Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Why am I never following that guy and his dog through anything nice?

Reposted from One Day at a Time.

I emerged from my nice warm bed this morning to discover that the Decepticon Maxima's windshield was frozen over with such a thick layer of ice that attempts at scraping it off didn't do more than scuff up the glossy surface of the ice a bit. I tried to get into the car to turn the defroster on, only to discover that the door handle was coated with as much ice as the rest of the car and the door itself was frozen shut. Shivering, I shuffled around to the passenger side of the car, which thanks to being to leeward, hadn't gotten quite as thickly coated. I managed to tug the passenger door open and scoot over into the driver's seat. I was still half an hour late to work, because it took me that long to manage to scrape off a 6inx6in porthole in the ice so I could see enough to drive, very slowly, and then I had to stop halfway there, because the frozen precipitation kept hitting the windshield and freezing there, blocking what little view I had.

Not one of my brighter decisions, honestly, but it's all backroads on the way to work, and I think most of the rest of this town was sensible enough to stay home, especially since they declared a late-reporting day on the base and that place accounts for most of the traffic here. I got to work, and an hour later my boss decided to send us all home for the day because the weather was steadily worsening. Back into the car, more windshield-scraping, and another slow nerve-wracking drive home, and now I'm warm and comfy, looking forward to a whole day off.

I desperately need one, too. It's been a long few days.

Sunday was entirely my fault.

After clearing that chilly but uneventful dive mission on Saturday morning, I was looking forward to the rest of my weekend. I managed to go home and change and spent a pleasant afternoon with my grandma's neighbor (who is also married to a soldier; her husband is due home this week, yay for them!) learning a new recipe and chatting over a glass of wine while we baked.

I had just gotten home, intending to curl up with a good book for a little while and maybe throw together a followup post about that dive mission (this one was written on-scene on my phone), when my phone rang; when I answered, my SAR team leader greeted me with, "Hey, we're in (insert neighboring county here). What are you doing tomorrow?"

"Well, Fearless Leader," I replied, "I guess I'm driving to (insert neighboring county here). What've we got?"

The answer turned out to be a missing toddler; operations had switched to recovery mode and active searching was set to resume at 0700. It was a long drive, so in the interest of not having to leave my apartment at 0400 to get there, I decided to drive up that night and bunk with everyone else in the elementary school gym, where the Red Cross had set up a very comfortable (by search standards) set of living quarters for the searchers.

I got there about 2300, in time to catch a quick briefing from my team leader and the leader of another local team (well, local back before I moved two hours away to be with Greg and work at the funeral home) who was running the canine part of the incident. We had cots in the gym, so I was spared the hassle of getting Greg's spare Army cot out of the trunk and figuring how to set it up in the dark without waking those who had already gone to sleep- I just tossed my sleeping bag and pillow onto an empty cot and settled in.

See, one of the few perks about my husband being in the Army is that he occasionally brings me home spare gear, since he knows I can use it for SAR and he's awesome and supportive like that.

So I have one of those wonderful Army sleeping bags that, if you zip the two layers together, is apparently perfectly comfortable down to about -40f. Well, Greg says that unless it actually is that cold, you really don't want both layers; one can stand alone for slightly warmer temperatures and one is just a liner. Apparently in my rush out the door, I grabbed the liner instead of the sleeping bag proper, because when Fearless Leader tapped me on the shoulder to wake me up in the morning, I was curled up at the bottom of the sleeping bag with my head somewhere near my knees and my pillow pulled into the sleeping bag after me to close off the opening. It was cold.

I also jumped about three feet and tried to come up swinging but my arms were still in the sleeping bag. And I screamed. I am too used to sleeping alone.

We spent the day slogging through a lot of areas that I think are eventually intended to become residential developments but which are presently occupied by lots of really nasty dense brush. Some of it came up to my shoulders, not that that takes much, and I actually carried my hiking stick, which I usually don't do because I like having my hands free, just for the sake of having something to knock the stuff aside with. That didn't do much good with those damn mesquite thorns, though, and my hands are still all scratched up. I need to learn to wield a machete properly.

Oh, and there were open manholes scattered around, which thanks to the brush, you couldn't see until they were right under you.

Why am I never following that old man and his border collie through anything pleasant?

I say that on every search.

It could have been worse, though. Nothing we have ever waded through, except maybe those six-foot drifts of reeds and dead cows, has ever been nearly as rough as Goat Island after Hurricane Ike.

Anyway, it was a good mission.

The case itself was really sad, of course; recoveries are always a little sad, and situations involving kids are hard for everyone, but you learn to look at these things a little more philosophically after a while, and it becomes bearable.

Dad, who is himself a former EMT, once commented that it must be difficult finding all these people dead and not being able to save any of them. I told him that it's actually a little easier to take, emotionally. That probably sounds weird if you've never done this, but there's something less wrenching about going out to look for someone you already know is dead, than trying to save someone and failing. Even in EMS, sometimes someone's fate is actually up to your decisions, your actions, and your skills, but often it's not. Often that person is going to die no matter what you or seven better medics or Dr. Red Duke the God of Trauma himself try to do about it- and you learn to accept that to an extent, but not completely, or at least I never did. There's still a sense of guilt, of failure, of wondering what you could have done differently or if someone else could have made the difference.

With recovery missions, I know that the person's fate was totally out of my hands; it's sad, but the sense of guilt and loss and failure isn't there.

Not finding the body, like this weekend, is another matter. My first mission ever, we went home without making a recovery, and it was really hard for me to take. It later turned out that the information available had led the search effort to be directed at the wrong area. I've finally come to accept that no matter how much we want to give the family closure and/or help justice to be done and/or give the deceased the basic human dignity of a proper disposition, you simply can't find what isn't there. It's just something you have to accept.

It really was a good search though- multiple canine teams worked together smoothly and cordially the whole way through, and on Sunday we were even fielding in integrated units, with members of two or three different teams in the field together. I've never seen that happen on a search before, and it was really great to see that everyone was willing to work together that way and put the mission first; it's something I hope to see more of. We worked with some really great people out there, and I'm hoping we can repeat that too. As much as the case itself was the sort of thing that could totally destroy all faith in humanity, the nature of the response could do a lot to restore it.

Anyway, I say that was my fault, because I left the dive mission on Saturday feeling guilty for standing around the command trailer all day, taking a couple of notes for the dive log, and then eating the nice hot lunch the Salvation Army lady brought us. I felt like a superfluous waste of resources- so of course the universe had to toss us another mission so I could make up for it.

It was late on Sunday night when I got home, and Monday I walked right into a busy day at work, most of which I got through accompanied by a persistent icepicks-in-the-eyeballs headache. At twenty minutes until 1700 that afternoon, I was almost desperately looking forward to going home and taking a nap- and then the phone rang.

See a pattern here?

A friend's baby was very sick and she needed to go the ER, so off we went and didn't get home until a little past time to collapse into bed, headache and all.

Yesterday was a nice recuperative day; most of the day at work was spent reading, and most of the evening was spent napping and taking a bubble bath and finally getting to enjoy the avocado I bought for myself Saturday afternoon.

And now I have a day off!

I think I shall write the second chapter of this story. It seems fitting, because the events that take place in the second chapter are centered on the day being the anniversary of something, and today is, strangely enough, the anniversary of the real-life basis for that.

Perhaps that someone's way of telling me that now is the time.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Field notes

Reposted from One Day at a Time.

It's a cold morning, though one of the warmest we've had all week- forty degrees according to the form I filled out when we arrived on scene, but with a stiff cold wind out of the west-southwest. There is still snow on the ground in the shady places and the edges of the little cove near the boat ramp where we've set up IC.

The actual dive site is around the peninsula to our north, and the support crew are all huddled here, keeping scene logs by radio and waiting to help warm and hydrate the divers as they return by boat.

The generator for the command trailer spent the hour of the morning sputtering and dying every few minutes, and it's cut off entirely now. We were using the gas stove in the trailerfor heat, carbon monoxide be damned, but we gave up on that, and now we're standing around a police car, using it for a base radio and the trailer as a windbreak.

Just waiting. It's unusual not being at the dive site to tend and count bubbles and document things in person, but every operation is different and we adapt well.

Us civilians are listening to the two cops on the support crew swapping stories, waiting for word from the dive crew. Documentation is my job today.

Obviously we're doing a lot of waiting, since I have time to write this. When we get busy it's urgent, but there's a lot of downtime, especially on this end.

Brrr. I'm glad I wore my husband's wool socks today.