Friday, March 25, 2011

Fatigue and aging can be dangerous

It was a cool March afternoon, approximately 4:00 p.m. when my wife and I returned to the car from a shopping trip for gifts for family for an upcoming trip to her home, where we would be staying. We had seniors, adults teens and pre-teens on our list to buy for. We had a list of potential outlets whose merchandise we had surveyed for different trips over the years, and found one or two new retail outlets for our perusal.
Those for whom we were making the shopping venture are ones for whom we care deeply as they do us.
One of their number has been recently diagnosed with a serious illness, and there is uncertainty about the prognosis. We were taking some extra care in our inspections, reflections and decisions.
Having inadvertently left the "cards" necessary for the actual purchases in the car, I volunteered to return to the car, retrieve them and return to complete our purchase. It was a fifteen minute walk each way.
By the time we returned to our vehicle, we were both a little on the fatigue side of normal. We buckelled our seat-belts; I turned on the ignition and being parked along a main thoroughfare, turned the wheel out into the traffic lane, only to hear the screeching sound of a car horn, coming from a motorist whose vehicle had stopped about four inches from the driver's side door.
I had, in my fatigued state, neglected to check over my left shoulder to verify that there was no oncoming traffic, and now was quite literally shaking with embarrassment, shame, fear and not a little regret.
As I looked over my left shoulder, the large male driver was vigorously removing his seat-belt, getting out of his car and, at the top of his voice screaming, "You piece of shit" over my lame, and less violent but sincere, "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"
He returned to his driver's seat, slammed the door on his large older model car and sped off up a side street.
Needless to say, I was now still shaking, full of apologies to my partner and trying to get my breath, in order to make the trip from the shopping area back home.
Naturally, we are grateful for the driver's quick reaction time, bringing his vehicle to a complete stop. We are both aware that, as we age, we lose our edge more quickly when we are fatigued. Learning the limits of aging is one of those lessons "that keeps on giving" becuase the limits themselves continue to move, leaving smaller and smaller windows of opportunity for physical activity, and for completing the ordinary routines of life.
Rest, extra sleep, even in the middle or late afternoon, have become a norm after an early start.
Next time, I can only hope that I will look over that left shoulder, before beginning to move the car into traffic.
Something else...the intensity of the reaction of the other motorist leaves me wondering about what kind of day he must have been having. What kind of pressure is he living under, to which my error added another layer? What kind of world is it where the tension is the dominant theme, including the anger, frustration and bitterness that poured from his larynx at that critical moment?
When we returned home, there was a story on television of the dismissal of an airtraffic controller for sleeping on his shift, making it necessary for two pilots, one from American Airlines, the other from United, to land their passenger jets at Reagan International Airport in Washington D.C. Both pilots had attempted in vain to rouse the control tower to facilitate their landing, and had decided to land, as if the airport were unsecured, or unattended, which, for all intents and purposes, it was. Both landings, thankfully, were without incident.dan
While I am very sad for that dismissed controller, I can easily understand how he must also be weary, working under exhausting conditions, having watched the numbers in his work pool drop, to save money.
We are all very weary for hundreds of reasons. And there is little relief in sight. Expectations of everyone have risen, for all people in all situations, with less and less "gas in the proverbial shock-absorbers" to provide forgiveness, acceptance, tolerance, and even mutual respect.
We are a "gimme" society whose "gimme's" are insatiable! We are a society whose tolerance for error is eroded. We are a society whose patience with difference with with pain and with most suffering is minimal.
It certainly is not at all like the society I knew when I began my career some decades ago. It has changed, in may ways, for the better. Yet  our interractions seem to have slipped into the kind of cultural model that the large cities like New York and London and Mumbai might be noted for.
I recall a book by Michelle Landsberg, on her time living in New York, while her husband Stephen Lewis was Canadian ambassador to the United Nations. It was then for her a rainy day, on a busy thoroughfare in the bustling city, when she waited for a taxi. As one came to a stop in front of where she was standing, she reached out to open the rear door, only to find herself pushed away by another woman in a huge hurry, who opened the door, got in, and as she was closing the door, shouted, "This is New York, honey!" at the ambassaror's wife. The taxi sped off leaving Ms Landsberg, mouth gaping, standing in traffic in the pouring rain.

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