Tuesday, April 26, 2005

What Makes a Hero ?

Today's news reports told the tragic story of a Pittsburg, CA police officer, shot in the line of duty, chasing two suspects from the grocery store bank kiosk they had just robbed in broad daylight. Officer Larry Lasater, a Marine Corps veteran and soon-to-be-father, was removed from life support early this morning when it was learned he could never recover from his injuries. True to his desire to help people and give back to the community, his organs will be donated, so that others can have a chance at a happy, healthier future.

Somber events such as this are exceedingly painful for anyone in the public service industry, and even more so for those who knew the fallen comrade personally. He will be described by those who loved him, knew him, and knew of him, as a hero. Of course he was. He laid down his life doing what he loved - helping others, catching the bad guys, and making the community a safer place to be.

So what makes a hero ?

People in general admire those who willingly take up professions that are dangerous, and who knowingly put their lives on the line to help others. After the tragic loss of so many of New York's bravest on 9/11, this feeling in the general public has been amplified. Police officers, firefighters, emergency medical personnel and others in the business of serving the community have been moved to the forefront of public and media attention, and given their due respect and admiration. But ask any one of them if they think they are a hero, and they will laugh and say no. Of course they aren't heroes, they will say. They are simply ordinary people, making a living, helping others when they can.

Ordinary people doing an extraordinary job.

With only few exceptions, public servants do what they do with a deep, heartfelt passion and dedication to their jobs, and an honest desire to help others and make a difference. However in the end, they are simply doing a job, to put in their day's work, and to go home safely to their families.

A hero is someone who does not want or need that title.

A person does not get into this kind of work expecting to come out a champion, a savior, an idol to be admired and revered by the world for taking brazen risks and putting his life on the line. My studies in EMS and firefighting have taught me that personal safety is always a #1 priority, and those with the 'hero complex' do not last long in the real world.

A person in this industry does not need thanks, awards or recognition from the public for a job well done. Although it is heartwarming and satisfying to be appreciated, he knows, without being told, that he is doing good for others. He does his job as best he knows how, reaches out and helps others with a sincere and dedicated heart, all to make a living and earn a paycheck like everyone else.

The difference ?

He runs into burning buildings when everyone else is running out.

He fights back against robbers, rapists, murderers, drug dealers and criminals.

He pulls people out of the tangled wreckage of their vehicles, bandages their wounds, holds their hands, breathes life back into their bodies.

Why ? Because he can. Because he wants to. Because it energizes him, invigorates him, satisfies him. Because he truly loves his job, his family of coworkers, and the community he serves. Because he knows that he can make a difference, however great or small, in the lives of his fellow human beings.

The flags in and around the town of Pittsburg, CA are flying at half-mast in honor of their fallen officer. This small, tight-knit community is coming together to remember a man who gave the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty, doing what he loved, protecting the public, making a difference. Although his unborn child will never know him personally, he or she will undoubtedly know his legacy. For even though the Officer is no longer with us, he will live on - in the bodies of the people who will receive his selfless gift of organ donation, in the minds of public service agencies across the Bay Area, and in the hearts of those who knew him and were touched by his work.

He will not be forgotten, and in this, he will never truly be gone.

Many of you will have your lives touched by a police officer, a firefighter, a medical worker or someone else in this line of public service. Take the time to thank that person if you can. Don't call them a hero; they won't accept that label. Just tell them you appreciate what they do. It will mean the world to them. And please consider becoming an organ donor. You may give a new life and new hope to someone who otherwise would not have that chance.

Rest in peace, Officer Lasater.

Link to article: [Sfgate]

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Arrogance or Confidence ?

This is a follow-up to my previous entry "Arrogance or Charisma ?" After I posted that piece, a reader asked the question, "What is the difference between arrogance and confidence ?" I must say, that question has fired my neurons into overdrive contemplating an answer. Many thanks to Kris for the inspiration.

I'd like to explore the concept of arrogance a little deeper than in my previous writing. I must admit that I display some aspect of this rather undesirable character myself, but have developed the ability to suppress that tendency out of respect for others.

Every once in a while, in meetings at work, there is some issue that comes up for discussion that I can figure out a feasible solution to in relatively short order. Occasionally, I propose it for consideration, only to be rebuffed by the discussing members. This is fine in itself, and I respectfully take a back seat in the ensuing conversation. However, there are instances when the members talk around and around in circles, going back and forth, with little progress, seemingly forever. I find it difficult to be patient, bite my tongue and not jump in, especially when I can see that they are eventually going to arrive at my original conclusion. I, of course, do not say anything except to support the group consensus. But in my mind, I feel frustrated that it took this long to arrive at the same answer I had arrived at 20 minutes before.

Although I loathe to admit it, I know that this sentiment stems from a small bit of arrogance. The underlying feeling is there, however I have worked very hard to ensure that I never allow it to be expressed. I know this about myself, and always keep myself in check.

Confidence allows me to step up, present my reasoning and propose a solution in front of my peers and my superiors, while risking the possibility of rejection. Arrogance appears when I know I have a good answer that is not yet understood. Respect for others ensures that I put a sock in it, and allow them to reach the conclusion in their own way and by their own means.

There are a number of people that I am fortunate enough to work with, who are exceedingly intelligent, analytical and forward-thinking. Many of these coworkers have solved near-impossible technological problems, come up with brilliant software and process designs, repaired fractured relationships, rebuilt chaotic organizations, and restored morale when all seemed lost. Of course, they have earned the right to be proud of what they have done.

Those who are confident never need to speak of their accomplishments to gain approval.

Everyone knows already what the confident person has done, and even if they don't, they respect and trust that he can take care of the issues that arise. A person who feels confident and secure in himself, who has a true desire to do the right thing, and who keeps the greater good as his first priority, can project these qualities without words. This disposition is sensed by those with whom he interacts.

A person who is arrogant may brag or embellish the truth in seeking approval from others. This may result in a temporary admiration, however it rarely lasts once the others observe him over a period of time.

A person's confidence is based on true accomplishments. Arrogance often is not. If it is, it is embellished for the sake of gaining an inflated sense of self-importance.

Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with mentioning one's achievements in the course of a normal conversation. The confident person may mention (in a downplayed manner) his contribution, but emphasizes the outcome, and the effect on the higher cause, instead. Here is an example:

"Our relationship with this vendor was very poor until recently. I've worked very hard over the last few months to rebuild their trust in our company, and now, our interactions are always positive. I'm very pleased with the results."

The perceptive person will often compliment the speaker on his great work. That, really, is what brought about the positive change. However, the speaker modestly emphasizes the benefit of the rebuilt relationship, instead of furthering his own cause. He does not feel the need to overtly take credit for the outcome.

A confident person balances his self-assurance with a sense of modesty and humility, and is focused on the greater good, rather than himself.

In all my interactions, both at work and in my daily life, that balance is my goal.

Monday, April 18, 2005

An ambulance that flies

This past weekend, I had the privilege and honor of riding along with an area university hospital's medical evacuation helicopter. This hospital is a Level 2 trauma specialty center that accepts and performs air accident scene responses and patient transports. Patients are airlifted between this hospital the local area, and sometimes to facilities all across the state. This particular hospital's air ambulance service has a fly-along program for certified EMTs. I was fortunate enough to be granted a day with the crew.

I was told by the fly-along program coordinator that Krispy Kreme donuts have an interesting, and foolproof, effect on the day's work. So far, every shift that a fly-along has brought these treats, the crew has had at least one activation. Days that the confections were not brought by the guests have all resulted in zero flights.

Running with this idea, I purchased a dozen donuts, but took it one step further. Instead of the standard twelve original glazed, I got a little funky. I ordered 6 glazed and 6 assorted, and ensured that the 6 assorted were all well-known favorites of many (including myself). I showed up at the hospital's emergency room, at 0715 sharp, donuts in hand, and well prepared for the day ahead.

After being fitted with a flight suit and a helmet, I was given the safety briefing, including how to approach the helicopter, when to enter and exit, what to do in the event of an emergency landing, and so on. One of the first things that was shown to me in the patient compartment was the location of the barf bags. I thought this was funny at the time, but that information almost came in handy later. More on that below.

Our safety briefing completed, a quick breakfast in our stomachs, and we were dispatched to our first call. I climbed into the ship (they call it a ship), helmeted and buckled myself, and hung on for dear life. Within seconds, we were in the air.

It took a while for me to get used to the lurching and bobbing of the aircraft. The pilot seemed to enjoy banking turns so sharp that I swear we were almost sideways. A few times, my stomach went one way, while my body went the other. I remembered the words of one of the two flight nurses during the briefing: look on the horizon, breathe slowly. My stomach eventually settled, and I inhaled a satisfying sigh of relief. Until I heard the two most dreaded words possible from the pilot over my helmet's intercom:

"Oh, sh*t."

These are words you do NOT want to hear from the pilot of the helicopter you're riding in, especially on your FIRST FLIGHT. Instinctively, my arms crossed over my shoulders in preparation for a crash landing.

As it turns out, a gauge was showing that one of the engines was receiving zero fuel supply. Although the ship can fly all day on one engine, we immediately aborted our response to the incident, and headed towards Moffett Field for an emergency landing. But within one minute, the gauge issue resolved itself.

The engine had fuel all along. It was the gauge itself that was acting up.

Relieved, we headed back to the hospital. Another air ambulance company covered the call we had originally been dispatched to, and we debarked to allow the mechanic to look at the gauge.

In between calls, the Flight Nurses often help out at the hospital's Emergency Department. They are, of course, certified nurses, with many years experience and with extensive additional training above and beyond the standard RN. I tagged along as they expertly helped out with various patients and procedures with ease. It is no wonder these two have been promoted to the high level they are at right now. Their technical skills, and ability to relate to the patients, were nothing short of amazing.

As Murphy's Law dictates, the minute we started talking about lunch, we were dispatched to another incident. Good thing I'd stashed some protein bars in the leg pocket of my flight suit. Low blood sugar and a lurching helicopter probably do not make a very good combination.

We ran two emeregency scene transports in a row; one for a motorcyclist who had trapped his leg between his bike and a tree, and another for a man who had been beaten up, bloodied and knocked unconscious with no memory of the event. By the time we returned to the hospital, it was near 3:00.

Reheated pizza tastes REALLY good when you're this hungry. :)

The final call of the day was one that will be imprinted in my mind for the rest of my life. We were called to a nearby city, famous for violence and gang activity, for a double shooting. Not an uncommon sight in this rough town, unfortunately.

The details of the incident was relayed to me by one of the ground paramedics who had responded to the initial call. A 16-year-old female was walking down the street with a baby in her arms. A 22-year-old male was walking with her, carrying two Bibles. In an instant, both were shot in the back by a gunman in a moving vehicle.

The victims were shot while on their way to church.

Two people, infant and Bibles in hand, cut down by a drive-by shooter as they walked to church.

For once, I was rendered speechless.

When our ship landed on the scene, the patients both were alert and conscious. The baby was fine, and had been taken away by relatives. Thankfully, due to our ship's dimensions, we were able to airlift and care for both patients at the same time.

After our arrival at the hospital, the pilot made sure to deliver them their Bibles.

What kind of world is this that two people with a baby are shot at, from the back, while on a Sunday morning stroll to church ? This, I will never understand.

It is a fact of life that emergency workers see these things on a daily basis. Yet the responders are in a unique position that they can make a difference in a patient's life, and bring sanity, calmness and a human touch to a seemingly incomprehensible situation. This became apparent as the crew and I sat in the cafeteria together for a much-needed refreshment.

A woman passing through noticed the flight suits and approached us. She told us that her husband had been involved in a terrible accident, and had been airlifted by our ship the week before. She went on to say, "Thank you for treating my husband and for getting him the help he needed so quickly. He still needs more surgery, but is recuperating well and is in good spirits. I'm so glad you guys were there."

This is what makes it all worthwhile.

One does not do this type of work for the recognition, for the kudos, for the supposed feeding of one's ego. Emergency Medical Services is a tough industry, often thankless, often involving situations that are too horrible, too gruesome, too appalling for the general public to comprehend. Yet at the end of the day, it is about helping people, about reaching out to those who are weakened, hurt and scared, and about giving them the best chance possible at continuing on with their lives. It is this humanity, this connection with people, this unique opportunity to make a difference that has captivated me. Whether I continue with my volunteer work, or change careers altogether, I now know that it is my duty, my purpose, my mission in life to help others in need. If I can make a difference - however small - in someone's life, I will feel that I have fulfilled that purpose.

The day's experience on the airborne ambulance was another chapter in that book.

I now have a new theory. The day's call volume was yet another confirmation of the mystical properties of Krispy Kreme donuts when brought by a fly-along. Our calls, ranging between Santa Cruz in the south to Richmond in the north, one bout of supposed mechanical problems, and a productive stint in the ER, has given rise to a new theory of mine. I believe that the assortment of donut flavors is directly related, and possibly the cause, of the assortment of calls and situations experienced throughout the day. I hope someday to have collaborating evidence to support this theory. :)

The crew

Beautiful scenery

This is me !

Thursday, April 14, 2005

If knocked down seven times, get up eight.

I must share with you a unique and humbling experience I had while training with the Seido Karate folks at the University of Buffalo (NY) this past week.

When we lined up for the start of class, a Black Belt student, Senpai Kevin, was standing against the wall, supporting himself with the bar, his wheelchair parked nearby. In our style, a student who earns a Black Belt (up to third degree) is referred to as Senpai.

I was fortunate enough to take my place beside him. As the class progressed, I could feel his energy, his spirit and his determination, in spite of his physical limitations. It motivated me to focus more and train harder. Here was a man that could very easily have resigned himself to a life bound to a wheelchair, and wallow in the perceived chains of his physical disabilities. Instead, he chose to break those chains. In doing so, he has inspired and encouraged all those around him, who can do little more than marvel at the strength of his spirit.

The article below says it all about Senpai Kevin. I am sitting here in tears after reading it. I hope you all are as inspired by this amazing man's journey as I am.

Link to story: []

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Big Pimpin'

When I booked the rental car for this trip, I indicated my preference for a mid-sized vehicle. Usually this means I am given a Chevrolet Alero or something similar. Larger than a tin can, and just enough style that I blend in with the rest of the population. Foolproof plan, right ?

Not exactly.

The rental car company was out of mid-sized vehicles. So instead, they "upgraded" me.

To a silver Ford Taurus.


Yes, this week I am rolling in this Ford Taurus station wagon, now affectionately referred to as the PimpMobile. As Jay-Z put it so eloquently, I am "Big Pimpin', spendin Gs !!!!"
(Audio: Windows Media/Lyrics) [Warning: Bad language]

I feel just so... sexy. NOT !

However, I must admit that this uncool suburban mom-mobile did come in handy when it came time to transport the lovely gifts that our family and friends so generously gave to my sister in honor of her bridal shower. I was able to fit over half the stash in this rolling love shack, easing the burden on my other relatives. Not bad for a last-minute vehicular substitution.

Although my sister's bridal shower was much like every other shower, complete with a very long meal, silly games, and a seemingly unending table of irresistable homemade cookies, I must give credit to the antics of one particularly flamboyant family friend, Filomena. Her sense of humor fits in just perfectly with my outgoing Italian family, which is why she is a dear friend to the older generation.

One of the pre-lunch games was a quiz sheet we passed out to all the attendees, with some questions about the bride and groom-to-be. Although Filomena did not know many of the answers, she made her sentiments very clear in her submission for marking consideration:


Yes, the meal was served very shortly after this game concluded. :)

Sunday, April 10, 2005

The truth comes out.

Returning to Toronto to visit family and friends is always a fun-filled, whirlwind experience, and this trip so far has been no exception. I arrived early Saturday morning, half-dead from the turbulent overnight flight, and after a much-needed nap, headed to the west end of the city for a relaxing family lunch. It was there that I found out what my sister Vicky truly thinks of me.

I am the wacky one, the black sheep, the presumed "mailman's kid", that doesn't look or act anything like the rest of the extended family. I march to the beat of a different drummer, and am well aware that many family members don't truly understand what makes me tick. But that's ok with me. I like being a trailblazer, an innovator, and wouldn't have it any other way.

Vicky is a real fan of TLC, especially those decorating shows and similar reality TV offerings. So much so, that she has started a campaign to have our family represented in the world of unscripted television. She decided that I was the perfect candidate to accomplish this feat.

As such, my darling sister has nominated me for the show "What Not to Wear."

Not once, but three times.

Jigga Wha !?!?

Ok, I admit it, my favorite attire consists of athletic pants and shirts, running shoes, and quite often, baseball hats. I like that stuff. It's not like I'm 'hiding' who I am - I'm expressing who I am. I have never had the need for makeup or pedicures, and will fight to the death anyone who dares come near my body with depilatory hot wax. (I still to this day have no idea how women tolerate that particular method of hair removal. Yikes.)

Apparently, my dear sister submitted photographs of me in my favorite attire (see below pull-up contest entry for an example), as well as pictures of me in my Halloween costume, the same costume I wore to Bay to Breakers last year. Of course, she made it clear that I wore that costume to work, on Halloween, as if that was a bad thing. Boy, tough crowd !

Well, at least I now know what the family really thinks of me and my eccentricities. :)

Should I feel flattered, or insulted ? I haven't decided yet. It certainly is not the most uplifting experience to be paraded in front of living rooms across America as the shining example of WHAT NOT TO WEAR. On the other hand, I may be able to handle that kind of humiliation for a new $5,000 wardrobe courtesy of the show.

But I think it will take much more than that to get me in a pair of heels.

TLC, are you listening ? :)

Friday, April 08, 2005

The Drive to Succeed - Part II

The pull-up contest at the gym has just ended. Many participated, some did better than others, and a good time was had by all. Entering was not simply a matter of hanging from a bar and hoisting oneself up and down as many times as possible. The twist was that one must go up and down to the beat of a metronome. Lose cadence, and the attempt is over. This eliminated the positive effects of momentum, and left only the strength of the individual participant to compete with.

Guess who got first place in the women's category ?


Just goes to show you how motivating a challenge and competition can be. Previously, performing pull-ups was only a passing thought. Now, it is an integral part of my workout routine, and of my daily life, as I pass under the bar to my bathroom at home.

Next month's competition is "The Plank" - an strength and endurance test of the core (abdominal) muscles. I just might enter. :)

Tonight, I am on the red-eye to Toronto for my sister's bridal shower and some much-needed relaxation and reconnecting with dear friends. I am told it has stopped snowing, but I will believe it when I see it !

Sunday, April 03, 2005

It's Still Winter in Some Parts of the World..

As you know from earlier entries, Northern California has had blooming flowers and fair weather since the middle of February. The air conditioning has been in use off and on for approximately six weeks. Although still cool at night, the heavier jacket has long since gone into the closet.

I went shopping yesterday to pick out an outfit for my sister Vicky's bridal shower next weekend. I chose a nice khaki skirt, blue tank top, and khaki colored sandals. Not too frou-frou girlie-girl, but just nice enough for such an event. Perfect !

Until I was informed of what the weather is like in Toronto right now.

Oh my God, you have GOT to be freakin' kidding me. I can't wear these cute little sandals in THAT !!!! Oh well, I guess I'm packing my boots as well. Eesh.

While we're on the topic of snow, here are a couple of pics of my dad and sisters at their recent ski trip to the Alps.

Dad takes a stupendous wipeout:

And Diana and Vicky do their best Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer impressions:

It's going to be in the mid-60s to low-70s next week in Silicon Valley. I guess I better enjoy it while I can before taking off to the Great White North on Friday night. :)

Friday, April 01, 2005

April Fool's

The first of April is a day for jokes, pranks and little tricks to make others laugh. There is no place for meanness or malice; only for genuine, light-hearted fun. This was foremost in my mind this morning when I approached Garry's cubicle with three half-used rolls of toilet paper and a tape dispenser.

Why Garry ? Because he has a good sense of humor. And because I wanted to give him just a little payback for busting my butt with this project we're working on. Hence, his cube was the decided target.

I had just finished wrapping his monitor, chair and laptop docking station, and was starting on his keyboard, when he and our other Andrea caught me red-handed.

Busted !!

So what do we do now, after we've giggled amongst ourselves and taken pictures of the handiwork ? Wrap up all the toilet paper and reuse it again on someone else's cube. But whose ?

Today, the chosen one was Ming. With top speed and supreme efficiency, the three of us decked out his cubicle, and the very nice plant outside of it, using the full compliment of paper available to us. Andrea spent an inordinate amount of time ensuring that the TP border on Ming's monitor was perfectly straight, before adding the cross-hatches. Garry's decorative touch was the obliteration of the top half of the cubicle entrance. When finished, it was truly a work of art.

Ming, the great sport that he is, ducked under the artificial door, gently ripped off the toilet paper from his monitor and keyboard, sat on his covered chair, and began working.

When I left today, most of it was still in place. :)

Happy April Fool's everyone !! Please feel free to share your favorite pranks in the Comments link below.
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