Elissa Yount: Angels among us

“There is a way one thinks that the show will never end — or that loss, when it comes, will be toward the end of the road, not in its middle.”

–Gail Caldwell

This community is saddened that the end of the story has come in the middle for Leslie Carswell. If you did not know her, I bet you knew someone who did. Leslie was vivacious, precocious, determined, compassionate, reliable, professional, astute, and she had so much joy of life! She helped the least of these and the rest of us through her great nursing abilities.

Leslie’s life work was a genuine gift to this community. She and her wonderful husband, Fred, started a home health agency in Henderson. For those of us who were fortunate enough to employ their services for in-home health needs or end of life health care, the blessings were numerous.

She and Fred could have gone anywhere in North Carolina and shared their gifts, but they decided to remain in Henderson. Here they reared two lovely daughters who are grounded in family, church, and community. Fred went back to nursing school, and I often heard Leslie say he was a better nurse than she was. I might argue that, but for anyone who has required oncology services at Maria Parham, you know that you have the best when Fred is in attendance.

Leslie shared her great knowledge, and Maria Parham was lucky to retain her services. She was well-respected and well-known both in the state and throughout the entire southeast. She defended hospice care and home health services both for the benefit of patients and their families and caregivers and for the savings it brought to the government.

Did I mention Leslie was frugal?

She could get more out of a dollar than anyone I have ever known. That is one reason she was so incensed when the General Assembly made poor fiscal decisions about home health aides. I asked her why she just did not run for office and become a political leader to carry the banner. She would have represented all of us so well and so fairly, and she would have won!

The advice and help Leslie gave made her an angel among us. Once when a new Teach for America teacher at our school broke his elbow while playing basketball, I called Leslie and asked her advice on how to get someone with no established insurance and no local doctor seen the cheapest, fastest way by the best doctor. Surgery was required, and, thanks to Leslie, all turned out well. By this time, the young teacher’s mother had arrived, and she really was so appreciative that Leslie and smoothed the way for the surgery. You see, this young teacher had had a life-threatening illness when he was younger, and this was the first health emergency he had faced on his own. Leslie was the best stand-in mom both to this young teacher and to my son as well.

One Saturday evening we had dinner at the Carswell’s (which was not a usual event). During dinner, I mentioned that the next day I was going to my uncle’s funeral in Hampton, Virginia while my husband was traveling to his mother’s out of town. That Sunday afternoon my son had a serious skiing accident. He had the good sense to call Leslie. She thought the call from the emergency room that late afternoon was a little strange, as they do not send you to Duke for a broken leg. Remember the promise to send angels to guard after you? Well, Leslie left her dinner and went to the emergency room at Maria Parham. When she could not feel a pulse in the injured leg, she insisted that they call the helicopter. It was out of commission, so she insisted that they send him immediately by ambulance. Leslie tracked us down, but stayed with our son at Duke. Her ability to take charge and act both responsibly and compassionately was life-altering. To make a very long story short, her good advice saved his leg. The doctors at Duke got him into surgery by midnight and restored circulation.

And this is just a smattering of all the good and gracious gifts she bestowed on this community. She was a superb “boss-lady”, a faithful and committed member of the First Baptist Church, an attentive and helpful neighbor, a responsible parent, a well of good, and a fountain of joy. I do wonder what she is doing in Heaven, as there is no one there in distress, pain, or misery.

We may feel that the canvas of her life was only half-finished, and we will much grieve her loss. But what a wonderful canvas it is. I would say that the painting was so well done that no finishing touches are necessary. Leslie’s life is a grand panorama, and we are all the better for having witnessed her gifts in our community.