Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Trauma, Paul Newman, & Vintage Bling

Emergency room nurses are a tough lot. There's not much those folks haven't seen. However, occasionally, even they find it difficult to keep their cool. My uncle Monty, who is an engineer by training, worked for a while as a tow truck driver. One day, Monty and a downtown Atlanta EMT were swapping stories of the worst wrecks they'd come across. Some years ago, the other fellow was called to a wreck where a car had careened into the front driver's side corner of an 18 wheeler (it was traveling so fast that the impact knocked the entire cab off the truck), then finished its trip wrapped around a telephone pole. When the ambulance got there, the crew just stood around waiting for the fire department to come pop open the car door--or the crumpled thing that had been the car door--so they could retrieve the remains. The fire department guys got the door open and the body was so broken up that it just sort of oozed onto the street. And spurted arterial blood. Whatever it was – it was so mangled that the emergency responders couldn't tell if it were male or female -- was technically still alive. The EMTs sprinted over with a body bag and a scoop stretcher and got the thing into the bag (so it wouldn't squirt everywhere on the way to the ER), into the stretcher, and booked it for Grady Memorial.

[For those who don't know, 30-40 years ago – when my dad was doing a med school internship there--Grady was basically a battlefield hospital, treating patients from the war zone that was downtown Atlanta. Anything you would find in your regular combat situation (trauma injuries, bullet and knife wounds, and anything in between) could be seen at Grady Memorial. Grady was where people with certain lifestyles found themselves when they had too much fun. That's also where they took the inmates from the state penitentiary–– murderers who swallowed spoons in order to spend some time in the relatively cushy rooms of the hospital.]

The EMTs pushed the stretcher, complete with zipped body bag, into the ER entrance, and the head nurse started yelling at them. "You know better than to bring a DOA into the ER! ""It's not dead," they responded. "What!?" She ran over to the stretcher and they pulled down the zipper a bit. The nurse looked down and the EMT reported later that he could see the color just drop out of her face. She turned away. Needless to say, the thing in the bag died shortly thereafter. It was later determined to be female, and with an extraordinarily high blood alcohol content.

One wreck my uncle himself responded to involved a fellow who had driven under the back of an 18 wheeler and was then propelled into the blunt end of a guard rail on an highway overpass. He was already dead when the EMTs got there. But they couldn't move the car because the "A" post from the guard rail had skewered the guy's head. Monty had to secure the car so they could extract him. My uncle pointed out that if the guy had been buckled up, he probably would have survived that accident without too much injury. Except for his head, which had been shish kebabbed, the rest of his body was in perfect shape. The "A" post had punched through the cab at a height where his head wouldn't have been if he had been belted in the seat.

Speaking of 18 wheelers, did you know that the bar on the lower back of an 18 wheeler trailer is called a Jayne Mansfield? It was given that name in honor of the actress who died in a car accident (I presume an 18 wheeler was involved?) and is designed to prevent people in sedans and such from driving underneath trucks if they find themselves behind one moving at a lower speed than they are. While working his towing job in the years before Jayne Mansfields were required, Monty arrived at an accident scene involving a sedan and an 18 wheeler to find that another towing company was already cleaning it up. (At that time, it was a first-come-first-serve wrecker race – all the local tow trucks had scanners, and whichever driver made it to the accident scene first got the job. Now, they have call lists and rotation schedules, and there isn't a potentially hazardous competition amongst tow truck personnel to get work.) At any rate, the supervising cop rolled up to my uncle and said, "You missed a good one this time!" A woman had been speeding on the interstate and crested a hill only to find a slow-moving 18 wheeler ahead of her, and she had gone directly under it. The lower part of the truck box had peeled off the top of her car, and with it, the top of her skull. She was still conscious and talking to the EMTs as they tended to her, (obviously she was in shock and didn't know what had happened)-- her skull cap was hanging off the back of her head.The EMTs were a little unsure how to stop the bleeding, given that the entire top of her head was gone. It seems, however, that she survived, and without overmuch long-term disability. I'm pretty sure she was wearing a seatbelt.

How all these stories of trauma came up was that my uncle mentioned to me that he is teaching a highway safety course to a bunch of teenagers, the next generation's aspiring drivers. He has been unimpressed by the students – or rather impressed by their lack of common sense. I told him that one of the most valuable things I learned in my highway safety course (25+ years ago!) was when our instructor – a middle-aged police officer – had told us, "In my 30 years of being on the force, I have never unbuckled a dead person." He said he had unbuckled people who were pretty badly injured, but in his career he had never actually taken a seatbelt off someone who was already dead. My uncle, who is also a racecar driver (people who have varied experiences tend to become writers or estate sale workers) concurred. "But when you're 17, you think you're bulletproof," he remarked. "I didn't when I was a teenager," I pointed out. But I am kind of unusual in being a turkey, which doubtless has limited my achievements.

I found out recently that a high school acquaintance of mine now owns a company that organizes red carpet events in California, and he occasionally posts pictures on his Instagram account of him grinning alongside various recognizable celebrities. When I alluded to this, my uncle remarked that he had been in a wedding with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. Naturally, I requested more details.

At that time Monty was on the pit crew for a team racing at Road Atlanta, and Paul Newman was there--some people aren't aware of the fact that Newman was an extremely talented car driver (Monty contends that he would have been ranked with the likes of Mario Andretti had he not pursued film acting as a primary career). The emergency medical services team at Road Atlanta was housed in a building with a bird painted on the side. Known familiarly as the Quack Shack, the medical facility was also a major social hub after hours. The evening in question there was a truly happy social event being put together--two of the medical personnel were getting married to each other. The door opened and Newman walked in, saying something to the effect of "I heard this was a good place to have fun"--and one of the nurses – a friend of the bride, who had joked that she would like Paul Newman to walk her down the aisle – boldly asked him if he would in fact give the bride away. And he said yes. Not long thereafter, Joanne Woodward came in looking for her husband. She asked him if they had any plans for the evening, and he said yes, he was going to be in a wedding. She looked the bride up and down and announced, "You need flowers!" The bride was all fluttery--she had totally forgotten about that little detail– and Miss Woodward went out to the Newmans' camper and fetched the fresh flowers that she had just had delivered (apparently a daily ritual) and brought them back as a bridal bouquet. So, my uncle was in a wedding with Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward. He said that Mr. Newman was willing to talk about cars all day long, but not about anything related to his Hollywood career.

We're setting up a decidedly un-glamorous estate sale. Actually the costume jewelry is rather glamorous. It was a surprise discovery Saturday. Everything else is very conventional, not terribly high quality, and we don't expect it to be a tremendous success, but some of the costume jewelry is truly red carpet worthy– signed clip earrings from the 1940s and 50s studded with dazzling rhinestones. Probably a quarter of what we make at the sale will be from the box of jewelry we found. Sadly there were about 10 pairs that didn't have mates (and they were some of the prettiest ones). Another 10 sets needed repair, but that's what I'm here for! I'm also supposed to be doing some repairs for my old estate sale company – just this evening my dear former boss sent me a picture of an art deco piece (in pieces) that she plans to mail to me tomorrow.

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