Matt Potter 2:30 p.m., Aug. 28
- Community Blog
- Tales of Adventure
For The Birds
I once pulled an avian rescue via big truck. I was dragging a load of lead solder waste from Otay Mesa, CA, to Altoona, PA, and I had only left the yard in Otay Mesa a short time earlier. In those days, I would routinely hook a loaded wagon in the yard, pull my Pre-Trip Inspection and deal with all the paperwork, pick up a couple of hot burritos to go on my way out of town, and stop to eat at the view area on the eastbound side of I-8, just beyond Viejas Casino. This trip was no different, except that as I finished my meal and stepped out to stretch and walk around the truck once more (when you haul Hazardous, it's a wise policy to walk around the truck at every stop), I noticed a minor drama unfolding on the shoulder of the interstate, between the highway and the view area. An older model van was parked on the shoulder, engine compartment and side door open, its driver obviously experiencing mechanical difficulty... he was standing by the side door, gesticulating in an agitated manner to someone inside the van.
I always carry tools in my truck, and I wasn't in that big of a hurry, since I had four days to reach PA, so I walked over to see if I could lend a helping hand. As I approached and hailed the driver, the drama intensified... a woman was lying in the back of the van, suffering from some sort of medical condition, while two frightened children stood toward the cab end, casting anxious glances between their agitated father and incapacitated mother. The van had just died, and it was totally kaput, but the mother's condition was far more serious... the driver quickly told me his wife had been on a radical diet, and she was suffering from severe dehydration. She lay prostrate in the last stages of heat exhaustion, verging on heatstroke... the interior of the van felt like a blast furnace, and the woman's condition was rapidly deteriorating. The driver clearly had no experience in this sort of situation, but I did, so I went into action.
When I was in the Infantry, I spent a month undergoing intensive "Jungle Training" down at Fort Sherman, Panama. During that training cycle, I saw many burly and otherwise strack troops drop from heat exhaustion, primarily due to dehydration in the brutally hot climate. I'm not talking about broked!cks or physically unfit types either, I'm talking about combat killers in peak condition who had simply and perhaps unknowingly allowed themselves to become dehydrated. Each soldier was only allowed to carry so much water, so that had something to do with it, while the training itself was demanding in the extreme. I watched time and time again as some troop dropped and had to be attended; I also saw what steps were taken to revive each soldier. Despite the difference in latitude, the same measures would work here. I turned to the driver and started issuing instructions.
"Dude, open every door and window in the van, pronto... loosen your wife's clothing, especially her collar, and spread her limbs a bit so there's more air circulation around her body. Take some water and wet her down, especially her face and throat... What? No water? I'll be right back... just open up the van and loosen her clothing."
I ran to my truck and grabbed a couple gallons of purified water from my sleeper, then raced back to help this hand make things right. He had already complied with my other instructions, and the interior of the van was noticeably cooler... a light breeze swept from end to end, which was a good thing. He splashed some water on the woman's face, throat, and upper chest, now that the collar and upper buttons of her blouse were undone. I told him to wet her exposed arms as well, every exposed part of her body, and to turn her head slightly and give her just a bit of water to drink, gradually increasing the amounts as she came around. Throughout this unfolding drama, the woman was totally out of it, moaning and babbling incoherently. As the cooling process began, she settled down somewhat, but she was never fully conscious or aware of her predicament.
By this time, others in the view area had noticed the drama unfolding on the shoulder of the highway, and one truck driver had already called for an ambulance. This arrived about twenty-five minutes after the emergency call was placed, along with a wholly unnecessary fire engine... the van had died, but it was not on fire. The medical personnel/firemen brusquely and rather arrogantly told us to stand back, as they had now arrived to save the day. I turned to the other truck driver and shook my head... if it weren't for us, the woman would now be in dire straits, if not dead from heatstroke, which is a dangerous and often fatal condition. Every year, humans and animals die after being left in closed vehicles, wherein the temperature rapidly soars... most people think of hypothermia as a condition suffered due to prolonged exposure to a cold environment, but it works both ways, and prolonged exposure to heat will just as easily kill a person.
The woman was placed on a gurney and alternately carried or wheeled to the ambulance, which was rightfully parked in the view area lot rather than the hazardous highway shoulder. Her condition stabilized, although she was still in bad shape, clearly overheated and still suffering from dehydration and heat exhaustion. The husband shepherded his two kids to the far side of the lot, so they could safely stand on the sidewalk next to a low stone wall which bordered the view area. One kid looked to be about 3 or 4 years old, the other 5 or 6. Both kids were still frightened, especially the younger one, who was whimpering with tears in his eyes as the drama shifted from the van to the ambulance. Nobody was paying any attention to these kids, so I turned toward them, walked over, and knelt on one knee in front of the smaller child. Speaking loudly enough for both children to hear me, I said:
"Don't be afraid, your mom's going to be alright... she's just a bit dehydrated because she hasn't had enough water lately. Have you two had plenty of water? Yeah? Okay, how about a soda from my truck? Let me go get a couple for you... you guys wait right here and let these firemen finish helping your mom."
The two kids were in fine shape, showing no signs of dehydration whatsoever, and I only mentioned soda in an effort to take their minds off the formerly intense roadside drama. As I walked to my truck, I reflected upon this woman's condition. This was not the first time I had witnessed such a dangerous collapse... once before, I saw a girl on her back due to severe dehydration, another victim of some quack diet program which stressed the elimination of water from the body as a means of reducing weight. These diet programs are downright dangerous, especially in hot weather, and women of all ages should be aware of this fact. Returning to the two kids, I gave each of them a soda from my cooler as promised... these were gratefully opened on the spot, and both kids were markedly less frightened as they drank their chilled beverages in the warm sun.
The woman was ultimately loaded into the ambulance and carted back down the hill to a hospital. However, the woman's husband and the two kids were still stranded in a bad situation. The van was the lowest priority: it could be towed and repaired at a later date. For now, the husband wanted to travel on to Boulevard, where he had an older relative; once in Boulevard, he could leave the kids with their grandpa and drive back down the hill to check on his wife in the hospital. He told me this as the fire personnel were all busy loading the gurney into the ambulance. I told him it was no big deal for me to drop him and his two children in Boulevard, since it lay en route and it was no great imposition for me to jump off momentarily. The other truck driver let the husband use his phone to call this older relative, so that hand would be waiting once we arrived in the lot across from the Mountain Top Market on Old Highway 80. Once the ambulance disappeared from the view area, the firemen approached to conclude their business with the stranded husband.
He told them he was going to move the van into the view area, then catch a ride with me to Boulevard. Now one fireman, the same badge-sportin' pogue who had brusquely ordered me away from the van at first sight upon arrival of the ambulance, approached me and started singin' a different tune... but that's always the way of it with these clowns, who think they're the only people on earth who've ever had to deal with adverse circumstances, and the only people qualified to handle emergency situations. I couldn't be bothered to point out that the worst of the crisis had been weathered long before this @$$hole showed up nearly half an hour late (a nod here to Mr. T: "SHUT UP, FOOL!!!"). Instead, I practically ignored this idiot as he tried to thank me, and I replied with an equally brusque "YEAH, WHATEVER." The pogue crawled off and split with his crew, while the other trucker and I turned toward the husband and his kids.
We soon formed an operational plan: I would take the two kids and install them in my truck, which was idling away with the A/C blasting. The other trucker and the husband would see about moving the van, first by letting it roll back down the shoulder in Neutral, then pushing it up the ramp with another vehicle which belonged to a fourth party who had arrived during the view area drama. While I was comfortably establishing the kids in the truck, pointing out which panel switches and valves they absolutely must not touch (not to mention the shift lever), the other crew dealt with the van. It wasn't long before the van was pushed into a nearby parking space, and the others who had assisted in the operation dispersed to go their separate ways. Within minutes, I alone stood with the husband by the open side door of the van, while his kids were happily playing inside the truck (I went to briefly check, and they were bouncing up and down on the lower bunk, since the upper bunk was folded back against the aft bulkhead of the sleeper).
The dude didn't care about the van, as it was an older p.o.s. model which had already seen its day, and it could be repaired or scrapped later as necessary. However, he had the tools of his trade inside the van, and not only did he need these for work, he also was afraid they would be stolen if he left them in the van. This made perfect sense, given the somewhat remote location of the view area; any passing crackerhead could easily break into the unattended van and scoop the tools, especially at night with nobody else around. Furthermore, there was an oversized bird cage inside the van, with at least half a dozen small exotic birds in it. This may seem weird: although I had seen the cage in the midst of all the roadside drama, its presence had never really registered in my mind, since dealing with the stricken woman had been my greatest priority. Looking at it now, I realized that we couldn't leave the birds locked up in the van, or they would surely perish from the heat. If we left them outside the van, some exotic-bird-thievin' crackerhead would undoubtedly roll up and score, taking the oversized yet handy cage with him for convenience in transport.
The entire situation was starting to feel like an old episode from "The Twilight Zone"---I wondered what the f--- would happen next as the dude and I transferred his tools and bird cage from his van to my truck. The tools went into the sidebox, while the cage ultimately wound up in my cab; I briefly considered securing the oversized cage on the catwalk of my truck, but I figured the road noise and commotion would probably frighten our little feathered friends to death. Getting the cage through the open shotgun door proved to be difficult, but we finally managed to lower it onto the deck between the front seats and leading edge of the lower bunk. The dude went to lock his van while I looked back to check on the kids, who were now roughhousing like WWF wrestlers on the lower bunk, the recent drama all but forgotten. That was good news, and I didn't mind if they messed up the bunk a bit---that could be remedied later, and at least the kids weren't crying or otherwise throwing a fit. The dude returned and we hit the road, with yours truly grabbing gears and making tracks from the view area.
Soon we were rolling along in air-conditioned comfort, and the father visibly relaxed as his kids cut loose in the sleeper. He started to mildly admonish them for bouncing around so much, but I signalled for him to let them be, as they were better off thus occupied, instead of dwelling on recent events. Meanwhile, the birds were happily chirping and whistling away in their cage, since my truck cab was pleasantly cool compared to the scorching interior of the van they had just abandoned. While steadily pulling the grade to Crestwood Summit, I laughed out loud at the absurdity of it all... my friends at the surf shop would NEVER believe this story when I related it upon my return to San Diego, UNLESS I recorded the moment for posterity. Inspired, I grabbed my cheesy 35mm automatic camera from its overhead compartment and hollered at the kids:
"Hey, one of you take a picture from back there, and be sure to get the bird cage!!!"
The elder child knocked out this task, and I thanked him afterward as I stowed my camera where it belonged. In turn, the father thanked me for going to all this trouble to help him and his family. No big deal, as I was only an hour into this bizarre rescue, and my truck was a fast one which would make good time once I crossed the Arizona line and hit the 75 m.p.h. zone beyond Yuma. He asked me about trucking, and I told him it wasn't for a family man, but as a confirmed bachelor I wouldn't think of doing anything else. I told him there was too much freedom out there... that I would spend the next four days f-----g off en route to Pennsylvania, then f--- off even more while deadheading all the way back (in those days, we dragged empty wagons clear from PA and GA to CA). Upon hearing this, the father nodded his head... my way of life was alien to him, a separate reality, but he could appreciate my perspective, and my bad-@$$ truck undeniably offered the latest in state-of-the-art cruising comfort. I gave him my standard line with regard to four-wheelers:
"Dude, I don't care if it's a Lamborghini Diablo... once you've driven a big truck, everything else is a piece of junk!"
We topped out at Crestwood Summit and rolled down to the Boulevard Exit. This was highly familiar territory to me: I've spent my entire life in the field, often camping in McCain Valley, therefore I know Boulevard well. Within two minutes, I was flipping a bitch in front of the Mountain Top Market. An older hand was already waiting near a pickup truck with a small camper shell; this clearly was the kids' grandpa, and he gave me an appreciative nod as I pulled up and set my brakes. The father thanked me again while climbing down from the truck, and the kids followed suit. I helped maneuver the cage once more through the shotgun door, then opened the sidebox so all tools could be retrieved. Before long, the transfer was completed, and it was time to be on my way. I secured the sidebox, climbed back into my truck, released the brakes, and waved farewell. My part in the drama was over, and I could return to my commercial sightseeing gig. Aaaah, the sacrifices I make as a paid tourist... whenever I relate this particular story to friends, I laughingly tell 'em that roadside rescue operations are for the birds.
Note: I will try to post the picture taken by the young hand during this rescue operation. It's a bit dark, as it was taken from the sleeper, and I didn't think to tell the kid to use the flash. However, you can see the bird cage on deck, and two hands flashing "Hang Loose" signs... the father following my example, of course. You can also see the backs of our heads, but not much else; no big deal, it's the bird cage I was after, and that inarguably stands in the picture. Don't ask me what kind of birds they were, as I'm no zoologist or avian expert... something between parakeets and cockatiels in size, and fairly well-mannered as fellow travelers go. In fact, I had no complaints over the birds, it was the blasted cage that gave us so much trouble.
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