Earlier this month I introduced Who We Are, a series of videos in which I interview firefighters about their experiences. It’s a cause close to my heart.
My most recent video is an interview with Jean Moya, the chief of theGalisteo Fire & Rescue Division. When Jean realized there was no department in her area, she started one:
Just like that.
Just like us, he was in his thirties, with a young family.
Our patient stared stoically at the sky.
We shaded his eyes and gave him sips of water. We, the firefighters, kept looking at each other. We had the sinking feeling that nothing we or the trauma team could do would change the outcome.
At the trailhead, we transferred him to our Med Unit and began the slow drive over rutted roads to the hospital. Our paramedic drew a line on his belly that demarcated the parts of his body where he had sensation and where sensation stopped. She wrote the date and the time by the line.
Later that evening, two of us went to visit him in the intensive care unit. The neurologist, who was a friend, confirmed our fears: She told us that he had severed his spinal cord and was now a paraplegic. We went into his room. He was flat on the bed with a big halo head stabilizer holding his head steady. He was staring at the ceiling — there was not much else he could do. He moved his eyes as we came in. Seeing us, he whispered, “Just kill me.” Dan and I looked at each other. We talked for a while and as we left Dan whispered, “This sucks.”
“Traumatic injury. Man fell off bike.”
My heart leapt to my throat. I was only a block or so away. I sped to the scene. As I slid into the driveway, another car came in right behind me.There was a man down on the driveway, bike next to him. He had a helmet on, but he was still. Before I could reach him, his 4-year-old daughter ran by me and jumped into his arms. Startled, he sat up. I watched — in one of those moments when time itself slows down — as his arms came up to hug her.
“Daddy, daddy,” the girl cried. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine,” he said, “I guess I was just scared.”
And he started to cry. The little girl cried. As did I.
Our Med Unit pulled in and we treated the dad as if he were the most fragile patient we’d ever had. I kept asking him to move his hands and feet. He would smile, comply and tell me he was fine. At the ED, they took an X-ray of his neck and declared him fracture free. He’d just had a concussion.
“Chance happeneth to them all”
It’s written in Ecclesiastes that “. . . chance happeneth to them all.” But we don’t believe that, not deep in our bellies. We think there is order and reason in our lives. We think we are in control. At the same time we pray, we have Saint Christopher medals and totems to protect us, we trust our superstitions.
But we are only clever apes, standing on this spinning rocky ball in a universe that has rules we don’t understand, mysteries we cannot yet grasp. But chaos is everywhere. Chance is baked into the cosmos. (One father a paraplegic, another holding his daughter and weeping in relief.)
We can’t always grasp this because our sense of time and space is so fractional, so limited. We live in the interludes between chaos and think this is how the universe works. And then something happens. Something “out of the blue.” (I have no feeling in my legs. A terrified child running to you.) And for an instant we glimpse the implacable face of the universe as it really is.
What can we do? Only this: ten of us carefully carry another over the rocks. A little girl, at the speed of light, leaps into father’s loving — and moving — arms. We carry each other. We jump into the arms of those we love.
A few years ago, I decided to talk to the other volunteers in my firefighting department about their experiences. Why did they become volunteers? How did firefighting change them? What did volunteering mean to them?
I’m sharing some of the videos now as part of a series I’m calling Firefighters: Who We Are. You may have seen some of them on my Facebook page. Some have also been shared by the National Volunteer Firefighter Council.
Now I’m sharing some of them on this blog.
This first interview is with my friend and mentor Sheila Beuler. Sheila was a volunteer with the Hondo fire district, my department, before she was hired by the Santa Fe City Fire Department as a career firefighter and paramedic. She recently retired as a Captain after 20 years.
In this video, Sheila talks about a call early in her career that dramatically changed her view of life.
It was 1:00 a.m. Laurie, my wife, and I had been married for just two years, so we really didn’t truly know each other. For most of the night, we’d been trying to ignore the incessant barking of one of our neighbor’s dog. Laurie had a pillow over her head and I could hear her muttering, “I have to be at the hospital early. . . I’m going to call the police. . .” I replied — inanely — “It will stop soon.”
Well, it didn’t. About thirty minutes later, this woman who I was just beginning to understand had issues about interrupted sleep, leapt out of bed, threw on her sneakers and charged out the door.
“Whoa!” I mumbled. But I got up and chased her out of the house, stage whispering, “Laurie! What are you doing? Laurie!!!”
But she was jogging down the street. Three houses down, she went up to the door and banged on it. “Stop your dog from barking!! I have to sleep!”
The lights came on in the house. I froze, but Laurie stood on their porch hands defiantly on her hips.
The home owner, who we did not know, came to the door. He had a sleepy and befuddled look. Now he was faced with an angry Norwegian Viking woman.
“Put your dog inside and stop him from barking! I have to sleep!”
He began to apologize, but Laurie spun on her heels and walked off. Message delivered. I just shrugged and followed her home.
There are two lessons. First, never get between a working woman and her sleep. Second, as dog partners, we are responsible for managing the barking of our dogs.
So, why do dogs bark? After a little research, I think the answer is mostly because they can. Dogs bark as a warning, dogs bark when they are excited. Dogs bark when other dogs bark. Dogs bark when they are bored, scared and when they are anxious. Our dog Tank barks when it is time to get up, time to go for a walk, lay in his favorite spot or eat, especially eat.
All this barking is normal and natural and comes with the territory of having a dog partner.
But it is the dog that barks incessantly that can create issues.
What to do? Here are some ideas.
1. Obvious: Don’t leave your dog outside if he or she is constantly barking. Please!
2. Don’t yell at your dog when he or she is barking. All that does is get them excited and it re-enforces the barking.
2. Don’t give them treats to distract them from barking. They are smart. They get it, barking equals treats! Woot!
3. Don’t even think of the surgical procedure (removing vocal cords). That’s just sick. Also forget the shock collars! Would you shock your child when she has a temper tantrum? (If you’re thinking, hmmm, maybe . . . you need a glass of wine and some downtime to get your perspective back)
4. Start with a little self-examination: Are you leaving your best friend alone a lot? Or keeping them outside when they want to be with you? Dogs are social animals. They are wired to be with their pack (you) and it causes anxiety to be alone. Anxiety can cause that constant barking. My bet is this is the cause of most uncontrollable yapping.
5. Positive re-enforcement. Catch your puppy being quiet and give her a high value treat (Chicken! Cheese!). Help them learn that no barking equals treats. For example, in our house I sing a lot. Now, when I’m quiet my daughters chime in: “Wow, are you working out? “You’re so buff!” Would you like a cookie?” I’ve cut way back on my singing off key.
6. So much of good dog behavior comes down to this: Tired dog equals happy dog. The more exercise a dog gets every day the better. They will be calmer and bark less. This is the number one treatment of choice at our home.
8. Bring in a specialist. If you’re despairing that your dog is too stubborn, smart or neurotic for any of the above to work, there are animal behaviorists who specialize in helping. Check with your vet or the local Humane society. There is always hope and your dog wants to make you happy.
Final note. As with most issues when dogs misbehave, it is not the dogs fault, it’s our fault. It’s up to us to fix it.