, Fluffy, Fang or old Paint wouldn’t ‘feel alone,’ well it simply defies my imagination.

These are strange days indeed, and getting stranger all the time. But no human should be denied a normal life, or impoverished, in order to meet the imagined emotional needs of a pet or the physical needs of more creatures than they can afford.

And no one, however well-intentioned, should miss out on the special times or daily joys of their Homo Sapien loved ones, in order to obsessively care for an aging, dying or simply spoiled beast.

Call me cold and uncaring, but animals just aren’t people.

The real sometimes collides with the ideal

Here’s my column in yesterday’s Greenville News.  ‘The Real Sometimes Collides with the Ideal.’ Or my personal title, ‘the dangers of house-porn.’

southern living idea house 4

My wife and I were sitting and chatting about the holidays last week. She was thumbing through that most terrifying of all magazines, ‘Southern Living.’ I’m sure you’ve seen it. The pages are meant to represent the elegance and culture of the modern South. It is filled with beautiful photos of spotless homes, with neat, well-arranged furniture and sparkling floors and counter-tops. The food in the kitchens is stored like art-work. The porches, the verandas as clean and perfect as the day the builders and painters shook hands, collected checks and walked away.

Where humans appear, they are smiling, happy, well put-together and stylish. At worst, the children are in swimsuits on sunny beaches. And the children seem to have been programmed not to clutter. The toys are absent, or arranged as if by some Feng Shui master to illustrate that Southern children are, like their mothers, elegant.

Clothes do not lie on the floor. Food does not stain the counter. Plates do not fill the sink. Beach sand is absent from the steps. No husband lounges happily before his flat screen in torn jeans, throwing popcorn at his kids open mouths. No child is pinning a sibling to the floor, trying to lick him as a form of torture.

Southern living, in short, is a beautiful, venerable publication, like so many of the same genre, which represents ideals. We love ideals. Especially in the South, and especially at the holidays. We have perfect images of how things should be, and they are often of spacious, bright, airy homes, perfect family gatherings, exquisite meals and quiet children. But, as T.S. Eliot said, ‘Between the idea and the reality falls the shadow.’

So back to our conversation. Jan said, ‘Do you see that? Her house isn’t cluttered! Look how clean the floors are!’

I responded, ‘Honey, what you have there is house-porn. It’s like me, holding up a Victoria’s Secret magazine, pointing to a model, and saying, ‘see her? Why don’t you look like a 19-year-old lingerie model (anymore)?’

There was a pause; a scary, dangerous pause, then to my immense relief, she laughed. (Whew!)

Our house is cluttered for the same reason our bodies change. Life does that sort of thing. Life is about the mixture of heavenly dreams and earthly ideals; the way things might be, stirred up with the way things are.

So, our house is cluttered because there are parents, kids, cats and cousins. Friends drop by. We eat, play and laugh. We study and create. My daughter leaves Barbie clothes lying about. My boys scatter rocks, knives, axes and tools. Both genders drop books everywhere. The cats erupt with random fur-balls.

As for us? We humans change. I long ago accepted that I do not have the same fitness or shape that I had in college. Good food and sloth changed all that. And I love my wife’s body, not as it was, but as it is; the gift of child-birth changed her. Real women, unlike lingerie models, have curves and messed-up hair at day’s end. They wear t-shirts to bed instead of leopard print, but look just as alluring to their over-weight, mid-life husbands.

Real houses, cluttered and filled with laughter, chaos, food and love, are as wonderful as any perfect ideal of ‘house.’ They are delightful like our wives at end of day, or our children covered in mud and chocolate.

This season, we husbands ought to care for our wives and try to make their dreams of order and cleanliness come true. It’s a nice gift to give. I speak to myself as well, an inveterate clutterer. It will be easier, as we have far fewer tiny toys coming into our children’s lives as they get older. And it will be easier because I know how much it means to my wife.

However, this concept of the real versus ideal applies equally to our celebration of the Christmas season. There are the celebrations and gatherings, even feelings, we covet; the perfect images of which we dream. But life forces us to come to the season as we are, as we find it; with actual families, houses, budgets and time constraints.

Fortunately, the manger in Bethlehem was, after all, mererly a manger, fodder, dirt, beasts and all. And as she delivered the very embodiment of all our ideals, I am confident that neither Mary nor Joseph were distracted, or discouraged, by reading ‘Better Sheds and Mangers.’

My interview in the Rural Section Newsletter from August

Doctor Dagger Carves Up and Serves the Benefits of Rural EM Practice
An Interview with Edwin Leap, MD, Featured Speaker at 2010 Scientific Assembly Rural Section Meeting

Randolph Knight, MD
July 21, 2010

The alternating rise and fall of the bellows, steady airflow of a hand-cranked blower and sudden metallic clangs do not mean that this rural Emergency Medicine physician is using steam-engine technology to ventilate a critical patient.

Dr. Edwin Leap is just having fun with his children, in a way that only a small-town practice could provide.  In his free time away from a full-time position at Oconee Medical Center in Seneca, South Carolina, Leap enjoys blacksmithing in the forge he has erected on his 60-acre farm.  He lives on the farm with his wife Jan and four children and a number of hound dogs, including Ajax, who keeps watch while we talk this week.

“This is one of the reasons you do rural practice,” Leap reasons.  “You do things you couldn’t do closer to town, like have your own shooting range.  You have a freedom of lifestyle that will be wonderful.  If you enjoy activities like whitewater rafting or hunting, don’t travel for four hours to get there . . . go live there!”

Dr. Leap has shared his experiences in rural EM practice and rural living with his colleagues for the past 10 years in his monthly column for EM News.  He will now take center stage in front of ACEP’s Rural Section at this year’s annual meeting.  He will talk on Tuesday, September 29, in the Mandalay Bay Resort, Las Vegas, Nevada.  The first 190 attendees will enjoy a seated lunch sponsored by EmCare and The MedicAlert Foundation (see accompanying article).

“I’m thrilled to come to this year’s meeting,” Leap says. “I love meeting people with similar stories and look forward to making new friends.  I am also concerned about the plight of our specialty in rural areas.”

Leap plans to share his insights into what makes practicing Emergency Medicine in a rural setting special and challenging.

“Things out here aren’t the way the books said they would be,” Leap advises.  “When the chips are down you are on your own, the only doctor in the hospital.   For example, during one of the few times we’ve had snow down here, we had a fellow with a head injury in a snow sliding accident.  There was no helicopter and no ambulance.  We had to hyperventilate the patient all night long until we could evacuate him in the morning.”

“You have to be willing to learn from people who live here.  Don’t think people with Southern accents aren’t as smart as you are. If you do, they’ll smoke ya!”

ACEP members who attend the luncheon will get to enjoy the wit and wisdom of a West Virginia native who grew up “roaming the woods” and then planned to be a journalist, but who wound up veering into Emergency Medicine in the Blue Ridge Mountain foothills of South Carolina.

“I did not intend to become a physician.  I intended to be a columnist for a newspaper,” Leap recounts. “But my mother, who was a nurse, recommended I go into medicine.”

Leap had his career shift occur while still an undergrad at Marshall University.  After getting the hang of premedical science, he went on to West Virginia University for medical school and then a 3-year Emergency Medicine residency at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Indiana.

He moved with his wife to South Carolina in 1993, where they have lived ever since.  Leap credits Dr. Bill Childs, who preceded him by a year in training, with luring him to his current post.  He also fondly recalls the influence of Dr. Jack Warren – a grandfather figure to the young Dr. Leap – who asked the essential question that helped make his rural EM practice successful: “Is this life going to make your wife happy?”

Leap had concern that first summer when his spouse said “You have moved me to the Hell! This is the hottest place to live in the entire world!”

One of the keys to happiness for his family has been their life on the farm which he describes as their “refuge.”

Dr. Leap’s mother couldn’t have predicted that Leap’s ambition to write for an audience would not be thwarted but would be enhanced by his role as a doctor.

Leap for the past 15 years has also written a bi-weekly column for the Greenville (SC) News, a Gannett newspaper.

Leap says topics for the two columns emerge from his life as a husband, father and doctor living in the rural South.  But the focus of the newspaper column is more on family events and regional culture. Readers particularly enjoy his annual Vacation Column for its gentle humor.

“When you take four kids to the beach or up into the mountains, funny stuff happens,” Leap says.

Yet when he describes a run-in between himself and a rattlesnake – an encounter that left one of them minus its head – his interest in medicine is apparent.  He sets up an instant dissection clinic with his kids where they explore the anatomy of the still-writhing creature.

His column for EM News, however, deals with issues of more interest to Emergency Medicine specialists.  He probes the social, economic and political challenges that shape his patients’ lives and responses to illness.  He can be startling frank about attitudes and behavior he sees at work.

“You really can’t write about how patients act in the local newspaper,” Leap says.  Yet he explores these themes in his EM News column, with the spin that only a rural practice can bring to his hospital work.  His rattlesnake story for this column would more likely cite the case of the snakebite pet owner who cleared out 36 vials of antivenin one day.

Leap says his wife and his children have different reactions to his side job in column writing.

“My wife is used to it, but I can’t say she enjoys it.  She knows it’s going to happen, though,” he explains. “My children love it.  They feel like it makes them famous.  Readers feel like they know my family.”

An old box of family pictures, from his boyhood in West Virginia, spurred him to write, Leap says.  He was shocked to realize he didn’t know the stories that accompanied the pictures of people in his family. So his own efforts remedy this by giving his children the stories of their own lives.

He also derives inspiration from writers such as C.S. Lewis and G.K Chesterton.

“These writers address the realities of the human heart with intellectual vigor and also with love,” Leap states. “The great writers show how people get to be where they are. Their stories contain Truth and Love and Mystery . . . and deal with matters of Faith and how the Universe works.”

Other inspirations come from modern authors such as Mark Helprin, Edgar Lee Masters and the modern poet Luci Shaw.

Leap says a particular literary form he loves is the Children’s Story.  He and his wife have enshrined the bedtime story in their family culture.  As his children move from early childhood into their teens, the stories include more and more science fiction.  Because all four children are homeschooled, Leap says, they have filled their hours with good books and their own writing, particularly when the summertime heat, hornets and wasps make exploring the woods near their home an unpleasant proposition.  When the first freeze hits, however, it’s time to get out into the woods as a family.

And that means deer hunting.

Not that the deer should worry TOO much.

“I enjoy hunting but I’m really bad at it.  I’m not claiming to be a “mighty hunter, fine figure of a man.” But it is just as much fun whether you’re bad or good because hunting gets you out of the house with your child to feel the cold wind in your face,” Leap shares.  To help his kids appreciate where they come from, he has them trying to chip spear points from the native quartz in imitation of the arrowheads they find lying around.

“Our ancestors were amazing people,” Leap recalls.  “They were able to survive by dint of their hunting.  And my kids and I have learned that working quartz, even when you have metal tools, is really hard.”

So don’t be surprised if the next time you try to chase down Dr. Leap, he isn’t off forging arrowhead chipping tools with his children.

Serenity, despite horse flies

My wife and sons have been in Louisiana on a mission trip.  So, my daughter Elysa and I have been enjoying a week of papa/daughter time.  Despite the fact that we miss the rest of the Leap family immensely, we have enjoyed our days and nights.  And one of the things we’ve enjoyed most has been our evening swims.

Around 7 PM, we slip into the pool.  The sun is going down behind the Blue Ridge Mountains, and sometimes light streams through broken clouds, leaving golden halos around the water vapor suspended far above us as we float in its related, liquid H2O.  Tonight, even Ajax the dog paused and looked up, taking it all in with the kind of perfect peace only a dog can enjoy; right before running into the woods to chase something and immediately forgetting whatever sublime emotion he was experiencing.

Our swims are casual affairs; we paddle back and forth, play games, balance on floating toys and jump into the pool to watch the waves multiply and cancel across the length and width of our tiny sea.

Other things love the evening swim.  We are visited by dozens of wasps and bees, which dip gently into the water and never, ever disturb us.  I fish them out whenever they’re trapped, and set them free in the grass.  Tonight we had a beautiful dragon-fly that required gentle rehab from being mildly water-logged.  He was resting on a sponge, on a deck chair, as we came in for the night.

We have retrieved one unfortunate dead snake; a young snake, likely born only this year.  And we have been assaulted by horse-flies, which attack one or two at a time, seeking our blood, and forcing us beneath the surface like subs before aircraft.  I do not show them the same mercy as I show our other visitors.  For they are rude, and I smack them down whenever possible.  After all, I cannot allow them to bite the princess, can I?

The clouds, the setting sun, the smooth, clear water all set a tone of absolute serenity, one respected by almost every creature that visits us.

Heaven must be a bit like that.  Except that the horse-flies, while present, will not bite, but sing beautiful songs of praise and wonder in our ears, whenever they land.

Good night, and  ‘flights of angels sing thee to thy sleep.’


Science, dogs and airsoft!

science is cool!

science is cool!

Problem: Roughly 5-7  loud, annoying dogs bark at my daughter and me when we ride our bicycles.  They run so close to us that we almost fall over avoiding them.  Their owners are disinterested.

Hypothesis:  There must be a way to discourage this behavior.  Firearms always come to mind, but combustion firearms are loud and result in deadness.

Test:  What if, from the bicycle, a projectile could be launched at said canines, quietly and without causing a dog to experience deadness?  Author of study does not have permit for silenced firearm.  (Note to self, explore permit fee…)

Material:  Small to medium-sized dogs of questionable value.  Bicycles.  Daughter.  Aggressive, politically incorrect father who is a passable marksman.  A $25 air-soft gun, modeled on an HK MP-5 submachine gun (but clear plastic and not scary), was loaded with plastic BB’s.  Whilst assaulted by test subjects, small bursts from the weapon discouraged further chasing of child and her cavalry escort.

Conclusion:   Dogs don’t like to be shot by pellets; even ones moving at an almost pointless 150 feet per second.  Dogs use their keen intellect and natural skills to associate the sound of the gun and the thump of the pellet hitting them, with the maniacally happy man on the bicycle.

Report:  After initial salvo, dogs remained under bushes when we returned.

Problem solved.  Aren’t dogs smart?  And ain’t science cool?