Saturday, April 4, 2009

Wanted: Useful survival skills

Normally I try not to talk about too many personal details in this space, partly because I'm trying to be pseudonymous and partly because I figure you aren't reading this blog to find out what kind of breakfast cereal I eat (right now it's Kashi Go Lean).

But I feel the need to brag--not about myself, but about Southern Man, my partner. Because due to his quick thinking and his ability to act rather than simply react, he pulled an elderly woman from a burning car.

Let me set the scene for you. Southern Man was driving and came upon an accident--an elderly woman had run a red light and plowed into a pickup truck, ricocheting off the truck and careening to the side of the road. Her hood was billowing smoke and she was crying and screaming, pinned by both her airbag and her seat belt. She fumbled for her seat belt, but because she was so hysterical, she couldn't release herself, and her car was starting to go up in flames, so Southern Man took out his knife (yes, my partner carries around a utility knife with him), cut her seat belt, and helped her out of the car and to safety.

I didn't witness any of this--I had this reported to me by Southern Man, who initially didn't even disclose this information--he called me from the scene of the accident, and I thought he was just checking in during his errands, but it became clear when I heard sirens and other odd noises that there was something going on--and only after asking him what all that background noise was did he reveal what had happened.

Southern Man is a modest man, and when I told him how proud I was of him and how incredible it was that he was so quick witted and competent in helping this woman out, he shrugged it off (or the verbal equivalent since we were still on the phone) and claimed that anyone would have done the same in that situation.

But here's the thing: I'm not sure I would have. Don't get me wrong. It's not like I wouldn't want to help, or wouldn't try. But I don't carry a big utility knife on me. And I would have certainly been freaked out by a car on fire, although I'd like to think that I would have tried to get this woman freed. At the very least I would have called 911 (and according to Southern Man, more people did stop to help, so there was a woman who called 911 and another man who stopped and helped Southern Man carry this woman to safety once he cut her free from her seat belt). But the ability to act in a crisis the way he did...I just don't know what I would do in a similar situation. I've, thankfully, never been tested in that way.

Yet...I can't help wondering and thinking: what kind of life skills and useful survival skills do I possess? I mean, sure I'm technically a "doctor" but a doctor of literature--it's not like someone has a contemporary literature crisis I can solve or even a comma splice emergency. Sure, I have read and researched a lot on issues of race, but in a real racial crisis, is the fact that I've read Michael Omi and Howard Winant's work on racial formation going to be helpful, or is it someone who has skills in crisis management in de-escalating a tense situation who will be more helpful? I took a CPR class once upon a time. I have watched my father change a flat tire. But really, what kind of real life skills do I have that will enable me to be useful in a crisis situation?

I suppose none of us can ever really know how we'll act in a moment of crisis. I'd like to think that I'd be calm and would assess the situation quickly and accurately and then act appropriately. But it's knowing how to act--and having the right tools let alone skills that seem to be a key thing in these situations. Heck, I can't even text message quickly in a hostage situation.

At any rate, these are the things going through my mind right now. I'm really quite proud of my partner--it's not everyday you can say that you potentially helped to save someone's life. So I just wanted to give him a shout out, but also to ask all of you what kind of survival skills you wish YOU had or that you think would be important (like taking a refresher CPR course) in a crisis situation.


CVT said...

Don't you - as a teacher - have to be CPR/First Aid certified? Or is that just for pre-university?

Anyway - I would guess that you have more survival skills than you think, just from being a teacher. Obviously, a university setting is different from other teaching jobs, but I'd still guess you have to manage a class, people of different backgrounds, and stay (relatively) calm and in control at all times. I imagine you get heated discussions from time to time, and you have to manage that and keep it on the level. Those would all translate quite directly to being able to help in a crisis situation.

Taking that to the next level: I was once told that researchers had tried to determine what job was closest to that of an Emergency Physician, based on split-second decisions, constant pressure, continuous heightened attention, and the need to handle a variety of human "crises" with no warning.

The answer? A middle school teacher. I kid you not. So, for me, I think a hostage situation would almost be like a break . . .

Jennifer said...

First of all, thanks for giving me props by saying that you think I have more survival skills than I think. I hope you are right, and if my time in the classroom and the tools I've acquired there could be considered or translated into survival skills, then I do think that I won't be that person who gets frozen during a crisis. THAT is my fear. It's not a great fear or anxiety--I tend not to get frozen in general, but you just never know. I don't think any of us truly knows how we'll act in a crisis situation until we're in that situation. The most heroic thing I've done, of late, is noticed my neighbor's dog wandering leashless (and apparently owner-less) in the middle of the road, and I grabbed a spare leash, halted a car that didn't see the tiny poodle and was about to run it over, and then got the dog back to its owner (ASIDE: I was pretty pissed at the owner--they don't have a fenced yard and this woman just let her dog out to pee thinking the dog would stay in the yard and wouldn't head out in the middle of the street. Not too bright).

Glad to know that as a public middle school teacher you have skills translatable to an ER physician--which makes sense--I only subbed once in a 9th grade special needs class--and I had a teaching assistant that one day, but with a dozen students with various behavioral issues and me, the novice teacher, I was completely overwhelmed by the end of the day and just didn't know how the regular teacher did it--go in day after day and manage the class let alone teach any content.

Finally, university profs, at least at my school, don't have to be certified in CPR/First Aid. Not that it wouldn't be handy--and I was once-upon-a-time certified. I actually think I should carry an epi pen with me, because with the increase in allergies or even just bee stings, seems like a practical thing to have.