Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Chris Lacey - Parkinson's and his Chess Sets

I came to know of Chris Lacey when he joined up on the Woodwork forum recently his first post of his Chess set had many a member in awe. He has used some highly figured Tassie Myrtle Burl and Huon Birdseye as the contrasting timber and the storage box.

I contacted Chris personally and he put together his story for me. Many thanks Chris and may your new found hobby grow.

Chris doesn't have his own website or Blog.

Living with Parkinson’s Disease – my personal journey

I was diagnosed by my Specialist Neurologist as living with Parkinson’s Disease in May 2012 at the age of 64. When given this diagnosis both my partner Marjorie and I smiled; we were a little surprised by that reaction when we thought about it after the consultation was over.  The story that follows should make some sense of that reaction which, on the face of it, was rather unexpected.

Nearly ten years before the diagnosis I became very depressed following the death of a sister who was only two years older than I was.  At the time, we put it down as an unsurprising effect of the loss and battled through it; however, with the benefit of hindsight, it may have been an early manifestation of my Parkinson’s story.  At that stage of my life, I was running my own Consultancy business in Occupational Health and Safety during the week, and then maintaining a 70-acre farm running beef cattle on weekends.  The farm was at Pipers River North East of Launceston and the consultancy clients were on Tasmania’s North West and West Coasts; there was a lot of travelling involved.  It sounds a bit crazy looking back on it, but at the time, it made for a busy, challenging, but rewarding life.

In the years that followed, that life style began to slowly get more demanding and correspondingly, less enjoyable; the changes were very subtle and difficult to pinpoint.  Life just seemed to be getting more difficult and less rewarding.  Perhaps it was just an “age catching up” thing!

In 2005, as these changes became more of an impact, Marjorie and I made a decision to sell the farm, and purchased a four-acre block and large home outside of Devonport. The home and land were in need of renovation.  Because the new home was close to where we worked, we figured that with the less travelling involved, and a lot less property to renovate and maintain, it was a step in the right direction; we hoped that this would remain our home until one or both of us needed full time care many years down the track.  Over the course of the next two years we managed to update the land and the home to a standard we felt comfortable with.  However, it proved to be not as easy as we had hoped; perhaps I was just aging faster than I expected!

By 2009, we found ourselves needing to downsize once again as my health slowly deteriorated further.  By then I had more periods where I experienced deep depression; I also suffered at times from extreme anxiety; living was now even tougher.  I could still manage most things provided I accepted that a lot more time was now required and plenty of recovery time allowed for. There were also other deterioration's, at a very personal level, that I will leave to your imagination. Therefore, we sold our four acres and moved into a home in Devonport on a normal sized block.  Surely I would be able to cope with that!

I had worked with a Clinical Psychologist on the depression and anxiety; my GP put me on Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors that if anything, made matters worse.  The strength of my body’s reaction to them led to a diagnosis of Serotonin Syndrome, a possibly serious reaction to the SSRIs.  I felt better once off the anti-depressants, but continued having debilitating bouts of depression and moments of extreme anxiety; the latter was making functioning as a consultant very difficult.  At times, speaking to groups was almost impossible; I just wanted to cut and run.  I still had no tremor and my GP was unable to resolve the issues; I began to wonder if I “was going crazy”.

By early 2011, I began to get some new and rather obvious physical symptoms.  I was feeling tingling, pins & needles, and burning sensations in my fingers, but particularly in my feet.  My GP diagnosed Restless Leg Syndrome and treated me with Sifrol.  The only identifiable benefit of the medication was a slight improvement in sleep patterns.  I had started to have increasing difficulty with sleep, so was feeling very tired most of the time.  I also had difficulty breathing, and was diagnosed with, and treated for, asthma.  Was I one of those unlucky people who have more and more medical conditions as I aged?  Once again, the medication had little effect; not only did I have all these medical conditions, but the usual treatments for each were proving ineffective.  At times I felt somewhat of a freak; or was I just a “nutter” imagining it all?

In the latter half of 2011 my condition had deteriorated to a point where I was unable to work in the consultancy and increasingly less able to maintain the gardens and home.  I had taken up light, artistic woodwork called Intarsia, involving utilising the colour and grain characteristics of various species of timber and shaping them to create pictures.  This hobby was light physically; much of it completed sitting down.  I ultimately could only complete about five minutes of this light work before requiring lengthy rest periods.  Also by this time, I was having difficulty walking.  I could manage to walk around a single town block from home, but felt as though I was pushing a tonne weight up hill; my muscles did not want to work for me.  My lower legs felt what I described to my GP as “spastic” (I now recognise that this was cogwheel movement of my muscles).  Throughout I never manifested a tremor.  I was always very tired and becoming increasingly apathetic –quite happy to just sit and do nothing (in absolute contrast to my normal almost hyperactive state).  By now, I was averaging between two and three hours sleep each night and in a constant state of exhaustion. Sometimes I would “lose it”, angrily responding to what were very minor annoyances.  It was frightening for me, and both frightening and extremely hurtful for Marjorie.  There were lots of “Sorrys” and many tears shed.  My personality was changing and definitely not for the better.

When I arrived at a point in November 2011, where I was barely able to walk into my GP’s office, it was at last recognised that “something serious neurologically” was going on, and I was given a referral to see a Neurologist.  By this time, I found concentration on almost any activity difficult; I have seen this referred to as “fuzzy thinking”.  It was a further six months before I saw the Neurologist.  It took him less than ten minutes to conclude that having Parkinson’s Disease was the only diagnosis able to fit all of the symptoms being experienced.  The proof that the diagnosis was correct would be a positive response to the levadopa medication that he prescribed.  This proved to be the case as my response to the drug Madopar was fantastic.  My Neurologist also provided me with medication that is helpful in managing the anxiety and sleep.  It felt so good to know what we were dealing with; we now had something we could learn about and begin to manage.  I was not crazy after all.

During the period of waiting to see the Neurologist, Marjorie and I made a further move into a Unit.  This has to be the last move surely! – the only move from here is full time care should that be required some time way out in the future  The Unit has an additional large garage that allows me to use my woodworking equipment.  I no longer have the hand/finger dexterity to make the Intarsia pictures in wood because most designs include very small pieces within them.  The neuropathy (lack of feeling and dexterity) in my fingers no longer allows me to manage small items close to moving saw blades, sanding machines, and the like.  Therefore, I have taken up making beautiful chess sets using the best and very special, of Tasmanian rare timbers.  The photos, I trust, speak for themselves.  It is a wonderfully therapeutic activity, and extremely rewarding to be able make things of beauty, and even more wondrous to be able to say with total conviction that it is “thanks to Parkinson’s Disease” - without Parkinson’s it is improbable that I would have taken up this work.  I also read several books each week and have found the interaction with the work of authors of a mix of classic, modern, and historical works to be enjoyable and stimulating.

I have to acknowledge that I went through a period of depression sometime after receiving the diagnosis.  I have received wonderful help from my Clinical Psychologist and can now manage my thought processes allowing me to live “in the moment” all of the time.  To focus on the past reminds one of what is no longer possible; to focus on the future is to emphasise the slow deterioration that is an inevitable part of the disease.  Both viewpoints lead inevitably to a “glass half empty” and rather depressing mindset.

Our Neurology Nurse Specialist/Educator in the North West of Tasmania has been immensely helpful with many of “the practicalities of living with Parkinson’s” issues.  She also introduced Marjorie and I to what has now become the “Young Onset Parkinson’s Group” in the North West.  This group is a fantastic meeting point for those living with Parkinson’s and their Carers.  We have lots of fun doing what to the rest of the world would appear to be unlikely things for people living with a chronic movement disorder, such as playing Mini Golf and Ten Pin Bowling.  We find it entertaining ourselves; others who observe some of our antics and odd movements find it amusing as well.

I am looking forward to the rest of my journey in life with Marjorie; I feel more positive than I had for many years (or should that be decades?) prior to diagnosis.  As the old saying goes, “I wouldn’t be dead for quids”!

About the timbers in the photographed chess set and the tools used:

The unbelievable beautiful Tasmanian timbers in this set are Birdseye Huon Pine and Burl Myrtle.  Other beautiful Tassie timbers I have access to are Musk (the rarest of all the Tassie timbers), Black Heart Sassafras, Tiger Myrtle, Flame Myrtle, Blackwood, Leatherwood, and others.  Most of them are available in variations including spalting (some of which appears in the photos of the board), birds-eye, quilting, white bait and other types of figuring.  It is a real privilege being able to use such fantastic timbers.

I have some reasonably good pieces of equipment that allow me to produce work of a reasonably high standard.  They include:
An Excalibur Scroll Saw,
A Drill Press;
A good Dust Collector;
A Table Saw;
A Router (with home-made table);
A Jointer / Thicknesser; and
A Dremel rotary tool with flexible drive (for finishing work).

The Chess Set design:

The set design in the photos is a standard Staunton design; what makes it different from most available sets is that it is not “turned” or “molded”, but compound cut on a Scroll Saw.  Each piece has lead shot epoxy glued into its base; this ensures that it does not easily tip over if bumped during a game.  I purchased a book written by a clever American guy, Mr Jim Kape.  The book is titled “Making Wooden Chess Sets – 15 One-of-a-Kind Projects for the Scroll Saw”.  Many of the designs are based on the architecture found in cities around the world.  The Kings, for example, vary from representations of the old Colosseum in Rome, to the Eiffel Tower and the Stanchions of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.  I am looking forward to making them all over the next few years.

The book also describes all of the techniques needed to successfully produce the chessmen, boards and storage boxes.  I would recommend it to any “woodies” out there interested in making chess sets.

If you would like to contact me please click my name and send me an email.

Chris Lacey

Chris you have had one amazing journey and still you are producing such fine works truly inspiring work.


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