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Training Day

Posted 30 November 2004, 12.00 am by Duncan-O

I feel glad I drank an extra cup of coffee as I unbutton my green woodland-pattern fatigues and pull on a pair of powder-blue OR scrubs. It's my first day training in the burn ward at Brooks Army Medical Center--indeed my first day training in any hospital--and I'm still rubbing sleep from my eyes in the hopes of not making any mistakes. I'm having a little trouble pulling the surgical shoe covers on over my combat boots so I stumble a little when my hand shoots up at the call for two volunteers. The RN fixes her steely eyes first on Private First Class Kamena, then on me.

"Are you ready?" she asks? We both answer in the affirmative. "Good. Prepare yourselves for what you're going to see." She ushers us around the corner to the OR anteroom and all thoughts of caffeine are driven from my mind. Through the observation window, I see a naked man lying on the table. My eyes are drawn away from his blistered face, away from the charred, yellow-white patches indicating 3rd degree burns covering his body, and to the fasciotomy cuts running from his ankles to his groin and to his hips.

One of the many complications caused by a major burn is twofold: swelling and a loss of elasticity in the skin. In the limbs, this can cause a tourniquet-like effect that cuts off blood flow and eventually life in the extremities. The only way to relieve the pressure is to incise the skin the entire length of the burn.

The patient has similar cuts along his arms and torso. His insides are laid bare through the incisions; muscle, bone, blood vessels, and fatty subcutaneous tissue exposed to the air. A necrotic mass of tissue hangs out of his lower leg where dead muscle was already removed because of the danger of infection.

"We need your help in there, quickly," the RN's voice pulls my attention back to her already masked face. "I assume you know how to put on a pair of surgical gloves?" I wonder what I could possibly do to help this patient. I've trained to be a combat medic--tourniquets and CPR is about the extent of my knowledge. Following her closely, I glance at the ID placard on the door. PFC_______, 23. Burns over 80% of his body. He's my rank but a few years younger. I briefly wonder about his family.

The OR is hot, over 92 degrees. Hypothermia is another major danger to burn patients--they have lost their protective layer of insulation. I'm anxious to do anything to help--start an I.V., draw blood, monitor vitals--anything within my limited scope of knowledge.

"Stand at the feet and raise his legs when I tell you to. He has to be scrubbed for surgery." I gingerly take hold of the patient's ankles, taking care to avoid aggravating the fasciotomies. Ruefully, I consider the futility of my gesture since his legs are scheduled for amputation at the knee. As I lift the patient's legs above my head, a piece of equipment attached to his toe snags and pulls free. I feel like kicking myself but I inform the doctor that I just removed the pulse oxymeter.

"Don't worry. We'll deal with it," he responds.

The patient is a large one and his legs are heavy. I start to sweat from the effort and the heat in the room. I notice that other than his genitals and a narrow swathe of his chest, his feet are the only part of his body left unburned, probably protected by his own boots. Finally the nurse is done washing him off, and I lower his legs.

I stand to one side, out of the way as the room begins to fill with personnel. The RN tells us we can leave at any time, but my eyes are glued to the events unfolding in front of me.

"Blair blade," one doctor seated by the patient's left arm says with his hand extended behind him. This part, I think to myself, is just like TV. The assistant hands him the tool. It's basically a straight razor affixed to an adjustable guard so it can be employed like a cheese slicer, and this is exactly what the doctor proceeds to do. Off comes after layer after layer, not unlike peeling a potato. The doctor carefully slices a tattoo off of the patient's upper arm and then answers my question with a terse, "This is called an escharotomy. The dead skin must be stripped away--we shave until it bleeds." And bleed it does. Towel after towel gets soaked through, and soon the doctor gives up reaching for the hamper and drops them on the floor as they need to be replaced. Despite the presence of the red biohazard trash can, wasted scraps of skin begin to pile up on the floor and table.

Another pair of doctors is at work on the patient's legs. Apparently the burns are too severe to save the skin, so one is using an electric scalpel to remove patches of flesh the size and thickness of steaks from his thighs. The smell of burning flesh permeates my own mask and a thin haze of smoke hangs in the light of the overhead lamps. I glance at the monitor and marvel to myself how his pulse and blood pressure can hold steady even as they strip him of his skin.

I move to the other side of the room in order to gain a different perspective. On a side table, an OR technician is hard at work over something that looks like a miniature printing press. "What are those?" I ask, pointing to the rubbery grayish sheets he's feeding through it.

"Allografts--cadaver skin," he answers. His eyes grinning over his surgical mask, he holds a slightly darker one up and says, "See? It comes in all different colors." Thump-thump-thump and another sheet comes out, four times its original area and perforated to allow for fluids to flow. Yet another doctor hands the tech a similar-looking sheet of skin. I turn to see where this one came from, and I see him running a palm-sized stainless steel instrument across one of the few unburned patches of the patient's chest. This is how autografts are made--they are removing the last remaining virgin skin from the patient to graft it to where it's desperately needed.

The pace in the OR picks up. A sense of urgency prevails in the room as the team of six doctors moves in closer around the patient. It is time to staple the grafts in place and they must not be allowed to dry. "Allo! I need more allografts!" the call is repeated again and again. Hundreds of surgical staples need to be punched into the patient's flesh in order to secure this many skin grafts, and the disposable staplers contribute to the refuse on the floor, organic and otherwise. One doctor slips on the blood and other fluids puddling underneath the OR table as he hurriedly wraps a bandage around one leg.

And a nurse walks through the door. "Doctor, Mr.______'s mother is here. Is there someone who can talk with her?"

It all comes crashing home to me. This patient, this clinical exhibit, is the joy in someone's heart. He is someone's beautiful son, barely a man, and a cherished gift in her life as his own hangs by a thread and a prayer. Please God, don't let her come in here! Don't let her come in here and see this grisly display, this charnel house that claws at the mind and makes it beg to be released from reason. Don't let her see the light of her life sliced apart and flayed in the name of medicine!

"Not for at least another hour," the doctor responds.

Soon, it is done. I help move the man onto a clean gurney, the last time I will ever touch him. Later on, Kamena and I practice drawing blood on each other, but all I can manage is a couple of halfhearted sticks. What was novel a month ago now seems like child's play. I laid my hands on my first patient, a man who desperately needed help, and I could do nothing for him.

What Are We Good For?

Posted 26 November 2004, 8.00 am by Villager

Well well. I suppose after my little outburst you're all expecting me to come up with something ambitious, something grand, something of a higher standard than I normally spout. Something interesting, at least. Which raises the question of what exactly I am hoping to achieve when I share my thoughts with others. I'm not going to attempt originality, epic, brilliance, because I'm bound to fail and there's not much benefit to be had from achieving those things, save as a salve to my skulking ego. All I'm going to attempt is the communcation of my thoughts, feelings and understandings, whatever form these may take. What follows is a general statement of my mind, though it can be read in relation to my previous post. Without further ado:

One of the things that really irks me about the modern world is low nature of virtually all popular culture. This weekend I attended a series of lectures on Shakespeare and Spirituality (I'm no obsessive, but I had little else planned). My earliest memories of English literature are of MacBeth, and in my youth I was intrigued by how well thought out, how insightful, how well crafted, how effective it all was. It occurs to me that in the years that followed I've studied nothing that really threatened to raise the standard set centuries ago. Artistic movements come, they go, and fall into history. Fast forward to 2004 and though our cultural heritage is great and vast, it's all we've got. We have nothing of our own. A great variety of dull has descended upon popular culture. Contemporary intellectualism is elitist, self-serving and pretentious. If the onslaught of modernity was accompanied by something even vaguely resembling an intellectual progression then I could bring myself to forgive the rest of the sordid mess.

What of recent fame has resounded as thoroughly as Shakespeare? What we have of our own creation is voyeuristic "reality" shows, superficial talent contests, art which exists largely for it's own self-pity, films which seldom bother to even try reaching above the commercialism of sheer entertainment, literature which is obsessed with the unashamedly physical, idolisation of sports stars, singers and the rest of the dubious celebrity for their distinctly narrow prowess, and so on. Even that shining light of modernity, music, lies stricken. Perhaps the greatest evidence for our overawing frivolity is the absolute irrelevance of culture when the world makes big decisions. Culture, if such a thing can be approximated, exists only for purposes of entertainment and distraction. That it has largely always been so is true, but never has such a glut of useless and pathetic activity fouled upon our senses.

This is not, of course, for want of great thinkers. It is to my mind nigh impossible to succeed with ambitious and meaningful thought and expression not because nobody's trying, but because nobody's listening. They're all getting drunk, fucking, consuming, dribbling their lives away with superficiality and not a moment's thought. And they're quite happy to do so. I scour the papers, the museums, the net, yet with the odd, lonely exception I am left with no choice but to return to
the ancient heritage for engaging thought. Is this because there's nothing left to say? Has human intellectual progress peaked and slipped into an irreversible decline? Or has society closed its collective ears because we've heard it all before, so we might as well get on with partying before the lights go out?

I don't believe we've exhausted our creative and intellectual juices. That the canon of artistic history remains unchallenged is indeed partly because the canon carries enduring truths, and because what replaces the old is different only in degree. Even if it could be imagined that we've reached saturation, it would then be time to act upon our collective nous and create some kind of utopia. Or, at least, create something. Yet we just bumble through, no guiding hand of thought shaping the development of our world, no thought in our actions, no soul in our thought. The problem lies in communication as much as it does product. Great thought is for nought if it can't leave the thinker.

Why is this of concern to me? In short, because I see a tragic waste of potential. Potential that has existed for millennia but comes to a point now when we all have the greatest opportunity to use it, free of the constraints of illiteracy, poverty and servitude. We are the masters of our own destinies, yet we are content to drift on by as though fate were something that happens to you. Perhaps it is the victory of the gibbering masses, stimulating themselves from the cradle to the grave, slaves to the ungodly dollar. I like to think it doesn't have to be this way; that those with understanding can awaken from torpor those who live in ignorance and denial. Perhaps that is no more than futile optimism. Certainly the idealism of one or even a thousand will not transform the world. But if we can suitably affect those around us then a ripple effect will be had, and many ripples make waves. Even if I and those of you who sympathise with my babbling fail, at least in our collective failure we'll have each other for company. In this, AKpCEP can be a microcosm, however tiny, of the best of humanity; that which endeavours to explore and maximise our potential as the best of God's creation (or otherwise, as you see fit).

In short - and this is my third paragraph begun with the intent to close - it saddens me to think that we should resign ourselves to living our lives according to the pitiful example given by those around and before us. It is inherent in my nature to try and shape a little bit of the world according to my idealism. That the attempt may well be doomed to at least some measure of failure is obvious, but that it is a worthy use of time regardless is undeniable. For those who desire the material and physical pleasures of life, I'll not impede you.

For those who aspire to something more, I hope our paths entwine.

Little Jimmy McShoey

Posted 21 November 2004, 11.30 pm by Ice_Queen

Nobody believed little Jimmy McShoey
when he said his puppy went “Kablooie!”

They all laughed when he’d stomp his feet
as he turned away, red as a beet

Little Jimmy lied and lied,
except the day his puppy died

He gave the puppy an explosive treat;
a firecracker that has never been beat

It fizzed and popped and sparkled a lot;
so much that he hid behind the cot

He thought he’d give his puppy some fun
he didn’t think the pup would run

Next to the fireplace his puppy landed
his belly expanded and expanded

Like a giant balloon the puppy did rise
near the ceiling fan to Jimmy’s surprise

The fan caught hold of the puppy’s tail
and Jimmy began to wail and wail

As the pup went flying through the air
sparks landed in little Jimmy’s hair

He ran and got a bucket of water
to keep his puppy from getting hotter

But little Jimmy was far too late
to stop his little puppy’s fate

For when he returned to the room
he found his puppy had gone “Kaboom!”


But nobody believed little Jimmy McShoey
when he said his puppy went “Kablooie!”

Wedding Vows

Posted 20 November 2004, 2.17 am by berly

Chris ripped open the box from GigantorBooksellerdotcom. He took the books out of their shipping box and then looked at me. I had never seen this look before. Then it happened.

He took the dust jackets from two brand new books and threw them in the trash.

Just.like.that.

I could hardly believe my eyes. He said “I know. You probably think I’m crazy. Everyone else that has ever seen me do that thinks so.” He further explained, “I can’t stand those covers. They get in my way.”

I’m going to marry him soon. All I could think of to say was “You won’t be doing that to my books, will you? Because I can’t deal with that. I mean, I could NEVER throw away the dust jacket of my books!”

He assured me that he would leave all of my dust jackets on the books, unless he decided to read one. In that case, he would put the jacket aside until he was finished.

It’s funny, because this incident happened at least six months ago. Yet, it fails to fade from my memory as so many other discussions/events do.

Sometimes I feel like his ritual shows just how much he appreciates a book for what it creates for the reader. Those things that can’t be touched or seen by anyone else.

I’ve often thought about asking friends “Have you ever heard of anyone throwing away the dust jacket from their books before?”

We aren’t writing our own vows or anything for the wedding. However, I’m not sure I can keep myself from modifying the script by saying: “I do, as long as you promise never ever to throw away any of the dust jackets of my books.”

Blood[y] Relations

Posted 18 November 2004, 9.32 pm by Macaroni

I could feel the storm brewing. Preparing for my family reunion was like watching an ominous weather report: “Hurricane Fiona has bypassed the Caribbean and is currently making its way over the Atlantic, heading right toward us . . . ” I imagined distant aunts and uncles packing their bags and sharpening their knives with lust in their eyes. They wanted their reckoning, and my self-imposed exile from them would be the main topic of their questions, but my answers would not be accommodating. I never felt close to my family, and I rarely felt supported. I chose to let the people who were close to me, my friends who have earned it, be my family. To me, family is a designation earned, not inherited.
My distrust of blood relations probably started when I was very young. My earliest memories are of arguments between family members; heated discussions over trivial things, unnecessary violence, unnecessary rage. Growing up, I heard stories told in whispers of how this uncle had screwed this cousin out of a lot of money, or how that cousin was a lazy good-for-nothing bum. In spite of being indoctrinated into this family code of negativity and backstabbing, I was disgusted that people would choose to waste their time in such ways, especially on those who were supposed to be working for each other.
Adolescence was a difficult time for me, but I never found myself missing guidance as those who are in a similar position often do. When I needed support, it wasn’t anyone in my family I turned to, it was my close friends. I drew strength from people who shared my experiences and who saw me as a human being of worth, rather than someone’s sister’s son, which by blood meant an obligation to care. My friends were the ones who let me open up to them, free to expose myself, no matter how ugly that unraveling may have been.
Over time, my distaste for family has been tempered by experiences which have shown me that there are some who genuinely care, not just because they would lose face if they openly acknowledged they didn’t. But those experiences have been rare, and my circumstance – living far away from most of them, having no brothers or sisters – probably has played a part in continuing my perception. In part because of these positive experiences, I decided to attend the reunion.
The occasion was held at the house of a family friend, neutral territory free from memories of past gatherings which had played a large part in how I felt about family in the first place. The gathering was casual, held mostly outdoors. It wasn’t long before the interrogation started.
My nosy aunt: “So how have you been keeping yourself busy these days? How come we never hear from you? You never return our calls.”
“When did you call?”
“I called your mother just before Christmas. I told her to tell you we said hi the next time she talked to you.”
“Mom told me that she called you just before Christmas, and that you never returned her call.”
“Yes, well...how is school?”
I realized something which I think I will hold close to myself for the rest of my life at that family reunion. My family genuinely believed they loved each other, and in many ways, they did. But what held them together, tenuous though their bond was, wasn’t about love as much as it was about survival. They needed each other to exist. They needed to feel superior to each other, but at the same time, to know that they would be there for each other. My feelings towards them became less hostile, but my beliefs about what family really is were solidified.
After dinner and what felt like endless torrent of half-hearted questions, I felt I had served a sufficient enough amount of time that I could leave without being seen as having slighted these people who meant so little to me. I immediately made my way to my real family, my friends.

Aspirations and Neglect: A Statement of Intent

Posted 13 November 2004, 2.57 am by Villager

I remember when, some years past, Alexander and I agreed that I would become a staff writer for his fledgling creation. It was an exciting time for me, I was still very naive and had lofty expectations of life and the world. Alex's notion of the website fit snugly with these expectations. I would post at least twice a week, we said. I had entered into a marriage which was to be the canvas for my yet-formed psyche. AKpCEP would nurture me, and I it, a noble and ambitious plan. Through the sharing of knowledge, ideas and understanding, a small website with a funny name would make a blot, however small, in the sea of ignorance and stupidity that surrounds us. Society had failed to educate us, so we must take life by the horns and educate ourselves and each other.

What fills the space between then and now can be readily seen in the archives, which will tell you that I have contributed more articles than anyone else (at least since the dec/01 wipe). Yet this is misleading, in that most of my use of this page has been for my own mistakes, exploration and inquiry, rather than genuine contribution. My use has perhaps been typical; furiously active at times, but usually dormant. Furthermore, I imagine all of you who posted in those early times have been disappointed with what developed over the years. I know I am, not least with my own efforts and results, but with the collective failure too. Great writings have lived on this page where now I babble, but they have been tragically few and far between. Have we achieved nothing? Those of us who remain from such times barely keep our accounts ticking over, new Grinders concern themselves not with the virtual graveyard known as the Front Page, the Shed just another space for pettiness and jokes about AIDS. The past two months boast five articles. Did AKpCEP die without funeral?

This may sound sad to those of you who understand not the purpose of this website, but AkpCEP has been one of the formative influences on my development as a young man. I grew up around dunces and laymen, yet yearned for something more. If nothing else, the interaction with others who aspired to knowledge and understanding - people who to this day I struggle desperately to find in my 'real' life - played a valuable and influential role. That I inflicted upon you regular, ill-conceived ramblings is coincidental to my own experience. I cannot speak for anyone else, but I would be shocked if nobody else had taken similar benefit. As for the future, who knows. I've barely contributed over the past year or so and frankly, neither has anyone else.

As with any system or idea, the results will only be as impressive as the efforts put into them. As a concept, AKpCEP is marvellous. In practice, it flourished then wilted. Personally, I have come to realise that such a hub, that can bring together such diverse and intelligent people, is invaluable in in such a fickle and materialistic world in denial of its own capacity. If the will exists to achieve the goals for which the site was conceived, then it will witness great things once more. I hereby state my own intent to stoke the intellectual embers of the Grinding community, and once again strive for an ideal that I believed in so fervently when I joined.

I do hope you'll join me.

Remember and Long

Posted 7 November 2004, 9.22 am by ArtemisKat

Walking into the gym and surveying the crowd, I wondered just where I fit into this group. I didn’t share the central interest which I believe to be held by at least three quarters of them. My life lacked much of the background of theirs and I certainly didn’t adhere to any of their weekly rituals anymore.

As I pressed through the crowd I ran into a woman I hadn’t seen in over a year (for an individual who has only lived 1/5 of a century, this is a long time). I believe the last time I saw her was actually on the day of her wedding. She’s had a baby girl since then, so I felt compelled to stop and talk with her about that. It was your general perfunctory conversation, and at the back of my mind there was a little voice screaming, “Just move on! Go find Her. You need to see Her!” Just instants after we began conversing, familiar arms wrapped around my waist and I felt as though a profound craving were satiated. Cries of “I get to hug her first” and “no it’s my-day” followed shortly thereafter and before I knew it, I was smothered in hugs by three individuals, one of which I’d cried myself to sleep for the lack of many a night in the recent past. The look of pain and loneliness that suddenly haunted the eyes of the young mother in front of me said more than I could stand. But, before I could do anything to try reviving our lost friendship, I was carried away by the individual whose touch I’d been longing for.

I missed Her. As a matter of fact, I noticed myself falling into a sort of a depression this fall as the time since we last talked face to face grew more distant. I’ve never been one to make friends easily, and even when I meet people with whom I could share large portions of my life, it generally takes a long time for me to get close to them. When I consider all that I do to keep people out, I’m amazed by the connection that She and I built in the mere span of high school. It was painful to see Her today. I looked upon Her face and in Her eyes and knew that time and distance changed us and even more so than us, it changed our relationship.

I don’t know when I’ve hugged one person so much in just one day. We spent almost no time alone together, and even less time talking one on one. While it was wonderful just spending time with Her, even with so many other people around, today was just a tease. There is no way that less than 12 hours could ever be enough time for us together, and I ache even more, knowing it’ll probably be months before I see Her face again and feel her warm arms around me-reminding me of the bond we share. Tears roll down my face as I remember past years and all the good times we’ve had, which can never be repeated. The days we once lived filled with our friendship, our sorrows and our joys. More tears follow as I think to the years ahead, which make up our separate futures.

It won’t be long now, perhaps two or three years, before I expect She too will be engaged. The next thing I know, I’ll be entering that gym again, crossing through a crowd I have little in common with, and whose rituals I have long ceased to partake of, in search of a different bride. On that day, my heart will well with joy for Her happiness and yet, my tears will be nearly impossible to check. I hope on that day, that none see pain and loneliness in my eye. I hope that time will bring us closer together again, so there are fewer friendships I look back upon, and find that I wish to rekindle the fire which fed them.

No Sleep for Dreaming

Posted 28 October 2004, 1.58 am by theGodFader

i escape alone
into illusion
embedded
in a blanket
of silent sound
with
a thousand
textures
of bliss.
the warm
endearment
of unconsciousness
soothes my intellect
with deliberate
ease….
my rational understanding
unravels
in a
calm and
measured
kind of fashion.
i drift
and imagine…
its therapy
as scenes
flow into
one another
in my
weary mind
like landslides,
easing the
pains of
lucid landscapes
and shaping
them ever
so gently
into a
candy-coated reality;
surreal and sweet….
here the
face of time
is blank,
leaving me
an untouched
white canvas
to mark
with memories
as i see fit.
these
three-dimensional
images
that embody
my curative
dreamscape
are the
only genuine
escape that
i have
ever known,
and it is
in this
state of mind
that i
can truly
lay my
head to rest.

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I truly believe that Vancouver has one of the most beautiful cityscapes. This photo was taken late in the afternoon. The way the sun was hitting the water almost brought me to tears. I think that someone should make this into a postcard that promotes our beautiful city.

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Props to Green Mamba for bringing the weirdness

Hmph

80s candy bars were pretty good

only because i traded it for a candy bar in the 80's.

lol we all know you don't have a soul ghoti

my soul for some carbs...

But of course!

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