Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Situational Awareness

Remember the part in Peter Jackson's adaptation of The Return of the King when Frodo is a prisoner in the Tower of Cirith Ungol? Even if you don't know the name, you remember the part. He wakes up, realizes the ring is missing, and an orc pops up through a trap door in the floor. As Shagrat gloats over his opportunity to despoil and kill Frodo (or deliver him to the Eye), he gasps and we see the point of an Elvish blade come out through his chest. Sam has come up behind him and impaled him on Sting.

That orc? Yeah, that's me.

Not literally, of course. I didn't play the role, but Jessika has used the term "oblivious" to describe me more times than I can remember (though probably fewer than I deserve).

This morning I went through my usual routine of snoozing the alarm, showering, starting the coffee, and sitting at my computer at the kitchen table until Zoe's wakeup time. I helped get her ready for school (clothing, breakfast, drink), and finshed my process of getting ready. I also watched Jessika as she poured a giant travel mug of coffee, mixed chocolate and milk into it to make a homemade mocha, and set it on the counter to take to school with her. Halfway to school, she looks over at me and says, "I forgot my freakin' coffee." Now, I watched all of her preparation take place, and at no point during our process of walking out the door, did I ever see her coffee on the counter. In fact, my last recognition that it even existed was when she was making it. My tunnel vision is so complete that I was no help at all in remembering the coffee. Generally, I feel good if I remember my lunch and my security badge for work.

To be fair, she pointed out that it's not my responsibility to help her remember her own things. Jessika is pretty cool this way. She takes responsibility for herself, and she expects others to do the same for themselves. But I'm pretty sure that she could've set $500 on the counter instead of her coffee mug, and I still wouldn't have noticed it. Zoe could have been wearing mismatched shoes and socks, and I wouldn't have noticed. I try to remind myself to pay attention to life going by around me, but the only way I remember is to write it down. Most of the time, though, I don't remember to look at things I've written down. I'm a mess.

When I was a kid, we had a giant mutt of a dog named Chewy. We didn't have a fenced-in yard (I didn't understand at the time, but I think we didn't have the money for it.), so my dad hooked up a long wire runner between two trees in the backyard. We could attach Chewy's leash to the runner, and he could dash madly back and forth across the yard. As often as I had to duck to get under it, one would think that I'd gain some kind of awareness of the runner as a constant in the back yard. Not true, though. Unless I saw it, I couldn't remember to duck. One particularly bad incident left me with a grease mark across my eyes and no glasses. We never found those glasses, in fact. They flew into the woods when I ran into the wire, and we never saw them again. I'm sure it was amusing on some level to watch my sprinting form go horizontal before landing roughly on my back, though. Amusing because there was no serious injury, and slapstick is just funny.

Basically, I'm the kind of guy who could get flattened by a bus while texting and walking across the street.

To compensate for my lack of awareness, I've learned to become a creature of habit and paranoia. I suspect that my paranoia keeps me alive and relatively uninjured. When I lose that paranoia or stray from my habits, I invite disaster.

I once came literally inches from serious injury (possibly death, to be totally frank) when I was working in construction. As I worked on a deck that stood about 20 feet above the ground, I found myself in a situation where I needed to use a circular saw to cut off the top of a 6 x 6 post at the corner of the deck. If you know anything about circular saws, you'll know that the blade does not extend deep enough to cut through a post that big in one pass. The only way to make that cut with a circular saw is to cut each of the four sides. Your off cut will still be attached by a small amount of wood in the middle that the blade could not reach. Grab a hammer, and hit the off cut. Voila. Not pretty, but we were using the posts as a core for a cedar facade, so the post didn't need to be pretty.

Not a good day.
That post in the center of the picture? That's the spot.

I probably could have used a reciprocating saw to achieve similar results. I could have gotten an extension ladder to reach the outside of the post. There are probably other solutions. My solution was to lean out over the edge of the deck with the circular saw to make the outer cut. To be fair, I was encouraged by my boss to do it this way, and I have an incessant need to please my bosses, but I still made a conscious decision to follow those instructions. 

While making the cut, my fleece sweater got too close to the blade. And by too close, I mean touched. My sweater was pulled in. I don't really know how close I came to falling off the deck, or how close the blade got to cutting me open. My sweater was destroyed, cut open across the belly, and it happened because of my tunnel vision. I was more concerned with the objective than I was with how I would get there. I had poor situational awareness of my own body and clothing, I could potentially have paid the ultimate price. Getting to an emergency room would have meant a 30 minute drive in the back of a pickup truck, so it would definitely have been the worst day of my life, one way or another.

I like to think that I would stand up to my boss if I were in the same situation again. But here's the frustrating thing. I'm probably the only person from the job site that day who would have had that accident. I could have handed the saw to my boss, and he would have made the cuts and then poked fun at me for being afraid to do it. 

But all these experiences have built my paranoia to the point where it's like an impregnable shield of fear and insecurity. 

The upside? I don't stub my toes when I walk around dark rooms.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous10:45 PM

    I see a lot of myself in this.