February was the month I felt my legs being swept out from underneath me over and over again. Just as I thought I had regained my footing, something else came along to counteract my best intentions.
When I last left you, we were in the eye of Snowstorm Jonas which dumped about 14 inches of snow at our house. My daughter tried skiing in the front yard. Fortunately, we didn’t lose power but we spent an awful lot of time shoveling our long driveway. A friend who lives at the top of a hill hosted a snow playdate at her house complete with hot chocolate, s’mores and a snow cave! After this, my kids insisted that we buy sleds so we are prepared for any sledding opportunities that may come our way.
Digging out took almost two days!
“Skiing” our front yard.
Just as we recovered from this, my husband left on a week-long business trip to the west coast which took away an important source of help as well as a lack of sleep from trying to stay in touch via midnight phone calls due to the time change.
Just as he came home, we received the very sad news that our dear “Grammy” was unwell and then passed away. It was back out to the west coast for my husband, along with our daughter, while we toughed it out here. I set to work finally taking down our Christmas decorations (while I felt bad about being this far behind, I know of at least one other busy person who still had a tree up and I was still receiving Christmas cards in the mail from a few people. For some of us, Christmas is a long season.) My kids and I camped out in our sunroom to ease the hurt feelings of those who wanted to travel with big sister. We celebrated Valentine’s Day and did one of my favorite photo shoots of the year.
One night in January, I was cleaning up our Christmas boxes, cut some hearts out of one, covered a table in packing material and set out paints.
The next day, I found this! The kids were hard at work painting. My son liked to mix all the colors together to make “mud” valentines.
My daughter, displaying supreme organizational skills created this valentine’s box with one section for cards, another door for candy and a flap on the back to open to get it all out! I was impressed.
I loved the plea on my other daughter’s box “Please give candy.” And another “mud” creation from my son.
We hung up all the creations on our mantel and I just loved looking at it.
Since we were in mourning for Grammy, I found black outfits for all of us to wear. They ended up working out great for our photo shoot and symbolized both great heartache and great love.
The next day, we received another 5 inches of snow in a surprise storm! My children were so excited to use their sleds. Our driveway does not have that much of a slope to it but I served as the “horse” pulling them down the driveway over and over. By the end, we had a pretty good ice track set up. Fortunately, there was no shoveling to be done as the next day it all melted away.
Add another 5 inches to our snow totals.
There is not a single picture of the baby enjoying snow. He cries every time we put him down.
Not even the sled was enticing!
My husband and daughter arrived safely home . . . . but then all the children came down with the flu! It passed irritatingly from one child to the next in the most drawn out fashion. I got tired of cleaning up vomit in the middle of the night. Fortunately, I avoided most of the illness, having already been hit hard with the flu last fall. I ended up with a small chest cough and made sure to rest as much as possible so I didn’t end up with pneumonia again. It seemed to work but it did nothing for my productivity.
In the midst of all this February turmoil, however, Grammy’s death gave me pause to think about life in general and I realized that while it is wonderful to be organized and maximize your time and do great things, in the end all that is really asked of us is that we wake up every morning, breathe in, breathe out and just exist. That is enough. That is valuable. We do service to those around us just by being here. Anything else we do is a bonus. We would do well to remember that about ourselves and about others as well.
So, that was February. I was going to end this essay by saying that things are now on the right track for March as the weather is so balmy and spring-like and the increased sunshine does wonders for my energy level. After taking my minivan in for an expensive servicing, I cleaned it out and detailed it this weekend (a hateful task as only a minivan owner can sympathize). It was wonderful to sit in my “new” car today. . . . until I turned on the AC to hear a terrible noise. So tomorrow, we are back in recovery mode.
March is supposedly “in like a lion and out like a lamb.” So far, the lion part is right.
During the recent earthquake and hurricane, I got a lesson in thinking styles comparing my response to these disasters to that of my husband, a classic visual-spatial thinker. It just goes to show that even after 14 years of marriage, you can still learn something new about your spouse!
I have come to the realization that in an emergency, I am generally a panicker and am not capable of doing much thinking. My best bet for survival is to default to a memorized, practiced instruction or follow instruction from a knowledgeable source. Most people are probably similar.
My husband, in contrast, falls in the category of people Amanda Ripley described in her book The Unthinkable, (that I reviewed in March) that “see very little risk in most threats” and are well-suited to survival situations. Two examples show this ability.
When the recent earthquake struck my husband’s office building, he paused for a moment to survey what was happening, made a conscious analysis that this was an earthquake and made a quick calculation of its severity based on the impact it was having on objects around him. He determined that the earthquake was not going to cause major damage, sheltered in an appropriate spot in the building and soon after the earthquake was over was back to work!
When we were preparing our home for Hurricane Irene, I nervously insisted my husband pull in all furniture and loose objects off the patio, (having recently read an article that if the windows in your home get broken in high winds, it can destabilize the walls of your house and cause it to fall down). My husband explained that he had left a few items out when he was putting things away because they did not have enough surface area to be picked up by the 30 mph winds expected. We then had an interesting discussion about how we see objects generally. While I see them in a sort of one dimensional way, as just stuff that can be moved about in various ways, he sees them in a very three dimensional way, as objects that interact with their environment according to inherent properties of motion and utility.
If you need a reminder of why it is worth the time to practice emergency drills, please view the CNN video below of a school bus fire and evacuation. A school bus in Iowa caught fire on the first day of the school year with 16 middle school students aboard. Thanks to the school bus evacuation drills the children have been practicing since kindergarten and some quick thinking by two brothers who opened up the rear emergency exits, every single one of the students escaped completely unharmed. When you see the video showing how quickly the fire spread and the damage to the bus, this is an amazing example of how emergency preparedness saves lives.
Another reminder comes from this Salt Lake Tribune story about a high school football athlete who collapsed on the field during practice due to a previously unknown heart condition. Doctors believe that were it not for his rescuers restarting his heart with a defibrillator, he probably would have died. When you read the article, you realize that there was a lot more to this rescue effort than just the defibrillator machine.
1. All the coaches were required to have CPR training and they had just completed a refresher training recently.
2. One of the coaches knew how to use an AED, perhaps receiving training from his employer on this.
3. Someone ran to call 911 immediately.
4. One of his teammates found his cell phone and called his mom immediately. Perhaps he had her listed as the ICE contact? This thoughtful act may not have directly contributed to saving his friend’s life but certainly made things easier for his concerned family.
All of this happened within less than 5 minutes! Perhaps someone took charge and was telling people what to do but it sounds like many of these people were acting on their own initiative. They quickly assessed the situation and knew what to do.
You can imagine that when it came time to do the work for these emergency drills–the school bus evacuation, the CPR training, etc. people were probably grumbling a bit about “We don’t have time for this.” or “We have never needed to use this.” but look at the dividends their investments paid! I also think of Rick Rescorla, the employee profiled in Amanda Ripley’s Unthinkablebook, who forced all the Morgan Stanley employees to practice emergency evacuation in their World Trade Center offices. Nearly everyone in this office got out safely on 9/11, sadly except for Rescorla himself.
Is there some training or knowledge you could use a refresher on? For me it is definitely CPR/choking/first aid training–especially for children. A little Googling shows that you can get that training online for not much money. I will be signing up.
"Washington, D.C. The arrival in Washington of Hugh Massman, his wife and their infant son. Hugh Massman is a second class petty officer in the navy, a student at the Naval Air Station, in the last month of training before sea duty.Lynn Massman giving instructions to the volunteer worker at the nursery in the United Nations service center who will take care of her eight-weeks-old baby for the day." (1943) Photo by Esther Bubley. From the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.
***Military families often live a vagabond existence– moving frequently from place to place and having to form new connections and friendships constantly. Fortunately, the military (and the military spouses themselves) have organized numerous support networks to help families with all of these transitions. This month, Ruly Ruth shares some of the emergency planning lessons she has learned as a military spouse.***
Mom down! Dad Down! Probably the worst possible cry ever! We are the ones on the front lines of the family life. We know where and when our kids go to school, soccer, music, where their doctor is, what kind of pet food to buy, how often to feed, and if there are daily meds for the kids. I can’t imagine being unconscious God forbid! And I’m sure that goes for many of you!
An amazing Commanding Officer’s wife Susan Berry, wife of Navy Capt Don Berry, created the Family Emergency Form below. EVERYONE–please print it out and fill it out! It points out we should all get a medical power of attorney!! Give a copy to your local best friend, keep a copy in a sealed envelope with you–and tell someone where it is in an emergency. This information could save a ton of time in a worst-case scenario, so at least the kids and pets can have a normalized life even during a crisis! Update it quarterly since for most of us that’s when lessons change for our kids.
Flight attendant. Photo by Tom Purves. From the Flickr Creative Commons.
In the last post, we reviewed Amanda Ripley’s book The Unthinkable, which urges all of us to become more aware of emergency situations and be psychologically and physically prepared to handle them. In the book are several suggestions with regard to escaping from airplanes that I found very helpful and wanted to pass along. We are going a little off topic from our change theme but bear with me, we’ll get back on track next week.
As we know from Ripley’s work, one of the biggest problems the average person faces in an emergency situation is paralysis, i.e. being so overwhelmed by a situation that the person does nothing rather than using the precious time available to do something that might save one’s life. This is especially true in the case of airplane evacuations. Ripley indicates in her book that many times an airplane crash or fire is survivable but you have to move quickly and get off the plane as quickly as possible. The brief training you get in the airline safety presentation at the beginning of a flight does not do much to tell you some of the most important and very simple things you need to know.
While I have never been involved (and never hope to be involved) in an airplane crash, the first airplane business trip I took required an emergency landing and the lessons Ms. Ripley teaches would have helped me tremendously in that situation. So below are 6 tips on airline emergency preparedness garnered from Ms. Ripley’s research and my own experience.
1. During an airplane emergency, it is likely that the captain will not be communicating with passengers at all and you need to sit calmly and quietly and be ready to help yourself rather than waiting for instructions.
In my situation, we were about an hour into a commuter jet flight, when suddenly the oxygen masks deployed. Since this had never happened to me before, my blood pressure immediately increased and I looked around the plane anxiously. My fellow travelers, all middle-aged men who appeared to be veteran business travelers, noticed the masks but didn’t seem to be doing anything about them. I looked across the aisle and asked a man, “Should we put these on?” He shrugged indicating he had no idea.
There was no communication from anyone for a very long time. The flight attendant looked as perplexed as the rest of us. I naively assumed that they all must have been through this type of experience before and since this was my first business flight I should follow their example. Now that I know about the normalcy bias and the natural unwillingness to be the first to make an action that could be perceived as panicking, I would trust my own instincts before I would look to anyone else for guidance.
2. If the oxygen masks ever deploy in flight, put one on immediately. Don’t wait for someone to tell you to do so or for other passengers to do the same.
Ms. Ripley informs us that in the event of rapid cabin decompression, you have only 10-15 seconds to get that oxygen mask on before you are at risk of passing out. This is why they tell you in the safety briefing that if you are traveling with children you should put your own mask on first before you help your children. So if the mask comes down, put it on right away.
During my fateful flight, there wasn’t a rapid decompression but rather a gradual failure of the ventilation system. When we took off, we all noticed that the plane was a bit hot. The pilot told us that things would cool off once we were in flight. Little did we know that this was the first sign that the ventilation system in the plane was not working correctly. I later learned that the heating and cooling of the plane is directly tied to the pressurization of the cabin so if you don’t have air conditioning you are at risk of losing pressurization and oxygen.
About 5 minutes after the oxygen masks deployed, the pilot came on the intercom telling us that the ventilation system was malfunctioning and that we should put the masks on as a precaution. This was my first experience with these oxygen masks. I was not prepared for what I experienced. First, the flow of oxygen is very weak. You don’t feel a rush of air or really have much sense of whether the mask is working at all. For some reason, I assumed that the emergency oxygen supply in a plane was in some sort of large air tank in the ceiling. It turns out the supply is a small canister about the size of a mailing tube in the ceiling above each seat. The oxygen is generated by a chemical reaction in the tube rather than a tank of air.
Also, since these oxygen masks are rarely used, they were not in the best condition. Many of the masks did not seem to be working. Fortunately, this was not a full flight so many passengers could simply change seats until they found a mask that worked. The flight attendant advised us that we might need to tug on the plastic cord a little to get the oxygen flowing. Many people pulled the cord so hard it came out of the canister and due to the heat of the canister could not put it back in without burning fingers.
3. If there is a problem during your flight, chances are the first thing that the pilot will be doing is trying to land the plane as soon as possible. Don’t be immediately alarmed if the plane is rapidly descending.
Nobody likes the sensation of rapid descent in an airplane. In my situation, with no information coming from the captain, it took all of my concentration to breathe slowly and focus on whether oxygen was flowing into my mask. When the plane started suddenly descending, my heart was beating so quickly and all I could do was pray, “Please God, don’t let this be my time to go.”
Fortunately, there was no panicking on the plane. All of the men around me seemed almost numb to the situation. It was very quiet and I watched in horror as the plane was edging lower and lower to a completely unfamiliar rural landscape below.
It would have been tremendously reassuring if the captain or flight attendant had been able to communicate with us that the the reason we were descending so quickly was that we needed to get to an altitude where oxygen can flow in the plane without pressurization. The oxygen supply lasts only a short while, maybe 30 minutes. This information came much later after we had already descended to the “safe” altitude.
The pilot then made an emergency landing at a small, rural airport–again with no communication to the passengers. We had no idea where we were until we pulled up to the gate to unload.
4. If it becomes necessary to have a crash landing, after the plane comes to a stop, you need to focus on getting out as soon as possible.
Based on Ms. Ripley’s research and interviews with survivors, you learn that those who survived plane crashes are the ones who immediately unbuckled their seat belts and headed for the exits as soon as the plane crashed without waiting for any formal instruction. Many times people are so stunned by what happened they just sit there in their seats waiting for instructions or paralyzed by shock. Again, yelling at people to get out, is often enough to shock people back to their senses. Calm evacuation goes much faster than when people scramble to climb over seats and rush the exits.
5. Never stop to grab a carry-on bag or any other items when it is necessary to evacuate an airplane quickly.
When it is time to get out quickly, too many people stop to grab their carry-on bag and take it with them off the plane. Ms. Ripley indicates the carry-on bags are tremendously dangerous in this situation. If the cabin is full of smoke, people end up tripping over the bags and the bags become weapons when they are flung down emergency slides toward other passengers waiting below. Let that bag go and just focus on getting the people out. If you ignore this rule, you could end up causing your own death or someone else’s.
6. If it is necessary to use the emergency slide at the exit, mentally prepare yourself to fling yourself down that slide as quickly as possible without pausing at the exit to contemplate the view.
Women, apparently we are the worst offenders of this rule. Delaying at the exit means less time for everyone else to get out. We need to risk minor injury getting out of the plane to avoid harm to ourselves or others by being too slow.
For an inspiring example of all these tips in action, check out the recently released video from the National Geographic channel on the famous landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1919 in the Hudson by Captain Chesley Sullenberger and First Officer Jeffrey Skiles.
Have an airplane survival story or tip? Please share in the comments.