Wednesday, June 28, 2006

World Cup Fever

The latest buzz in sports across the globe is the World Cup soccer tournament. Bars and pubs worldwide are packed with fans drinking, cheering, and supporting their favorite teams. Although soccer is not nearly as popular with the U.S. as it is with the rest of the world, there is still a dedicated following among fans on this continent.

When I was younger, it was always about Italy. Growing up in Canada, a country that I don't think ever had a team, we always followed our home country. My father and his family were born in Italy, hence the dedication. The huge Italian population in Toronto created nothing short of mayhem in 1982 when the Azzurri took home the Cup.

There have been a number of upsets and surprises in this year's tournament. One of the most stunning was Switzerland's elimination by the Ukraine, a team in its first ever tournament. Switzerland was beaten by a shootout, and is the only team ever to exit the tournament without conceding a regulation goal.

My Ukrainian coworker and I were discussing this stunning turn of events when we realized that Italy will be playing the Ukraine this coming Friday. He and I, for those 90 minutes, will be rivals.

While we were having that discussion, I couldn't help but look at the shirt he was wearing.

A Ferrari shirt. On the Ukranian, who insists his team will upset Italy in the match on Friday.

Oh, the irony.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006


I admit it. I am completely, deathly afraid of lightning. I've been this way since I was a kid. Raging thunderstorms, relatively common in my hometown of Toronto, often sent me scurrying to the darkest corner of my room, as far away from the window as possible. There are many who experience the same reaction to a frightening event such as this. I do so for what I believe is a very good reason.

Many years ago, my younger sister Diana and I were sitting on my parents' bed playing cards. We were perhaps 8 and 6 years old. A thunderstorm exploded outside, but we paid little attention. Our card game was much more important. Until it happened.

A lightning bolt. Not too wide, but bright as the sun, passed through the window. It sparked on the floor, not five feet away from the bed. The bed on which we were sitting. In our own home.

We made a hasty, panicked exit, told our parents, and then continued our activities in the basement. Far, far away from the windows.

I've been deathly afraid of lightning ever since. It's no wonder I sometimes sought refuge under my bed in the middle of a nighttime storm, when I didn't feel safe running down to the basement. Anywhere, away from the windows. That was where I needed to be.

The story doesn't end here. Several years later, I was at the drive-in theater with a friend. We watched the main headlining movie, then one of the 'filler' movies started. One we didn't particularly enjoy, but stayed for the sake of the experience. Until it started.

Lightning streaked across the cloudy night sky. Thunder boomed from all directions, completely drowning out the sound of the movie. There was little rain that I remember, just this fantastic display of light and sound all around us. My friend was enthralled, in absolute awe of the wonders of Mother Nature. I suggested we leave. My excuse was that the movie stunk.

Driving home on a two-lane highway, we were in the left lane. I was speeding, trying to get home as soon as possible. But I couldn't outrun the force of nature. A huge bolt of lightning, much wider than the one from my parents' room, streaked down from the skies. It hit a cable box on the right hand side of the road just as we passed it, causing a spectacular shower of sparks all around it. I screamed in utter terror.

It had happened again ! Lightning had come perilously close to finding me, and only luck, chance, or an act of a heavenly being prevented me from feeling its wrath. Since then, I am reduced to a quivering mass of fear whenever a storm starts brewing.

Fortunately, I live in an area now where thunderstorms are very rare. I've only seen two big storms in the almost-6 years I've been here.

The fewer the better. I think my luck has reached its limit.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Motorcycle Safety Revisited

No helmet, and no leathers, could ever protect anyone against this.

And people wonder why I'm deathly afraid of lightning.

Monday, June 19, 2006

An Immigrant's Perspective on Immigration Part II

This article nicely summarizes the issues with legal immigration, many of which I have experienced or witnessed myself.

"Legally immigrating to this country can be a gut-wrenching, yearslong ordeal." How very true. Administrative sanfus, combined with a completely outdated set of requirements for work visas, and a lack of visas for blue-collar workerks, make it unreasonably difficult for even qualified people to enter the country legally.

Link: [Article]

Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Dork of the Year Award..

..goes to me.

Yesterday, the Emergency Response Team was dispatched for a fire alarm and evacuation at a building near mine. Knowing the high amount of vehicle traffic around that building, and the likely ample population inside, I hustled over there as fast as I could.

The scene was initially chaos. 200+ people milling around the parking lot. People driving their cars around, and through, the crowds of evacuees. Alarms blasting from the building. I quickly parked in the first spot I could find, donned my orange vest, and started to do traffic control.

It was a real incident. A transformer had overheated on the second floor. The Fire Department and our Facilities group did a very thorough check of the electrical system before declaring the building safe for reoccupation.

Phew. That was a rush.

Heading back to my car, I noticed I didn't have my car keys. Where were they ? Did I leave them in the car ? Did I drop them on the ground ? My worry increased as I approached my vehicle. What did I do to my keys ?

As soon as I returned to my car, I found them.

Still in the ignition.

Engine running.


I guess I'm lucky that my car, and my purse that was inside, were still there when I returned.

Another member of the team reported to me that he had seen my car, and he knew it was running. He was just about to go and turn it off, when he noticed two oblivious employees walk directly in front of the fire engine, with its lights flashing and siren blaring, to get to the neighboring building.

He quickly ran off to save those two from their own cluelessness.

Maybe they deserve the Dork of the Year Award more than I do. Or maybe not.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Warning: Non-PC Opinions Below

I know that what I am about to say is not what I am supposed to say. I know it's not politically correct. But I just cannot have any sympathy whatsoever for the Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger after injuring himself in a motorcycle accident while not wearing a helmet.

My non-PC, uncharacteristically harsh opinion ? He got what he deserved. If he's so stupid that he thinks he won't get hurt while riding a motorcycle without wearing a helmet, he deserved to get hurt. He CHOSE to be irresponsible and reckless. Therefore, he CHOSE the consequences of his actions.

He's fortunate he only came out with multiple jaw fractures, a broken nose, a loss of two teeth and various other cuts and bruises. I'm sure the 7 hours he spent in surgery went well. But most, if not all, of these injuries could have been prevented if he wasn't so arrogant as to refuse to wear a helmet.

I know it's not right of me, as a volunteer EMT, to think this way. But I can't help it.

In the healthcare industry, motorcycle riders are commonly referred to as "Organ Donors". A nurse on one of my ride-alongs referred to a motorcycle as a "donorcycle". And I heard a rumor, though uncorroborated, that a patient waiting for a kidney donation specifically registered in Ohio, which did not have motorcycle helmet laws. Much better chance of finding a donor.

There are many who think that wearing a helmet, seat belt, and other protective equipment should be left to the choice of the driver. If someone chooses not to do these things, then nobody should interfere. I disagree with this. With all the educational campaigns out there, and with some innate common sense, it is simple arrogance and stupidity not to follow these rules. People are dumb. They need to be protected against themselves.

"But I'm only endangering myself," some may say. Really ?

What happens if you crash into someone else on the road ? It's not just you, by yourself, on an isolated highway somewhere in the middle of the desert. There are other people around, who are stupid themselves. No matter how "safe" you are as a driver, they may not be. It's always a possibility you could hurt someone else, or they could hurt you. There is no avoiding this at times.

What about the general public ? When you're incapacitated, who pays for your medical bills ? Who pays for Medicaid ? Who pays for survival benefits for your family if you die ? The money doesn't drop down from the sky. If you do survive having your head smashed against the pavement, others have to fund your long-term care if you're not able to do it yourself.

And finally, none of us are islands. We all have friends and family members who care about us. Just imagine how those people would feel if they saw your brains splattered on the pavement because you refused to wear a helmet. And then had to attend your funeral and bury your body.

It's not just you that you're hurting.

Helmets do not cause neck damage, and are effective at preventing head injuries, even when one is driving fast. See here for a full quiz that nicely debunks a good portion of the myths surrounding their use.

And of course, no gear will protect you if you are flattened by a semi truck, or thrown head-first into a concrete wall going 100mph. There are some situations where the best drivers, with the most protection, are still hurt. But wearing a helmet, along with leathers, are the best ways to reduce and minimize the effects of a crash.

In the end, there is no excuse for not taking proper safety precautions for activities that inherently carry some danger, such as riding a motorcycle. If someone chooses not to wear a helmet (or seat belt), then that person chooses the consequences of that action.

Ben Roethlisberger made that choice when he drove off on his motorcycle with his head bare. He chose to land himself in the hospital, with a broken face and a long recovery ahead. As an adult, he made this choice of his own free will. And now he pays the price for it.

I feel no compassion for him. None.

Maybe this will be the wake-up call he needs to show he is not invincible. Maybe this will inspire him to be responsible. Maybe this will motivate him to put a helmet on that thick head of his next time he rides his motorcycle.

But I'm not holding my breath.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Motherhood and Empathy

A medical emergency on Friday brought the team to our company's daycare facility, to attend to an 18-month-old boy who had fallen and hit his head on a table.

The laceration above his eye was about three inches long. There was some blood, and he'd definitely need stitches. But otherwise, he seemed fine. He was an expert at this, after all. He'd already been stitched in a similar spot from a fall a few months ago. Active kid. A bit of a klutz. Obviously the first incident hadn't deflated his enthusiasm.

Since I arrived later than most on the scene, I stood back while the Fire Department attended to their young patient. I watched the daycare staff, and couldn't help but notice that they seemed much more agitated than the boy himself.

His teacher, who had witnessed the fall, emerged from the bathroom, with red eyes and a very shaken-up look on her face. She was inconsolable, and had to take an early lunch break to compose herself. Another teacher bustled back and forth to bring the boy some juice in a sippy cup. Two others stood by and wrung their hands. All were visibly upset and shaken by the accident.

It seemed that they needed just as much care as the child. As such, I did what I could to console them.

"I know it's tough to listen to him cry," I said, "but crying is a good thing. It means he's alert and aware of what is going on. He's being well taken care of. He's in good hands."

In the debrief, after the little patient and his mother were driven away in the ambulance, I mentioned the need to care for the caregivers in a situation such as this. The daycare staff agreed wholeheartedly. All of them were mothers. All of them had children the same age as the patient. All of them could hardly bear to hear him cry. And when his mother arrived, hysterical with worry, they all broke down with emotion. They were mothers, too. They understood.

Curiously, the male respondents, some of whom had children themselves, didn't seem to identify as well with this as the female caregivers. While the women were speaking on this topic, the men became involved in their own conversation about some information related to the management of the incident. The stark difference between their reaction and the reaction of the women was unmistakable.

Although I hesitate to make generalizations based on gender alone, it appears that the mothers had a deeper understanding of the patient's mother's feelings. Perhaps they, as individuals, were better able to empathize, regardless of their gender. Perhaps the men saw the situation from a more practical view, that although the child was hurt, it really wasn't a life threat and he'd be fine. Perhaps the women were pulling from the natural worrying instinct that many mothers have, that isn't always innate in fathers.

Of course there are some men, fathers and not, who are able to empathize and show concern and compassion. Some of them understand, too. Perhaps it is simply more automatic in women who are mothers than in men.

Whatever the reason, it was obvious to me that the time I spent talking to the caregivers was well needed and appreciated. Sometimes, it's not just the patient that needs to be taken care of.

I saw a similar phenomenon of empathy at a first birthday party for a friend's young daughter this past weekend. As we were singing Happy Birthday to the little girl, now transitioning from a baby to a toddler, her mother's eyes filled with tears. This was her fourth and last child, and the little girl was growing up. The emotion on the mother's face as she came to this realization was unequivocal.

After the song finished, I looked over at one of the guests, who had her own seven-month-old in her lap. Her eyes were filled with tears as well, knowing what the mother of the one-year-old was feeling at that moment; and, knowing that one day soon, her young daughter will no longer be a baby as well.

She was a mother. She understood.
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