Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The White Table

By now the instant analysis, second-guessing and armchair quarterbacking have started in earnest over the truly tragic events at Virginia Tech yesterday. I won't jump in, and agree wholeheartedly with Ralph D'Andrea and the Rocky as far as their respective take on the issue. The President and Police Chief of Virginia Tech are also spot-on about the ability to effectively alert and/or lock down a 100-building campus spread over 2600 acres.

As someone with a public safety background, I can make some general observations about what makes or breaks the response to something like this, especially in a largely rural area with limited or distant specialized resources:

1. Unified Command using standardized methods such as the Incident Command System are paramount to any level of responsiveness or success in mitigating an incident such as this.

2. Knowing how to effectively interact with your neighboring agencies and other public safety disciplines on all levels is another make-or-break factor. With something like this that requires an efficient and large scale multi-disciplinary response, there is no room for politics, petty prejudices, or stereotypes.

3. "Interoperability", the buzzword that speaks to the ability of disparate public safety agencies to communicate when working together, is usually referred to when discussing technology deficiencies, especially as it pertains to radio communications. It actually means a great deal more than making sure your radio talks with other agencies and vice versa; it's a state of mind that has to be sold, utilized, and enforced across all levels of an incident response. Interoperability is not just about technology; it's about the processes used to operate, the training that responders receive, and the attitude with which they approach the tasks at hand. See #1 and #2.

I'll look forward to the investigations and reports.
Enough said for now; let the mourning and remembrance begin. My prayers are with the families and fellow students and staff.

Family and friends are starting to arrive in town for tomorrow's memorial service. In an effort to make more room for visitors and others, I began moving things around and cleaning up over the last couple of days. One thing that had to get cleaned off and put away was one of those ubiquitous 4-foot white folding tables that I picked up at Sam's Club about two years ago to use for a yard sale.

This table was rapidly pressed into service when Jan came home in August 2005, after her surgery and first stay in the hospital for rehab and radiation treatments. It stood in our bedroom, filled and organized with the myriad medications and other things necessary for Jan's care at the time.

As Jan's condition started to become more stable over last year, her tumors held in check by an oral chemotherapy med that she responded well to, the table started to have other things on it, including reading material, journals, the binders where I kept information on doctor's appointments and medical records, and other things. As this drug stopped working, and Jan started experiencing other types of discomfort, this material made its' way elsewhere, in favor of additional medications and supplies.

After Jan's stroke and second hospital stay, lots more supplies came into the house, including pads, pre-filled syringes, and new medications. With Jan's hospital bed in the living room, the table was moved and re-organized, along with a white board on the wall to write down medication times, blood sugar readings, and anything needing restocked.

The simple act of cleaning these supplies off of the table, folding it, and storing it away impacted me more than I thought it would. It was for me the last physical vestige of the events of the last 19 months, the diligence and organization required over that time frame, and the final realization that she is gone. Even the brand name embossed onto the tabletop - "LIFETIME" - bears a certain degree of irony for me that I will not shake easily, or for a long time. The neat piles of folding tables for sale at Sam's will be a constant, and perhaps welcome, reminder of what transpired in our house the last 19 months.

I've been fighting a feeling of emptiness these last few days. This isn't something that was unexpected, but its' profundity is more than I perhaps thought possible or probable.
Learning to live without her will be an adjustment of significant proportions, but I will not forget how to care, how to love, and how to share her lessons with others. This is her gift to me, and hopefully to anyone else that I may have the privilege of knowing as the journey winds on.

I'll leave you with another one of Jan's favorite songs. This one is profound in its' message, not only for my family but for our society in general, in part because of the reminder we all got yesterday that there are people in this world that are in need of our collective love and caring. We are NOT alone.

God bless you.

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