Wednesday, September 07, 2005

pre-deployment orientation

First, I should introduce myself, said the slender man in well-polished shoes and dark slacks with a faint, narrow pinstripe. I'm a Saggitarius, I don't smoke or drink, and I'm single. Okay, fun and games are over, now I'm going to tell you what it's really like down there. He leaned back against the folding table. He'd given this speech a thousand times, you could tell; they're doing these volunteer sessions for eight hours a day on weekdays and Saturdays, five on Sundays. You don't sign up, you don't get the info on-line, you just come in and join the masses milling around hoping to do something useful. Eventually you end up in a room, seemingly any room, with a bunch of other people clutching application forms, not sure whether you're going to be answering phones for four hours or pulling corpses out of mud for two weeks.

He had it down. Even if the two teenaged girls I'd seen downstairs threw him for a minute, one with shiny dark hair in a stylish short cut, the other with bright fuschia hair. Downstairs, another man had patiently been trying to explain that the Red Cross can't shoulder the liability of sending young people into what they're calling an "extreme hardship" posting, and I'd been agreeing with him with half an ear. Bless their big hearts and belief in their own immortality, but no. And I had felt incalculably old. Upstairs, they were holding up the group by trying to convince this man that they were legally emancipated, and thus could agree to the Red Cross sending them across state lines. I can't even send you to Florida, I heard him say.

I looked around at the crowd. About one-third black, two-thirds female. Lots of nurses. You notice these things when you're wondering who's prepared to drop everything for three weeks to get flown to who knows where (don't ask your instructor, they don't know. Don't ask the pilot, he doesn't know. You find out when you hit the tarmac in Houston) to do who knows what (West Nile is coming, you'll need DEET. You get floodwater in even a little cut, you tell us right away. There are dead bodies in that water. Women go everywhere in pairs. Always keep a line of sight with your buddy. If you give a child a drink of water from your bottle, don't take the bottle back; you don't want to risk a staph infection) with no clear line of communication with the outside world (there is one working cellular tower in three states. I made a three-minute phone call for $275. They'll get you on the roaming charges) besides the Red Cross knowing how to find you if someone is trying to reach you.

From my notes, and things I thought of afterwards as I tottered off to model as though I hadn't just agreed to come back for a day's training in "Mass Care" on Saturday; as if I hadn't just left a message on Slice's cell about needing my damn mosquito net back for real this time, four years after the breakup; as if I wasn't mentally bracing for the sight of dead children, pieces of dead children, family dogs gone feral (animal lovers, I hate to tell you this, but you have to leave Bambi alone, you should not pet any dogs you see), all the wreckage left by a Cat 4 storm:
check to see if need rabies booster or if '99 series is adequate

bathing suit and flip-flops for showering in communal shower area

hit up fellow Burners for unused Handi-Wipes

bring novels I can leave behind

talk to Princess about being my executor/having spare keys

cut down fingernails

4.3 million people left homeless in the Carolinas

RC needs to open 483 new shelters

might get sent to location in one of eighteen states

twelve hours on, twelve hours off

The extraordinary thing is, I may actually have a useful skill, from the one facet of my life I thought was not growing me useful skills beyond pouring wine and saying "sir" without giggling.

Because after he'd had all the nurses and EMT's and phlebotomists raise their hands, and after I was feeling like I knew nothing helpful, he asked if anyone had management experience. If anyone thought that, given half a dozen people and an empty space, they could get it set up with equipment, staff assignments, and a meal schedule.

Well well.

I can be guest-ready in an hour and a half. Less, if I don't have to teach people how to set a table. I can do this.

Honestly, I'm scared. But I'm also heartened by the chance to do something useful. And that holds a lot more weight.