Monday, May 24, 2010

Pajamas In Business Class

 A mannequin in an Istanbul storefront Children are dressed up in these princely costumes and paraded through the streets by their parents.

Alright, I'm a travel snob.  I admit it.  I believe that if you're going to get on an airplane, train, or even bus and travel for several hours that you should take a shower and maybe get out of your pajamas beforehand.  I was flying business class yesterday coming back from Milwaukee and was (un)fortunate enough to sit next to a 20-something girl who looked like she had just crawled out of bed after having the flu for a week; disheveled hair, under-shirt, cellulite over-flowing her pajama bottoms, and cheap rubber flip-flops. She sat in the window seat making all manner of bodily noises, feet propped up high on the bulkhead, and attempted to drink the plane out of vodka and cranberry.

I'm all for being comfortable while traveling but I'm going to at least be presentable. My yardstick is, what if I meet my parents in the airport?  That's a good enough standard…high for most if you knew my mother but that's a different story (kidding Mom). Nevertheless, walking out in public shouldn't be a grunge competition.  Take the time to look presentable, if for nothing more than a courtesy to your fellow travelers who have to endure your charms for several hours.

Off to New Orleans this afternoon.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

For God's Sake, Stop!

My EMT partner told me a story last night of a call that he ran a few days ago.  His patient was a 12-year old girl with abdominal pain… she was two months pregnant.  Looking on, her mother…25-years old, and also her grandmother…37 years old.  I'm at a loss, you do the math.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


 We get called to a "Difficulty Breathing" patient at an Atlanta bus stop, only a mile or so from where we are in the ambulance.  These calls I normally encourage the EMTs to take, as its more often than not well within their scope of practice.

When we arrive an old, apparently homeless man sits on a bench with an oxygen mask on his face.  He's being cared for by the Atlanta Fire Department that arrived moments before.  He's thin, worn, deeply tanned.  His grey hair streaks down past his shoulders, aged tattoos color his emaciated arms. He tries to speak under the clear plastic mask that is covering his nose and mouth.  "I want to go to the VA", he wheezes out.

"You're a veteran?", I asked him.  "Damn, straight", a bit of swagger now in his voice. I look at the EMT and motion to her that I'll take this call. We help him into the back of the ambulance, collecting up his used oxygen cylinder that he's been towing around the city behind him on a little aluminum dolly.  It's empty.

In the back of the ambulance I fix his breathing issue and motion to the EMT to drive to another hospital but take our time about it.  We set off.

My new friend spent several years in the post-Vietnam era Army, having served in Europe during the Cold War.  I introduced myself as a retired "Army-guy" and then the conversation began.  We talked about places that we had known, units that we served in, and friends that were all-but forgotten.  It occurred to me that my friend probably doesn't get this sort of attention very much.  Then he told me… he's been thinking about killing himself.

The conversation turned sad and grave.  I struggled with so many things that I want to say to him.  I want to help, to listen.  In the back of my mind I made a note to let the hospital staff know, maybe they can do something for him.

In the end, I ensure that he's comfortable in the ER room.  I shake his hand and give him a subtle, little salute.  He smiles and thanks me.  Later that night I watched him exit the ER, dragging his new oxygen bottle behind him into the night.  I wish him well. 

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Faces Of The Past

 A Turkish woman permitted me to photograph her.  I loved the serenity on her face.

I had this discussion with a physician friend of mine the other day.  The great thing about being a paramedic is that we get to see our patients in their natural environments versus having them all packaged up and brought into the ER for those to treat. Almost every call that I get I end up entering someone's home, it's an extremely personal thing and one that I give great reverence to. More times than I can count I've desperately worked on a very sick man or woman while they lay in their own bed; looking over my shoulder I can't help but notice the pictures of the dresser.  They are all the same; photos of my patient when they were in the prime of their life, healthy and happy; often times I see images of the loved ones that are standing in the room with me frantic about their sick or dying mother, father, grandparent.  For me this is a privilege, something deeply personal not easily dismissed or forgotten.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Medicine Atop A Byzantine Church

  A bin full of plaster faces for sale at a roadside tourist stand.

I toured a Turkish hospital the other day, and as I walked around I spent some time with my feelings.  The government-run hospital was crowded and a bit run-down, supplies were short but the staff was doing the best that it could with what little it had.  Nasal cannulas and oxygen masks were in short supply, so they lay draped over old, blue O2 tanks waiting for the next customer.  The lunch cart made its rounds with pots of colored liquid being ladled out onto trays.  Patients lay on ancient looking aluminum beds in the hallways and rooms; it looked like what I envisioned an eastern bloc hospital to look like during the Soviet era.

My initial emotion was something just shy of contempt.  I wondered why a modern nation had such an antiquated emergency department.  Over time I softened and realized that they were practicing the best medicine that they could given the resources that they had to work with. The Turks are desperately trying to upgrade their emergency medical capabilities, after-all that was the purpose of the conference that I was lucky enough to attend. 

I found out later that the construction of the new hospital was on hold because the intended site sits atop the ruins of a Byzantine church.  I suppose that's not an issue that we have to deal with here in the United States.  I wish them luck.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Random Thoughts From Turkey

 A Turkish woman sells bags of oranges at the site of some ancient Roman ruins.  At first I didn't like the fence between us, but now think it adds something to the photo.

I spent the last week exploring parts of Turkey, country where I have very little experience.  Most of my time was spent in the south along the Mediterranean Sea, but I was able to eek out a couple of days in Istanbul as well.Here are some general observations as I sit in Paris' Charles De Gaulle Airport (CDG) on my way back to Atlanta.

  • The first thing that comes to mind is Turkey is the cleanest country I've ever seen.  I watched a man collect up a random piece of trash on a subway car, exit the car at a station simply to throw it away in the garbage bin, and then reenter the car to continue his journey.
  • Turkish is an evil language that resemblances no other form of communication used on this planet. I felt like a complete foreigner, unable to conjure up even the most basic of phrases.
  • The history of Istanbul is staggering.  I should have read "Istanbul For Dummies" before I arrived.  
  •  The towns along the Mediterranean are replete with oddly dressed Russian tourists.  I felt as if I were thrust back into the 1970's.
  • Turkish men are oddly pear-shaped.
  • Everyone wants to sell you something.  It's starts off with a innocent shared experience of tea and then progresses to more pricey items.
  • Turkish Airlines cornered the market on turquoise leather seats.
  • Turkish food is very good but you may have to struggle to find a good bottle of wine. 
  • Taxis are way over-priced, but in they are all relatively new and painted the same shade of "taxi-yellow".
  • Turkey is a progressive Muslim country, which I thought would be a good model for others to strive towards. People simply practiced their own beliefs and let others do the same, always being respectful toward one another.   

Foggy At CDG

 An Istanbul market, lots of spices and strange foods.

I wrote this post, but failed to post it earlier:

Its a familiar feeling when I travel, but one I readily forget as soon as I return home.  I board an airplane, have a meal, fall asleep, and wake up in a foreign land.  My mind is foggy, even though the sun is up it's still 1:00 a.m. in my head.  I debate whether I should try to sleep some more or acquiesce to my new time zone and start on the local version of caffeine. 

Paris - Charles De Gaulle Airport (CDG), a monument to modern, glass and steel architecture.  It's a cross-roads and people from all over the world move down the carpeted terminal, stepping over those that are not moving quite so much.  I feel as if I'm the only one that does not speak French, highlighting the fact that I should have paid better attention in high school french class.

The French seem intent on selling you either a bottle of wine, cologne, or chocolate, lending credence to their reputations as world-class romantics.  Duty Free, I've decided, would be a good place to bring your wife on a weekend get-away. Having said that, it took me twenty minutes and several stops to find a toothbrush. I guess the French have their priorities.

I'm off to Istanbul (IST) in a few hours, more to follow.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Quickening

Michael Jordon used to speak of being "in the zone", the perfect game where superior performance came effortlessly, everything just clicked.  On occasion I have those workouts where it can only be described as magical.  Yesterday's was one of those.  A 12-mile run through the woods in the rain, only the sound of the water falling from the trees, the route partially hidden by mist up ahead.  Zen practitioners call it being "in the moment", when you're there and there's nothing else, and also "everything else".  The senses are alive as you become part of the forest, you are your environment not separate from it.  It's an experience that is difficult to put down in words, at least for me, but once you feel it you crave it's return.

Off to Turkey today; Istanbul, Antalya, and Side

Monday, May 3, 2010


Haitian girl looks back at the camera and smiles.  I've said it before, but the Haitian people surprised me in their beauty, resilience, and spirit.
In the Port-au-Prince airport I ordered a Bloody Mary prior to boarding my morning flight back to the States.  The Haitian girl at the restaurant wasn't sure of the exact cost, but thought that it was $6.00.  I paid and contently walked back to my table with a mediocre Bloody Mary in my hands.

Ten minutes later the girl rushed over to my table, some distance away from the bar and apologetically thrust into my hand the $2.00 that she apparently over-charged me for the drink. I immediately gave her the $2.00 and thanked her for her honesty, a small price to pay for the affirmation that she bestowed upon me.