Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Call me a victim

I am happy never to have been a victim in my life. Except for the two times when I chose to be. And those I thoroughly enjoyed.

As a non-medical volunteer for the Medical Reserve Corps, my greatest contribution has been playing a victim in emergency training exercises. So far, I’ve been in an airplane explosion and a train wreck—at least those have been the scenarios. I’ve also had some nasty-looking but not life-threatening injuries, thanks to the moulage makeup added for high-fidelity realism.

My first experience had me laying on the tarmac at Philadelphia International Airport, in 2014, waiting for medical attention. The critical patients were carried away first, by stretcher. Then it was my turn. With my dislocated shoulder, abrasions, and crushed hand (with third-degree burns), I was strapped onto a stretcher and loaded in an ambulance. Inside, I was miraculously cured and scampered away. 

Most recently, I spent a beautiful Sunday morning at the SEPTA Media station in a scenario where a train and a car met on the tracks. There were bad outcomes for the dummy in the car (an actual training dummy) and several passengers. I was lucky, just suffering burns and abrasions on my arms. With a mix of silicone, pigmented creams, and fake trauma blood, my arms soon looked like they’d been through the wringer. My only discomfort was minor, and that came when it was time to pull off the silicone-backed wounds.

The hardest part of playing the victim is all the moaning and groaning. I can do it for a few minutes, but after a while it gets tiresome. So I wait until I have someone’s attention before I turn up the misery volume.

For me, being a volunteer victim involves a lot of hurry-up-and-wait to be rescued. For emergency responders, they get to train in somewhat realistic conditions. The point, I’ve been told, is not just to get it right; the point is to practice until they can never get it wrong.

These exercises take on a greater sense of urgency the more the world tilts off its axis. Emergency responders have a hard road ahead, and I appreciate their service more than ever, having seen what they do from the center of these training events. I am happy to play my small part—and to see everyone walk away safely afterward.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there

Even with dashboard GPS, Google maps on smartphone, and an old fashioned paper foldout map, we still missed driving one of the National Tourist Routes on our Norway vacation. We took what we thought was the right turn, but ended up on a single-lane windy road into a mountainside neighborhood. We might have been in the right place, but could have walked the route faster. So we turned around in favor of the two-lane "highway."

My husband took the wheel for the three days of driving around the fjords, and I was navigator. Actually, I was joined by GPS and Google maps in this task. And, for some reason, he didn’t mind three women telling him where to turn.

While GPS technology is marvelous, it isn’t perfect. It asks if you want to go the fastest route or the shortest route. I couldn’t find the option for scenic routes. And so if I hadn’t been following along on my Hele Norge Kart (Entire Norway Map) we would have missed two ferries and possibly the most spectacular scenery ever.

Apparently, GPS doesn’t like water crossings, and goes out of its way to take you out of your way to avoid them. When it eventually recognized our non-compliance with its directions, ours recalculated itself enough times to get back on track with our planned agenda.

Overseas isn’t the only place where GPS is not to be followed blindly. I recently went back to my old hometown for a visit, after decades away. I had both a dashboard GPS and Waze on my iPhone. You would think both would recommend the same route—and you would be wrong. Several times, I was left to arbitrate between the two. And when neither route seemed appropriate, I had to dig deep into my memory to find a better way.

What I have come to realize is that you need to know where you’re going before you can trust GPS for navigational guidance. Only then can you determine whether the prescribed route through town hits every stoplight or finds the bypass. Waze has the added bonus of showing traffic jams and speed traps, but it too can lead you on strange routes through even stranger places.

I have come to rely on GPS technology, but not solely. I will often check  Google maps or paper maps before I set off somewhere new. I agree with Sindre, the travel consultant from Nordic Visitor who provided us with our much-needed and well-used Hele Norge Kart, who said, “I feel that a good old map can come in handy to get a better overview and see what´s up next and it has some useful side information as well.”

And, as our trip proved, it’s especially helpful when traveling the fjords of Norway.

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For my previous post on GPS, see "Why I don't quite trust my GPS."