Friday, October 28, 2011

kinetic learning

Out of the just over 900 students that lived in "Challenger Hall", or the "medical squadron" as it was more commonly referred to as, I was probably the only one who didn't want to go to Las Vegas.
21, single, and very happy with the decidedly upward turn my life had taken -- the last thing I wanted was to be stationed for six weeks in what I saw at the time as the "Sodom & Gomorrah of the U.S."
When the day came for our nursing instructor to read us the results of our "Phase II" lottery, Major Allen had no issue piping up to his students "now calm down. As usual no talking, as usual no one gets to trade, and as usual I'll read yours last Airman Eldridge." Beyond unfair, I voiced my opinion of said injustice. And as usual Major Allen stated my opinions were what got me where I was in the first place. Last.
The names flew by. The class either lauded or protested where they'd end up next to continue their career training, but until your name was heard and you knew what group you were with, it didn't matter.
More names. Good, Vegas came and went and my name wasn't attached to the location.
"And for Keesler Air Force Base we have Barnett, Rodriques, Singletary and Eldridge -- is at Vegas with Shook, Anthony, Dantes and Chavez-Vallero."
A week later we took a taxi from the base to the airport, flew, and took a taxi from the airport to our next base. Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nevada. Not interested in going out every weekend for six weeks in a row drinking and gambling with my "of age" peer group, I worked out a lot, ate dinner at the base food court to take a break from the meals at the dining facility, and played a lot of pool.
Within a few days of playing pool in one of the local dormitory common areas I had made several friends.  Kinley was a quiet, very small individual who wanted very much to be appreciated and feel like he was accepted. Hardly over 5 feet tall, he was surprisingly strong and spent much of his time staring up at you while you talked to him. Military folk are quite adept at new relationships however shallow, so soon we were talking. His parents were divorced, all his friends back home somewhere in the nameless south were nothings, and he was now a something. An aircraft mechanic, he had PCS'd (permanent change of station) to Nellis six months prior.

It was a Thursday night and the common area downstairs was full. Someone had the bright idea to put the couches on top of the tables to make arena-style seating, and there was big fight on tv.
The alcohol flowed freely, as did the military-typical yelling, arguing and toasting. Young military males do not hang out in groups at parties, they group around the girls that are always outnumbered. Tonight was no exception, there were three girls and six to eight guys gathered around each competing for their attention.
"C'mon, just have one drink, just stick around for a little bit." Kinley was drunk.
"No, I'm going to work out and wanted to come by and see who was yelling."
"Most of these guys are legal, don't sweat it man! Just do one shot with me." The alcohol culture in the military is so prevalent and potent it leaves in it's wake a plethora of underage drinkers.
"You know I don't care. I don't know any of these people and I don't even know who's fighting tonight."
"What the hell man? How do you not know Fedor?"
I smiled, shrugged, put in my headphones and walked out.

The next morning I caught the 6am bus to the hospital, walked through the quiet whoosh of the E.R. double-paned sliding glass doors, and put my backpack down in the break room.
"Eldridge, don't change into scrubs. You're wearing the radio today, here." Driving the ambulance. Sweet.
"I don't know the base streets."
"I'll be with you up front and you'll know your way back here."

The first call came at around 9am. My building.
Someone had called 911 because there was a person passed out in a recliner.
When we picked Kinley up he was pale and starting to turn a pastel-tinted hue of blue. He had drunk 3/4 of a bottle of vodka, passed out, and then was left alone. During the night he vomited, and because no one was there to turn him on his side, he aspirated into his lungs and was had choked. At some point he turned over on his own and coughed some of it out, but his pulse was weak and he was completely unresponsive.
Fifteen minutes later he was in the Emergency Department, lying in a bed. He'd been intubated and his stats were rising.

Halfway through my shift I was walking by his room with a stack of sheets to put on one of the beds next to his when he started moving, attempting to sit up. Doubtless his mind was still foggy; his eyes were still closed as his hands gripped the side of the bed.
"Kenny, I need you to lie back down." Patients -- anyone, really -- are most responsive to their first name. When he realized he was intubated it startled him and only half-conscious, he grasped at it, gurgling.
"No, don't -- I NEED A NURSE NOW!"
I barely made it across the room and leapt on top of him, trying in vain to pin his incredibly strong arms to the bed. It was too late. Within seconds he reacted violently to the severe discomfort of the tube in his throat that had saved his life and in one massive movement he bent forward, tearing it completely out. A moment later medical personnel flooded into his room. One doctor put both palms on either side of his head pinning him to the bed, a nurse put both forearms on his chest and a second physician said "Ativan and restraints."

Later that day I returned from another ambulance run to pick up an elderly man with chest pains to find Kinley had been moved upstairs to the ICU.
I never found out what finally happened to Kenny Kinley.
Not everything delivers the satisfaction of a conclusive ending.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

against the sea.

"We need more. Get more, quick!"
The urgent command barked by my older sister sliced through the air, relentlessly pushing us to move faster and more efficiently. Obedient we turned up the heat and sped back to the water, diving our hands under the surface and bringing them up, cupped together and full to overflowing, our little fingers containing just ounces of salt water. 
"Hurry up with that bucket Ricky!" 
Time was of the essence. We ran to and from, back and forth, each time bringing tiny, insignificant amounts of the ocean back with us to dump at her side. That was for the "concrete" or wet sand we'd use to finish the castle walls, "The tide" was coming soon and in our rapidly developing minds, the immediate need to support the role of the wall-maker was most important.


I'm 23 now and I'm startled, disappointed and saddened that it's been more than four months since I've built a sand castle. It didn't quite have the same magic either -- somehow between building a small water pit by myself on our honeymoon as my wife tanned on the "dry sand area" and the moments that occurred eleven years ago, I've lost that sense of urgency.
As a child I lived wholly in the moments as they came. Day by day the greatest agonies, tragedies, humors and experiences came with the ebb and flow of a sea I had almost completely no control over. Now that I'm old I look at an Almanac, plan for the best time to build my castle, assemble a crew of able and experienced workers and we calmly construct with more than enough time to spare. That's what I find myself striving for.
I catch big visions, make plans, and though I live day by day still it's become so much more safe. So much more controlled with so fewer unknowns. And it's good.
Someday though you may catch me on a beach and if you see me running back and forth with water in my hands to make "wet mud" do not interrupt me. Before I was too small and had to run around people that got in my way. Now that I'm older I can't promise that when I resurrect said urgency -- the imagination can create such vivid, potent actions -- what maturity I have will be able to stand it's ground.


"Dianne, go stall Mom. We need to finish this wall. Help her pick up the towels or get the foster baby's stuff or whatever. We'll take care of things down here."
"No, I don't want to."
"Dianne, we NEED you too."
Time for an argumentative booster shot. "Dianne, I'll give you my bag of chips in the van."
Suspicious eyes. "What kind do you have, Ricky? Are they the good kind?"
"Cheetos." Score.
"Okay, fine."

The wall would be built.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

oh yeah.

I tend to be someone who values length in writing -- I get caught up in the size of a delivery and somehow attribute strength in the ability to produce longer lengths of work.

From my friend Abram Lueders this week: 

"This isn’t a screed against hipsters, or so-called 'hipster Christianity.' Many of the people that get branded as hipsters aren’t trying to put on a phony identity. Some people (including Christians) have a passion for art, listen to obscure bands because they genuinely enjoy them, and wear retro glasses because they have bad eyesight, and thought they just looked good, dangit! That’s okay. But it isn’t a sin to wear dad shorts and listen to Casting Crowns. The chronically un-hip aren’t second-class citizens in the kingdom of God."

From my younger sister Dianne who works as a CNA at an "old folk's home."

There's a resident who cannot talk cognitively and rarely opens his eyes.
I have to be extra careful to make him comfy because I never know if he is or not.
Often he spits his dinner out and is completely limp when I transfer him.

At 4 o'clock this morning, I was turning him over and tucking the sheets around him.
Imagine my surprise when suddenly he mumbled, "Good Morning."
I jumped, "Good Morning to you!"
In 6 months of routinely caring for him, this was a first.
Second-guessing my ears, I stared and said, "How are you feeling?"
He opened his eyes, looked at me then turned to the football game on the tv, "Mgoodm."
It was amazing to hear his voice, I wanted him to keep talking.
For once I knew that he was ok.
He was not "out of it".
He was not in a void, mindless coma.
He could hear me.
And he could reply.
"Do you like this show?"
I really grinned now, but I had to finish my rounds.
"Ok, well, have a good morning!"

He closed his eyes, "Ok, you too."

Dancing down the hall, I tried to make sense of his shocking change in conscienceness.
Was it a miracle?
An incorrect dosage?
A wierd before-death experience?

When I got to the nurse's station, I pulled his chart and read, "..."
Well, I can't really say what I read.
You know.
HIPAA and all that.
Let's just say, my curiousity was satisfied.

My dear resident was ok.
He told me himself.

Both were excellent reminders that in order to be heard, their words didn't have to be a page and-a-half long.

Monday, October 3, 2011

no small resemblance

The plethora of NFL games competed for attention on the myriad of screens that hung above the bar, each boasting waves of highlights, statistics and high definition re-plays of the most important or fascinating moment of the sport.
I walked past the bartender who smiled congenially and welcomed me. Exhausted from my last three weeks of non-stop travel and work with only one day off in the middle, I set my shoulder-bag down and walked to the counter. In one of those stool-chairs that only seem to appear in public and never in the dining room or kitchens of the home sat another person in uniform almost identical to mine. The picture on his collar indicated he was an officer and the figure of the bird notated that he was Colonel. Stitched on the left side of the chest was the label U.S. Air Force and above it were wings. "Ah, a flier" I thought to myself as I greeted him.
"Good afternoon sir." Proper courtesy rendered, he responded with the appropriate respect, nodding, and returning the phrase.
"Good afternoon." We were professionals. Our training was ingrained deeply in our personality. I glanced at the shelf behind the bar and chose a Stella Artois. Light, somewhat hoppy and non-commital, it was my favorite served ice-cold alone and unaccompanied by another at the end of the day.
I reached behind to my back pocket, pulled out my wallet and flipped to the I.D. carrier. I've long since abandoned the need to wait and be asked for proof of my age. I look too young to drink and have nothing to prove any more by inconveniencing those serving me. It isn't cool anymore to rib them for doing their job.
"You can show hand him your I.D. so he can see how old you are, but go ahead and put your credit card away" the Colonel looked at the bartender as he finished his sentence "I'll get his."
I glanced up, surprised. After a brief moment of inward discussion with myself I realized was pointless -- there was only a small chance the Colonel had less than three hundred people under him. He would not give in to a simple argument on the matter.
"Thank you sir."
He waved off the words with his left hand supported in the air by an elbow relaxed on the bar as he sat slightly forward in his seat. "No problem. How are you?"
The bartender glanced at the identification and handed it back to me.
For several minutes we exchanged formal pleasantries that also came from, ironically, training. There was a way to and not to speak with someone of certain rank. We abided by those rules easily, both of us comfortable to interact with one another at the appropriate level. Everything was as it should be.
A minute or two in, he responded to the posed query "no, I'll be here for a while. My flight isn't boarding until 4:05." The same time as mine, only he would fly to Denver on his way home to Las Vegas while mine left for Dallas so I could change planes to one bound for my home in Northwest Arkansas.

The Commander of a squadron that flew A-10's, he had been in the Air Force for 33 years: 10 active duty and the rest Reserves.

An hour and a half before we parted company.
For the next 90 minutes, the Colonel (as the rank was nicknamed) poured as much wisdom and perspective into my life as he could.
"When I was 24 I thought of myself as a failure. I was a Captain in the United States Air Force with a daughter and a divorce, and because I wasn't where I thought I should be, I felt worthless. In most people's eyes I was a huge success. But not in mine. You need to be careful that you don't do that. Don't let yourself do that. Continue to pursue what you're passionate about."
"What would the people that work under me say are my priorities? Well I have 600 people that work under me, and I think they would say the prevailing lead tier of my priorities is education. If you have the desire to pursue more education and better yourself, we will do anything we can to help you. We as an Air Force should do that."
"If there is someone else who can do your job so that you can do something else to better yourself, whether it's training or education, we need to help you do that."
"I'll be honest. I've been married three times. It will always be a battle between what you want and what she wants, now if you can figure that out, great. But it's always about selfishness and the desire to put what you want ahead of her. That's where the problem lies the majority of the time. So never stop fighting that."
"I am very blessed. I have four grown daughters; three with degrees and another one who's just finishing up beauty school."

When our time was up and we'd concluded our conversation so we could make our flights, we again rendered proper courtesies. This time however it was sincere, as only a meaningful, deep conversation could give value.
We talked about a wide variety of topics and covered a huge amount of conversational ground quickly as only two extremely intense personalities can.
What made the experience unique is each time we moved on to a new topic the Colonel found a new way to either affirm or challenge who I was. He relentlessly encouraged me in all manners of ways, daring me to become the height of my potential.
Thank you, Herman Brunke, Sir. Colonel, Commander, and pilot of a group of planes that were my favorite growing up, you gave me an incredible picture of who a leader is, even if only for a moment.

Commander Brunke reminded me so much of my Dad in the way that he so intentionally built into someone he didn't even know.