Full disclaimer…I make no claims as an expert. However, these were my musings that became a sort of “revelation” which I felt compelled to share.
In 1998, the Steven Spielberg film “Saving Private Ryan” was released and quickly assumed its place as one of the most highly regarded war films of all time. To this day, it is still revered for its graphically accurate portrayal of war and in-depth character development. If you have never seen it, I would highly recommend it; but this article isn’t meant to be a film critique, so here is a quick synopsis.
Immediately following the invasions of D-Day, Captain John Miller of the US Army Ranger is called upon for a special, albeit questionable, mission. Somewhere in Nazi-occupied Normandy, Private James Francis Ryan has been dropped with the 101st Airborne Division. Unknown to him at the time, Ryan is the last of four brothers, his three siblings having just recently all been killed in action. Captain Miller has been tasked with leading a squad across the French countryside to find Ryan and bring him home. Now, without giving much of the plot away (SPOILER ALERT), the team manages to find Ryan, but not without suffering significant losses. Towards the end of the movie, after a battle of cinematic proportions, Miller pulls Ryan in and provides him with a single terse directive. After so much sacrifice to see Ryan home safely, his statement is simple…
Earn this. Earn it.
Now, at this point, I’m sure you are asking yourself, “Cecil, where exactly are you going with this?”
While not in the same boots as Ryan, by serving the public, we too have been provided a gift de facto which we must strive to earn AFTER it has been bestowed upon us.
Let’s fast-forward 80 years from 1941 t0 2021 to frame this a little better. In a scenario not uncommon to my fellow flight crews, we were recently called to a local hospital for the interfacility transfer of a critically ill pediatric patient. At 4 months old, this tot had spent most of his life in a hospital, having experienced significant complications following his grand entrance to the world. After just a few days home, the parents were forced to return to the ER after a rapid development of respiratory distress. Fortunately, the staff at the ER had very effectively treated and stabilized him before our arrival. At this point, the patient required transport back to the specialty hospital where he was just discharged from with ongoing monitoring to ensure there were no hiccups along the way. That’s where we come into play, but as always, Murphy gets his say too. Due to prevailing weather conditions in the area, the only way to accomplish this mission was on an IFR flight plan. As I’m sure many of you are familiar with it, I will provide a brief TLDR explanation of what exactly that means. Instrument flight rules (IFR) flight requires extensive planning on the pilot’s part for contingencies and routes as he will be flying “blind” in the clouds. One essential piece of the puzzle is fuel. The aircraft must be loaded with enough fuel to complete the flight and also have reserves to reach clear skies in event conditions further deteriorate. What else does fuel add to the equation, though? Weight. Due to this, our only course of action was to transport the child alone to this facility in a completely different state. The other side of the coin was a long and rough 5-6 hour ground transport.
So what happened? We walked into the ER, spoke with the ER staff and parents. We copied down the report and transferred interventions to our equipment. 15 minutes and we were back out the door en route to the destination with our new friend. We were about halfway through the flight when it was as if a thousand-pound anvil of realization hit me square in the face. I did not know this child. We weren’t distant cousins. I had never met the parents before. They had never met me. I was not interviewed before the trip. Heck, they didn’t even ask for a resume to look at. I walked into the hospital a complete stranger and walked out with their child, bearing all of the responsibilities that came with him. How is that possible? Why didn’t mom and dad put up a fight and demand to go along and accompany their only child?
So, here’s the nitty-gritty meat and potatoes of my point. The day you put on the patch, badge and helmet, scrubs, or whatever else is appropriate to your field…people expect more. The public and our patients expect more. Fire Chief John Eversole once said…
“Our department takes 1,120 calls every day. Do you know how many of the calls the public expects perfection on? 1,120. Nobody calls the fire department and says, ‘Send me two dumb-ass firemen in a pickup truck.’ In three minutes they want five brain-surgeon decathlon champions to come and solve all their problems.”
Not only do they expect it, but they believe it. They trust you. On the worst day of their lives, a complete stranger has called upon you to help them. Or their loved one. Their child. They trust that you can and that you will appropriately. You did not ask for it, and you did not work for it beyond accepting a job offer. But that morning, when you got dressed for work, you donned it right along with your uniform. You assumed that trust. So what must we do? You guessed it…
To be continued in Part II…”What Are You Prepared to Do?”