Thursday, January 23, 2014

Update on the Bell’s Palsy

The day that I was diagnosed with Bell’s Palsy I was scheduled to appear in court in the afternoon. I couldn’t do it. I was still struggling to speak properly. I could make myself understood, but I found the effort exhausting and frustrating. When I saw my broken face in the mirror I felt pretty sorry for myself. The ability to occasionally find humour in my situation was definitely not immediate. I was dressed up for court, but I was a long way from being in fighting form. One of my colleagues at the clinic kindly stepped in and appeared for me in court that first day, and I was really grateful that he did.

Because I was scheduled to leave for a circuit a couple of days after my diagnosis, I asked the doctor if there were any issues with travelling to Sanikiluaq for court. He said that there weren’t. Travel was no problem because I wasn’t sick. So I went. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have gone. Not just because of the Amaulik Hotel's best efforts to kill us all. Having Bell's Palsy actually is being sick. I should have stayed home and slept curled up with a heating pad and a big bottle of painkillers.

Bell’s Palsy is often thought of as merely cosmetic. But the droopy appearance on one side is just the most obvious symptom.  There are numerous other symptoms that aren’t talked about very much. I had no idea – and certainly the doctor never mentioned –  that I’d feel as though I’d been punched repeatedly and hard on the forehead, jaw and on the side of my face. There are stabbing pains on and off in and behind my ear, and neck cramps and headaches on the afflicted side.  I’ve also been experiencing annoyances such as facial twitches, exhaustion, clumsiness and intermittent sensitivity to loud sounds.

I’ve done quite a bit of reading since my diagnosis, and I’ve joined a support group. What I’ve learned is that all of the above symptoms are very commonly experienced. I’m pretty sure that the support group saved me from turning into a total hypochondriac. Unfortunately the doctor I saw did very little to prepare me for what was coming. I really wish that I’d known ahead of time about the pain and also some of the stranger symptoms. Feeling as though someone cranked up the volume in your ear from 10 to 30 in a bit unnerving. Even more so if it comes as a total surprise.

I’m happy to report that I’m getting better. On Sunday, exactly two weeks after the onset, I was able to slightly move the muscle under my left eye. Today (Day #18) I am able to move the left side of my mouth a little bit, and it appears more symmetrical.  My speech is also much improved. I did a trial yesterday that involved an awful lot of talking (cross-examination and submissions) and it went very well. By the end of it I was exhausted, and my words were getting a bit slurred, but no one seemed to have any difficulty understanding me. There is still some pain but much less than there was. Things are definitely looking up!

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Sanikiluaq Court Circuit - January 2014 - Part 2

The entrance of the Amaulik Hotel on a beautiful Saturday afternoon.

When we arrived in Sanikiluaq we learned that it was a busy week and that the newer of the Co-Op/Inns North hotels was full to the point where to stay there would have meant sharing rooms. However, we were given an option to stay at the old Amaulik hotel, where people could have a room to themselves. This was not the best choice to have to make. The old hotel is pretty decrepit. But having to work and live doubled up with roommates in tiny rooms for five days or longer is even worse, so the lawyers all opted to rough it in exchange for a bit of privacy.

You might remember that I wrote about the old hotel almost a year ago when I went on my first Sanikiluaq circuit. Co-counsel John also wrote about the old hotel in his blog last year and included a picture of a sign warning not to close the door to the furnace room off the kitchen because of the danger of carbon monoxide poisoning.  Nothing has been fixed since then, and the sign to warn people of the potential danger is long gone. As some kind of nod to safety, someone did think to jam a milk crate in-between the door and the frame.

But anyway, no worries, we knew not to close that door, and as long as it stayed open, the air would be fine.

During the first night of our stay we learned the hard way that there was a second door in the hotel that also should not be closed under any circumstances.  It turns out that the door to the laundry room also needs to stay open. Of course there was no sign to warn this unsuspecting guest of this. The problem only became evident when the rooms on one side of the hotel, the common area and the convenience store at the end of the building, became filled with heating oil fumes from the furnace. It’s just a good thing that it was only 10:30 p.m. and that everyone wasn’t asleep when it happened.

Help arrived thanks to a heating and oil technician who was kind enough to come and check the furnace for us even though he doesn’t actually work for the hotel.  He quickly identified the source of the problem and after about half an hour the air was reasonably clear. He said it was safe and that it wouldn’t happen again as long as both doors were kept open.  I did my best not to think about it and went to bed.  Being worried about waking up dead does not make for a restful sleep. If I slept with one eye open, it wasn’t because of the Bell’s Palsy.

The next morning one of the crowns expressed concern about the fumes to one of the Co-op/Inns North managers. It was pretty clear that despite having been told about the problem in the past, that there was no will on his part to fix it or to even pretend to be minimally concerned. He first offered the interesting explanation that it was just a quirk of the direction of the wind. He was then told that the heating person had been by and that he had explained the nature of the ventilation problem to us. After a brief exchange, the manager ultimately responded by saying, “Whatever” and walking away. That’s an exact quote. Whatever. Only toxic fumes instead of oxygen to breathe. Whatever. 

My stay at the old Amaulik wasn’t entirely bad. I didn't have to share my room. We could cook our own food in the kitchen. The coffee was plentiful. I was able to do laundry. I was one of the lucky guests who had a working shower. I had a toilet that wasn’t covered in suspicious brown stains (unlike one unfortunate member of the court party). And the threat of being poisoned and blown up in an explosion that would have been the punchline of four-less-lawyers-in-the-world headlines was definitely a distraction from the atmosphere of decay and the lack of cleanliness. I guess that's something.

January Hymn – The Decemberists
Stubborn Love – The Lumineers
After the Storm – Mumford & Sons

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Sanikiluaq Court Circuit, January 2014 - Part 1

The blizzard was over on the morning of Wednesday, January 8th, so I should have been fine to fly to Ottawa as scheduled. But there was one sadly predictable problem. My 5:10 p.m. flight to Ottawa was on Canadian North. And despite the rapidly improving weather, Canadian North cancelled both of their flights for the day.

But First Air was still flying, and I was able to change my flight, so I made it to Ottawa as planned. I saw one of my brothers and a few friends during my brief stop. I’m glad that I could get out of Iqaluit on Wednesday because it meant an easy low-stress itinerary.  Everything I’ve read suggests that keeping the stress down and getting plenty of sleep helps with recovering from Bell’s Palsy. Stress and insufficient sleep was probably what got me into this mess in the first place, so I'm resolved to take better care of myself.

On Thursday afternoon I flew to Montreal. The flight was a bit delayed but I didn’t mind because the flight to Sanikiluaq wasn’t until the next morning so there was plenty of time. I rested up and treated myself to a swim and some fudge. This new health initiative really isn't so bad.

On Friday at 7:30 a.m., myself, co-counsel and the crown team met up at the departure gate and we all flew to Sanikiluaq together.  On the way, there was a brief stop in Kuujjuaraqpik, Quebec.

Our Air Inuit plane fueling up in Kuujjuarapik.

As with everywhere else in Canada, Sanikiluaq has been experiencing some pretty nasty weather recently, and planes hadn’t been landing all week. But luck was with us, and we made it in just after lunch, grateful to be spared the fate of being forced by weather to spend an entire weekend experiencing the culture, food and fashion of Montreal.

Okay well maybe not so grateful about missing out on that. But anyway, we've got a job to do, and we're here, and we're ready to help people with criminal court. Old Amaulik Hotel, Sanikiluaq, Saturday,January 11th and Sunday January 12th, 10-5 or by appointment.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Brief stop in Iqaluit before heading to Sanikiluaq

The suitcase in my living room had just been unloaded from the Ottawa and Toronto Christmas visit when it was time to start packing for the Sanikiluaq circuit that starts on January 13th. I think five days between trips south is a personal record.

They haven't been the best five days. On Saturday I started experiencing a slight earache. I didn't think much of it because I had flown the day before. But then on Sunday evening the left side of my face began to feel a bit numb and unresponsive. That was scary. I went to emergency and was seen quickly. Within an hour of arriving, the possibility of a stroke had been ruled out so I was sent home and told to come back in the morning. By Monday morning, the partial paralysis had gotten worse and when I went back to the hospital it was confirmed that I had developed Bell’s Palsy. Bell’s Palsy is a condition where the facial nerve (also known as the seventh cranial nerve) becomes inflamed for reasons unknown and no longer functions properly. 

The good thing about Bell’s Palsy is that usually it goes away on its own eventually with few or no lasting effects. The bad thing is that the (hopefully temporary!) change in one’s appearance can be pretty shocking and a bit humbling. It is also hard to talk, eat and drink properly. I take care of my appearance and can be a bit vain about not looking my age. This has been a real lesson in getting over myself. 

My case is relatively mild, and I can speak well enough to represent people in court, so I’m still going to Sanikiluaq for the circuit as scheduled even though it will be uncomfortable to be out and about in public like this. Hopefully I won’t look quite so frightful by the time that court starts on Monday. 

The plan was to begin my trip to Sanikiluaq with a flight to Ottawa tomorrow (well, technically today since I'm posting this after midnight) but the huge blizzard we’re having in Iqaluit might get in the way of that. My flight isn’t until five so fingers crossed that it will be all over by then. And that Canadian North won't go "mechanical."

Sunday, November 10, 2013

October Travels - Part 2 - Flight to Qikiqtarjuaq

The community of Qikiqtarjuaq was the second stop on the Clyde/Qik double circuit. On Wednesday, October 30th, the court party left Clyde River and flew to Qikiqtarjuaq, by Air Nunavut charter.  Approaching Qikiqtarjuaq there were areas where visibility was poor because of snow, but the pilots flew around the bad weather and we made it in first try. The plane flew at a very low altitude for about half of the flight giving everyone a spectacular view of mountains, ocean and icebergs. It was the most incredible flying that I’ve ever experienced.

This is a picture of our arrival. The RCMP met the plane and helped with getting everyone and their bags to the Tulugak (Raven) Hotel.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

October Travels – Part 1 – Clyde River

I spent the last week of October in Clyde River and Qikiqtarjuaq for the double court circuit. This was my first time visiting both communities. The first stop was Clyde River.

 Afternoon light at the airport, shortly after we arrived.

The picture below is a view of the town, taken from the Hamlet Building on Saturday, a little after 10 a.m., just before clients began arriving to meet with me to prepare their cases for court. As you can tell from the light levels, Clyde River is pretty far north. The posts poking out of the snow in the foreground are supports for the new Hamlet Building to be constructed next summer.

While in Clyde River, the court party stayed at the Piqqusilirivvikcultural school which hosts non-student guests when there are rooms available. I’d been warned about staying at the other option, the Qamaq Hotel, an apparently terrible place even by arctic hospitality standards. Fortunately for us they were closed for much-needed renovations.  I’m grateful that the culture school was able to accommodate us. It was a beautiful, comfortable and cheerful place to stay. I only wish that there had been more time to explore and learn more about the traditional skills that are being taught there.

The culture school is a little bit out of town, about a 20-minute walk down a partially empty stretch of road. Before I left Iqaluit, one of my colleagues who had been on Clyde River circuits before warned me to watch out for polar bears when out walking. Bears do sometimes go to that area, but this time none had been seen in recent weeks. So I’m very happy to report that in addition to getting some good results in court, I achieved another important goal that I set for the Clyde River court circuit: avoid getting eaten.

It was overcast most of the time so I didn’t get too many good pictures.  Also, the days were short, and my working hours were much longer.

The scenic walk near the water to the RCMP detachment to meet with an in-custody accused.

Inside the community hall, where court was held. Unfortunately we were too busy to squeeze in a game of pool.

Do I Wanna Know? – Arctic Monkeys
Only – Nine Inch Nails

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Pangnirtung Landing

On Saturday morning, I went to Pangnirtung with circuit co-counsel to begin meeting with clients and getting our cases ready for the August 19th court circuit.  It was a gorgeous day.  In February, when I went to Pangnirtung for the first time, I described the somewhat exhilarating Pang landing in my blog.  I was really hoping to be able to experience that approach again when we arrived.

I wasn't disappointed. And this time, because I knew what to expect, I had my camera ready when the time came. What the pictures below show is the view from my seat as the plane flew low into the Pangnirtung Fiord. The plane then made a 180 degree turn while inside the fiord and then landed on a very short runway really close to town, pretty much in the middle of the community.

Apparitions - Matthew Good Band
Til Kingdom Come - Coldplay