Nil Caborundum

My wife and I both are part of our local volunteer ambulance service.  It’s all the island has, and I feel a very small cog in among a group that anyone (with any brains at all) would realize are a precious resource.  Of all the emergency services we are the most frequently called (that doesn’t mean we don’t want and need the rest. It’s like a helmet. You don’t want it until you get hit on the head.)  But it’s interesting because you get to see people at their worst – and paradoxically, sometimes their best.  You also get to see who moves towards the sound of the guns (metaphorically at least), because there is the reality that you’re possibly going to be in danger, and certainly have to take hard decisions, quickly and decisively.  Sometimes those decisions are for yourself (which is for me, anyway, easier) and sometimes those decisions have the life or future well-being of the patient in one’s not very expert hands.

We train a lot, and I try to never miss a session. I am frankly aware of the responsibility I carry and I want as much knowledge and skill as I can get – because I am scared (that doesn’t stop me moving toward the sound of the guns). But it ain’t the same, because when you get it wrong, no one is dead, and you know that. In the real thing, you’re responsible not only for yourself, but you take on responsibility for other people and their friends and families. Here, likely as not, you know them and friends and families. It’s not the big-city impersonal. Anyway, today my wife had to make one of those decisions. She could have left it to someone else, but instead she took the right steps. Not complicated or vast steps, just quick and decisive. She save the patient’s life, by doing that, and I am incredibly proud of her… and yet, I know her. That’s what I expect. That is what she is.

Sometimes we forget, when dealing with the assholes, the petty bureaucrats, the sort of people who demand government helps or fixes their problems but never raise a hand to help themselves or anyone else (and we provide free services to these too – and usually get pretty little by way of thanks, despite the fact that we give everyone the best we can), that actually humans have some wonderful people among them. The little old lady who just won’t call until morning – even though she’s in agony and you’ve told her, repeatedly and personally, just to call, anytime. The guy with a badly dislocated ankle who must have been in such pain he had no idea who came to his rescue – but made our job as easy as possible – and then bothered to find out who it had been, and send us thanks… 

It’s interesting (as a writer) that until they get into extremis, you just can’t easily tell.  Well… mostly you can’t tell. The braggart who tells everyone how tough he or she is… usually isn’t.  It doesn’t seem predicated on sex or skin-color or orientation (funny how utterly wrong modern literature is on this. These superficial markers are actually kind of irrelevant). From the consideration and appreciation point of view money seems more of a predictor. The richer (especially second or third generation), the more inclined many (certainly not all) are to take you for granted. I think, like the bottom edge of people who never work but rely on government welfare – they assume we’re paid for what we do, by the state.  The people most likely to show most consideration and appreciation tend to be what I would call the battlers – often the hard-working poor (or who have worked up from that), the self-employed, the farmers, the elderly (many of whom are from that subset, anyway).

In a curious mirror of that, those who move toward the sound of the guns… are disproportionately from that group. They are my heroes and my role models. The people I want to be like, the people I want to support. They’re the characters I use for heroes in my books…. Because, well, I know them, they’re real. And it makes a change to showcase what humans can be, can do. Yes, it’s fiction. But really, when well written, we all know those people, and when all the media bull is pushed aside, we all know this is what they will do.  From the soldier on guard in some hellhole, so pampered urbanites can have the freedom to abuse them, to the firefighter who risks his life (and his family risks him too) in a burning building some ‘mostly peaceful protestor’ set afire, to the Ambulance Officer crawling into a smashed car to stop the patient bleeding out, to the cop answering the call that might get them shot, to the farmer barely making a go of it,  up at four to milk and working into the dark – at the mercy of the weather and the supermarkets, and worst, the government… yep. Those are your real heroes.

As we head into dark days (economics don’t look good, let alone anything else), maybe it is a good idea to remember they’re there, as much part of humanity as breathing. The moron who thinks tearing down a statue, or burning someone’s livelihood is heroism… we have those too.  But we are also a species who builds, preserves, rescues, and gives of themselves. You’ve got to take the rough with the smooth, and in tough times eventually the diamonds survive the grinding and destroy the wheel.

Image by Emilian Robert Vicol from Pixabay

17 comments

  1. And may you and yours have a very merry Christmas as you transition from spring into what for you as a land owner and homesteader must be yet another summer filled with far too many jobs that all need your attention. And may the Deity bless you for your service.

  2. Humanity is like a ladder. The vast majority of the rungs have to be good, or the whole thing would fall apart.

  3. Unless you’ve been hungry, or cold (or over hot), or worked in “inclement conditions,” [such a lovely euphemism] it can be very hard to understand the sheer work required to keep things going. We make fun of the people who really do believe that meat grown on plastic trays and that veggies just appear ex nihilo at the grocery store or farmers’ market, but some people really are that insulated from reality. Which does not bode well for the rest of society if those sheltered souls get into positions to make policy about farming, or mining, or hauling freight.

  4. I’ve always been impressed by people like my older daughter who can react quickly and efficiently to crises. I have more of a math major’s approach: “Okay, everybody hold still while I draw a diagram and think about this problem.” Not very useful in the real world!

    1. It really does take a combination of both skill sets. Quick, efficient, and wrong in some circumstances can get folks injured or killed. Early in my career I worked around heavy equipment, punch presses and the like. Learned there that in a machine failure you had to freeze and take time to assess the true nature of the problem then act quickly to resolve it.
      Later, working ground support to missions in low Earth orbit, much the same applied. Get all the relevant facts, develop a solution with input from the experts, then implement your plan of action with due haste.
      Now sometimes doing something rather than nothing takes precedent because lives are at stake, but in the current Covid crisis, for example, making sweeping decisions on faulty information or for reasons other than solving the problem has caused great harm and more than a few deaths. So acting quickly enough but no quicker can be a beast of an equation to solve.

      1. As an EMT trainer I’m friends with likes to to say, “Don’t just DO something, STAND THERE!”

        This invariably produced a lot of confusion from new EMTs, and a sage nod from the old paramedics. Because if you rush in without assessing the scene, you can turn a car wreck into a catastrophe.

        1. Yeppers, countless tales of first on scene pulling accident victims out of wrecked cars with no sign of fire because everyone knows that crashed cars always burst into flame. Thus back or neck injuries that could have been stabilized with collars and back braces turn into permanent damage. Sometimes people with the best of intentions but lacking in knowledge can cause great harm. Just look at this past election.

          1. Point of order: what election? I don’t remember any election.

            We just had a new vice-roy appointed, to bring us the enlightened benefits of Xi Jinping thought. Which is a superior form of technical management to what you learned at and before NASA.

            Aside: I haven’t heard much news about Chang’er 5 lately, anyone have an update?

        2. IIUC, the best thing to do in that case is simply to make sure the ignition is off, which is the most likely thing to start a fire at any leaking fuel…? Then watch for any flames while you call 911.

  5. I witnessed a horrendous car crash (an SUV turned into a crushed metal center with fragments going everywhere). I debated whether to stop and help, despite having no clue what to do. The decision was made much easier because it was a busy road and many people were stopping and running over to help. I thankfully drove on. If it had been isolated, I would have stopped – and felt terribly helpless after calling 911. I _could_ have held someone’s hand while he died waiting for help, but I am very, very glad I did not need to.

  6. Personally, I’ve dealt with a few emergencies. Sometimes I’m good. Sometimes I’m not. However, as you say, moving toward the gunfire rather than away is something that I believe is inherent in the person. Can’t say for myself if it’s nature, nurture or a combination of the two, but it’s what some of us do. Can’t say I do it to my satisfaction, but I’m really glad that there are people in the world who are better than me that do it as well. It’s something that I think defines us in important ways. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the willingness to help others, even when it mean risking ourselves, is a signefier of a “good” person. Not the only one, but one all the same.

    I have not observed that willingness to be a factor of anything but who a particular person is. Wealth or poverty do not create it or negate it. Training, by the way does. If a person knows that certain situations can arise in their lives that need attention, and train for those outcomes, there is a better chance that things will turn out well.

    There are good and bad people of every description. All any of us can strive for it to be one of the good ones when called.

    1. It’s a reference to a psuedo-latin phrase. The title is the last two words to “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.”

  7. Illegitimi non carborundum or something similar. First saw it on one of those motivational poster meme things so popular back in the eighties. And Steffen has the correct translation.

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