Band of Brothers

English: Brain structures involved in dealing ...

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SEKanBlogger (Tracy) asked:

Xavier, I have an odd question:

In a job like yours, or even mine, how many times can we be put in traumatic situations before it affects our own health? And what happens then? Are we just discarded because we cannot perform as well as we used to?

Really. I’m serious. This question has been on my mind for awhile now.

I already had PTSD when I became a first responder.  I’m a survivor of extreme childhood violence and neglect.   Many first responders enter the field with combat veteran status or other personal baggage like mine.  People who come in the door traumatized are often better suited for the job. 

Part of the transition from civilian to first responder involves getting comfortable with death and chaos at a deeper level.  In a way it’s comforting, even; we’re in our element.  We’re not weird anymore  We’re harder to shock, and don’t get vapor locked as easily.   The PTSD people function very well in freaky, ugly situations.  Maybe not so well in sunny meadows.   There may be some physiological addiction to adrenaline, I don’t know.

It took me a while to get confident in my knowledge, practical skills, and experience.  Now that I have, I’m cocked and locked as a paramedic.  That role keeps my demons at bay. 

It’s like the lady who rides the tiger.  Everything’s fine while she’s on it, but doesn’t dare dismount.  A lot of people do fine in their roles as long as they stay in them.  It’s often a slow motion train wreck — if the person can postpone the inevitable long enough, they can retire and then go hang themselves.

The part that makes people no longer effective IMO is the unhealthy coping mechanisms employed in this dysfunctional, male-dominated culture.  

The system selects for people who are quick to judge, extroverted, physical, self-confident, and team-oriented.  (See:  “Jocks.”)  Everybody gets drug tested, so the drug of choice is alcohol.  Alcoholism is rampant, as is inappropriate sex (they don’t test for that, either).  All of that helps degrade the family support network.  The entire culture is steeped in the alcoholic mindset.

The soul crushing part about public safety isn’t the daily tragedy; sometimes you can help people with that stuff, and for those golden moments it’s all worthwhile.  The truly stressful part is the culture and dealing with management and co-workers, especially if you’re not homogenous (i.e., tendency/ability to use words like homogenous correctly in a sentence.)

There’s no transparency, so the public has a completely false idea of what’s going on.  You share no common  language and can’t blend in with them.  You’re thus painted into a corner.  You can’t go home again.  If it comes to the point where you can no longer play by firehouse rules, then the walls come tumbling down.

I know a fire captain whose alcoholism got so bad that they made him retire early.  He didn’t drink at work.  Even so, his blood alcohol level was so high at baseline that 24 hours dry didn’t bring it back under the limit.  I’m sure you’ve seen this.   Even a respected captain (and a very good guy who cared about citizens and sacrificed everything for them) can’t be obviously drunk all day every day at work.

His wife asked me to come over and talk to him.  He was so drunk he could barely sit upright.  I listened to him.  He started gushing decades of trauma, including the old-school CPR; many times he put his mouth over the puke-encrusted mouths of dead people.  The part that really crushed him, though, was when he could no longer pretend his band of brothers gave a shit about him.   Once they vote you off the island, you’re radioactive.

I don’t know.  I wasn’t on his crew but I know them.  I can see why he feels so betrayed.  His wife despises every one of them now that she’s read the final chapter.  She feels robbed, and she should, she was. 

As a person with excellent coping skills (which I realize may not seem to be the case from reading my blog) I have to say it’s not fair to expect them to save him.  One drowning man can’t save another.  I don’t think they’re a band of brotherf*ckers, though I know other crews that are.  

The problem is they’re in a system that chews people up and craps them out.


Open Letter to the 53%

Article originally published on Technorati as Open Letter to the 53%

From the 53% home page:99 percent lady

Those of us who pay for those of you who whine about all of that… or that… or whatever.”

It seems your movement has formed in rebuttal to the 99% movement. Your name derives from the percentage of Americans who are in a taxable income bracket. (I am a public safety professional and homeowner, and am in that taxable 53%.) Your position appears to be that you are carrying the poor, who do not contribute, nor wish to contribute, to society. Your premise is that you do not agree to finance those lower down on the socioeconomic ladder than yourselves.

The 99% crowd derives its name from the fact that 1% of the population owns 50% of the money in the American economy. They believe the middle class is nearing extinction due to rampant greed on the part of the wealthiest 1%. Their premise is that they do not wish to finance those at the very top of the socioeconomic ladder.

Nobody disputes that 1% of the population owns 50% of the money, or that 47% of the population falls below the federal income tax bracket. Everyone seems to agree that times are very hard for middle and working-class Americans. There doesn’t appear to be any debate about the distribution of income, only where the blame should be laid, and who should be asked to contribute more.

For those of us old enough to remember Reagan’s candidacy, trickle-down economics was an agreement; we would cut taxes on the wealthiest, who would then re-invest in the community, i.e., the money would trickle back down. Since the 1980s, 80% of all income has gone to the wealthiest 1%. Bill Maher offered a pizza analogy: It’s like 100 people pitch in on a pizza with 100 slices. Then when they open the box, the first guy takes 80 pieces.

The math on the 53% is more complicated; while the poorest 47% don’t meet the minimums for federal income taxation, they do still pay property, payroll, and sales taxes. Being below the minimum income tax rate does not automatically imply unemployment or receipt of government benefits. Most Wal-Mart and fast food employees remain below the minimum tax rate, and are not eligible for healthcare benefits though they work one or more jobs. Many military families qualify for food stamps.

Does it make sense to snatch crumbs from the mouths of minimum-wage workers while Paris Hilton discards a Thanksgiving feast every day of her life? If we were to squeeze the very last nickel out of the working poor, we would have far less money in our coffers than if we brought the tax rates on the wealthy back up to where they were when we were all prosperous.

Why stomp on ants while elephants roam the halls?

Computer systems are normally designed with fail-safes and multiple servers. The concept of not having all one’s eggs in the same basket is well understood by everyone from financial planners to electrical engineers. At this point, half of America’s eggs are in a single, tiny basket. The center cannot hold.

As I see it, the tide has already turned. I know, most people feel it’s too early to call. I will stake my reputation, please mark the date and quote me: Occupy Wall Street will dramatically change America. That’s not hubris, or political bias. It’s based on math, science, and common sense. The pendulum has gone all the way to one end, and now it will swing back to the center.

There is a huge irony in the making, and that is why this letter is addressed to the 53%.

When this movement effects real change the difference will be obvious, especially to the middle class and the working poor. We will have found new ways of conducting the business of politics, and the game will be changed forever.

Do you really think thousands of people in the streets of every city in America will have no effect as we approach the election? What if OWS forces the breakup of too big to fail banks? The destruction of the Federal Reserve? What if the groundswell is such that we move to direct democracy instead of an electoral college? Overcome Citizens United?  Will you learn to acknowledge the contributions of others when they literally reclaim your voice as a voter?

You who rail against the “arrogance” of the 99% who count you in their ranks though you refuse to support them, will you ever recognize that most of the people in the streets are in your same tax bracket?  Do you really believe you are in the majority, and that your contribution is the only one that counts?

You who blame, deride and ridicule the poor, you who have felt the need to put your faces and stories on the 53% site, have taken a stand against the majority of citizens in order to row for the 1% who rob us all.

You saw the battle lines being drawn, and chose not to contribute your time, effort or money to the solution. You mocked the ones doing the heavy lifting as they built a better world for you to share.You who believe the poor are poor because they are too lazy and unwilling to help themselves sat back and let others work and sacrifice to make your lives better.  And you mocked them while they did it.  No wonder you think the poor are abusing you.

Remember the scorn and ridicule you heaped on those who you wrongly identified as not pulling their weight. Every time you look in the mirror please direct that same derision at the real free rider.You felt righteous about it when you made the decision. After you prosper due to the productivity of others, remember that you chose not to help yourself.   You felt entitled to be dead weight.

Fortunately most people are aware that there will always be some people who think only of themselves and do not care to be contributing members of society. Those of us who will find ourselves on the winning side of history, the majority of taxpayers in the 99% movement, are very clear that it is you.


If you liked this article, please help get the word out —  “Stumble Upon,” Tweet, share on Facebook, subscribe, etc.   Thanks! — Xavier

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