Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Musings on Mortality

We transported a 94 year-old woman today from a nursing home to the hospital, priority five, just a transfer. She had a possible lower leg fracture and needed an x-ray to confirm it.

She mewled in pain like a kitten when we sheet lifted her from the bed to the cot. She gazed blankly at us – the lights were on, but nobody was home. It was like that for the whole transfer to and from the hospital. I had to leave the room when the staff moved her leg to get the x-ray plate in position. I couldn't take the sounds. It made me want to cry. Lots of things in this job make me want to cry.

She kept trying to put things in her mouth and gum them, like a newborn. The cot strap buckle, the edge of the velour blanket, my hand. I sat there, watching her as the ambulance bounced and swayed down the road. Thoughts running through my head.

We wouldn't do this to our pets. We wouldn't let them suffer like this. Why do we insist on keeping people alive when there is nothing left? When all that is left is pain and suffering...

This is just one version of what is going to happen to all of us. I just hope to God it doesn't happen to me.

It reminds me of an old joke: “I want to die in my sleep, like my grandfather. Not screaming in fear like his passengers.”

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Where did it all start?

Where did it all start?

It could have been when I was a little kid, burning little paths of dried grass on the sidewalk and crisping ants with a magnifying glass with that kid that lived over on Morningstar Drive.

It could have been when I set fire to a margarine tub full of gasoline, and when the flames started to die down, I grabbed the can and poured some more gas into the tub. There was beauty in the flames that climbed back up the arch of falling liquid, right into the can I was holding. I was in high school then.

It could have been when Uncle Bob and I were burning brush in the middle of a five-acre grass field four years ago. With winds of 15 to 20 miles an hour, we assured each other it wouldn't get away from us and the mowed trail would stop it if it did. The roaring front of flame was glorious. Uncle Bob ran to call 911, and I watched the field fire run towards the woods. That was also the day that got me recruited by the fire department.

It could have been the workshop on using controlled burns as an land management technique, invigorating natives plants with fire, and suppressing invasives. Learning how to create firebreaks, use the wind, and control the fire was fascinating – although control can be elusive and quickly lost.

Or maybe it was the first day I got paid to put on a Nomex jumpsuit, strap on a five-gallon water pack, pick up a drip torch, and set fire to a prairie grass field. It went up like a bomb, with flame fronts tens of feet high, roaring like locomotives, and sending a column of smoke thousands of feet into the sky.

Maybe I've always been a bit of a fire bug.