Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Wheels within the wheels of chance & fate

Two posts below, I discuss how certain shifts develop a theme (people with shit everywhere; fat people in small cars; dead pets; off-my-meds crazy) that reveals itself only in course of our calls.

Another aspect of my job is that we respond to whatever we're called to, whenever it comes in. Today, we were doing a commercial building inspection on Lake Street, and the manager of the repair shop turned out to be a cyclist who'd just completed Ride the Rockies. He was telling me about his trip, we were commiserating about the hazards of cycling in general, and steep downhills (like the rockies) and distracted drivers (like anywhere, generally, and the two people who blew stop signs and nearly pegged me at two different intersections on my ride to work this morning, specifically). This wasn't much of an inspection: the public never goes beyond the service counter; the three workers have numerous exits at the rear; the building, if on fire in the night, would be prohibitively dangerous so we'd most likely stay outside and spray the burning machine metal.

We left and I was trying to call the man for our next inspection, as we were running early. Our rig cell phone is/was locked/frozen and I spent several minutes trying to fix it w/o banging off the street.

I was reaching for my personal phone but we caught a call that came in as difficulty breathing. We arrived at the nursing home and were met by the nurse-like people (don't presume everyone in sensible shoes knows much about medicine...) who were, unlike most calls to this place, quite agitated. One woman led us to the stairs at a speed sufficient for competitive stair climbing. In a small room, several staff were kneeling around a man who wasn't breathing. They were doing a form of CPR. We took over, and they continued to stand over/around us. Six staff around three firefighters, our equipment, and a lifeless man. In a small room. I had to actively encourage people to clear out. Still, several stood there for most of the thirty minutes we worked the man. The paramedics arrived, we continued to do CPR and breathe for him, but/though it was clear he wasn't coming back--no electrical energy in his body. As soon as I stopped compressions, everything went flat on the monitor. He up and died in his easy chair. The list of his medical conditions was several pages, so it's not unexpected.

After half and hour, the medics called it. We were all drenched in sweat. We cleared the mess from the attempt, lifted him from the floor to his bed (for his family's imminent arrival) and said bye to medics.

As we carried our gear and the medics' gear down the hall, we passed one of the nurse-like staff, who was sobbing quietly. Odd: this is a nursing home, where people go to die. Most of the time, we find residents dead in their chairs, having been overlooked for several hours. This man was old-enough and sick-enough that death wasn't a shocking turn-around. Of course, it's sweet to care and be saddened by a human's death, but from the nurse with paperwork, the man hadn't been in the place for more than a few months.

We continued to our next inspection, still dripping sweat. No time to decompress, process, or towel off. The caretaker of this apartment building looks like a non-famous Iggy Pop. Year of hard living, but he's still ticking. His body emits enough second-hand smoke to clog a room, but he's a colorful odd-job.

And so we went, doing our stuff, going places for things and people. We don't know what we'll get; we respond and adapt and adjust as we must.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Road to the Left Coast, and back

Mind is still road-bleary, but we're back. American West is long and wide. Spacious skies, for sure. Rolled out to see the peeps in Bay Area. Good stuff. Badlands at dusk/sunset; Rushmore at coffee break; Wyoming all afternoon. Nevada, the nuclear test zone. Sierra Nevadas/Tahoe/Donner Pass; Oakland.

I've spent most of my 'free' travel time in the Bay Area in the past several years, seeing Michael for training and pleasure, hanging w/ Fran & Norma at their oasis off San Pablo, getting my familiars w/ Linds and Shelley. I love the place, albeit from comfort of brief-stay tourist. Linds & Shell live just off Lake Merritt, and that's a great neighborhood. I wander around, check the strange birds, and the stranger people, and dig Oakland, when I'm there. Fran and Norma live not far, and their place is a well-considered compound of esoteric and deliberate art. Michael and Carol are just up the road, and their place is always welcome and welcoming. Good people make for great visits.

I made plans to head this way several months back, when Annie thought she might be in Prague for three weeks with NPL. The plan was vague but easy: head west w/ kids in car, drive to the Bay, be there. When Annie decided not to make the European gig, it made this plan all the better. We were quite busy with end-of-school work and a couple theater gigs for her, so we never really made any more plan than the skeleton.

I realized, a bit belatedly, that I had/have a strong desire to share the experience--the feelings as well as the people & places--with Annie and the girls. Perhaps auditioning Oakland for a pipe-dream escape from Mpls's land-lockedness and winter and mosquitoes. Plus, a goodly chunk of my closest friends are out there, and I have such good associations; I think I wanted it to resonate w/ the rest of the team.

We drove well, and long. America opens wide and vast once one passes Lincoln, NE. I'm not as taken w/ the Badlands as Annie, but they are cool. We arrived just as the sun was dropping, and the light was stupendous. Note to self (again): the only walking area is at the east entrance. Twice now, we've toodled through the rest of the park looking for the next hiking trail.

We did Rushmore, briefly. Lots of wheezing tourists. We saw and split.

Post-Rushmore, we back-roaded down through the SD/Wyo borders to Laramie, which is a great little town (in Wyoming). Good food, strong coffee, and off into a tumultuous stormy evening. Wind attacked us for hours, just pounded the car. Salt Lake in early morning was nice; we stopped and played in the salt flats.

Kids were great and amused themselves (and us) throughout.

Post-Utah, Nevada is a hard stretch. It was a mental burn to get through it. Climbing into the Sierras was great. Zip, zip, zip through the mountain passes, then final stretch to Oakland. We were road bleary for the next day and a half, but we managed to do good stuff w/ the aunties.

I walked the pup way more than he was used to, not having any outdoor enclosed areas. Good to stretch my legs and check out the neighborhood more, and he enjoyed the sights and smells.

Oakland; Berkeley for lunch; San Francisco w/ Tim and Haarlem, including the Embarcadero and Crissy beach near the Golden Gate Bridge. The girls braved the cold water, splashed in the Pacific, and got sand between their toes. The pup plowed right into the ocean (as did Harper), then romped all over the beach. I was worried he'd either get swept out to sea, run away, or pester the milling groups of school kids, so he ended up leashed more than he liked. There were many, many dogs out there, and Moby wanted to meet and play with all of them, even if they weren't all so interested in him.

Interesting California vibe: dogs were roaming everywhere, in an 'It's cool, just chill' sort of way, yet when Moby tried to play w/ people's dogs, they were standoff-ish and unhelpful (refusing to break pace in their walk so I could collar the punk, thus continuing his interference w/ their walks...). Ah, the end of land madness of it all.

Michael and Carol's for dinner. Harper got to see the pigeons up close, including some babies. We caught sunset from the peak, and the girls went noodling for gophers in the backyard.

Moby & Shrike met cute. Annie and Carol finally got to see each other in the flesh and talk. Good times.

Return trip was arduous but fun.

The worst part for me was the stretch after Laramie: Nebraska is endless, and once that is traversed, there's still several hours of Iowa eastbound before taking a left onto I-35, and another several hours from there. But we survived and arrived home in one piece.

Shallow reflections for now. Main points: safe travels, great companions, lots of sites seen, people visited, time spent in reflection as the miles ticked away. I'm so impressed and thrilled by how Flann & Harper travel. Annie and I did some trips pre-kids, and it's nice to hit the road w/ her again, even as a quartet.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


I've written before, perhaps here or just on someone's garage, about the way we find, or see revealed, themes or trends in our various shifts. Because I have no idea what will actually occur when I show up for work each day (beyond the usual routine of cleaning, sitting/waiting, etc), there are shifts in which the calls we respond to give the over-narrative for the day.

Last week, it was open trauma/gashed flesh: the guy whose nose was obliterated by the other guy who swung the heavy belt buckle; the fellow whose finger tip was severed by a lawn mower; the little girl whose foot got caught in the spokes of her bike (we think) and the metal served as cheese-slicing agent, slashing through her shoe and deep into her heel. No other real calls than these, and some fire alarms.

The other day, it was sadness, or hardship, or quotidian tragedy. Life's a Motherfucker. Call it what you will, we supped at the trough of broken-heartedness, and we were full to sickened with it.
An old lady fighting to stay out of a nursing home, but unable to care for herself over the weekend when her caregivers were off. Moral dilemma: do we respect her (lucid) wishes to live on her own, even if it means she may/will fall and hurt herself, or die? Or do we do our little part of the big machine to get her to a nursing home, where she'll wish she were dead (but can't kill herself, thanks to the staff's presence--no, she'll have to sit, suffer, and die of neglect or infection like everyone else).

Drunk sick by too much Listerine too early in the morning. Half-arguing with us about us calling a squad to get him to detox. What is the better option? He knows he's killing himself; he knows he can't/won't stop.

The enormous woman with myriad health complications who needed six of us to get her out of bed to get to hospital because her breathing is compromised because she is enormous and has myriad health complications. The acrid tang of putrid flesh was almost as hard to take as how horrible her quality of life was. Yet she was pretty upbeat overall.

Public service to help someone w/ her smoke detectors. Realizing w/ growing horror how truly mentally impaired she was/is, yet there we were, in her living room, with her odd husband and goofy kids. These people were barely or sub-functional, and they were also living their lives just like anyone else, except with a good deal more chaos and fear and confusion.

It was a hard day. A sad day. No easy answers, or hard ones, for that matter. No solutions. At times, very, very little hope.