Thursday, October 25, 2012

Before Brad@Home: Everyone remain calm, I'm not a doctor

EMT-B stands for Emergency Medical Technician - Basic.
Whenever you here a person say he is an EMT, this is what there are talking about.

There are technically 3 levels of EMT: B, I, and P. However, no one really goes for just I (intermediate) anymore; They go straight to P (Paramedic).

EMT-B was a 10 week course that met 2-3 times a week at Wright College the Winter of 2010. It was a standard college class, except for the labs and the practical tests. In the labs, we all took turns strapping each other to gurneys, diagnosing ailments our teachers gave to us, and resuscitating CPR Dummies.
The practical tests were similar, except that we didn't get 2nd chances.

It was actually really enjoyable-I learned how to put in a breathing tube, how to secure head trauma, how to extract potential spinal injuries from a car accident, how to do the basic checkup steps; it had a good combination of interesting content and potentially useful application--unlike a lot of my undergrad and graduate studies.

It was also a lot of work. I was constantly studying or doing homework. I made hundreds of flash cards. All my time was taken up with EMT class, exercising, and work. Meanwhile, my wife was getting slowly, but obviously more pregnant.

I learned a lot from the course. Out of the 22 students who started in my class, 10 passed. I was told I got the highest grade in our class.

Of course, I just allowed that to make me haughty and insufferable when it came to minor medical conditions. Really, just another subject to add to that list.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Before Brad@Home: Amazing Feats of Strength and Agility

I had never really been “sporty.” In elementary school I stood on a field and stared at the sky while a bunch of other kids in matching uniforms played soccer around me. In junior high, I managed to make it on the football team thanks to a growth spurt that left me larger than almost everyone else. In High School I wrestled till I tore a tendon in my shoulder. In college, friends invited me to play basketball with them, mostly for the humor value.
After I graduated, I did enough to stay attractive to members of the opposite sex. After I got engaged, my wife and I did the least amount of training required to do Sprint-length Triathlons, mostly as incentive to look good in wedding pictures. We actually did keep it up until she had the blood clot issues.

When I decided to embark upon the Fire Fighter adventure, I realized I would have to get to a different level of fitness. After a little bit of research, I decided that the p90x routine seemed the best routine to cover all the bases. The workouts are excellent, but the schedule (if you stick to it strictly) is daunting. Between 2009 and 2011, I did the first 5 weeks of the routine easily half dozen times.

When I walked into the CPAT facility, I had also been taking EMT classes for a month or so, along with my marriage and my full-time job. You could say that I was burning the candle with a butane torch.

They start off with a short orientation video that explains what to expect-in case you don’t know how Google works. The CPAT is a times test. You have 10 min and 20 seconds to finish 8 exercises. Since the first event is a stair climb that lasts 3 min, you really have 7 min and 20 seconds to finish 7 exercises—assuming you make it off the stair machine. With one exception, you can never run in or between exercises.

I was led into the testing facility, a basketball-court sized room filled with intimidating apparatus. I talked a bit with some of the other men testing. Every one of them had some story directly related to Fire Service: switching between departments, just having graduated from Fire Academy, part of a Fire Fighting legacy. Just before my turn, the judges had me put on a helmet, work gloves, and a 50 lb vest that I would have to wear for the duration of the test to simulate the normal Firefighting gear.  I sat down in a molded plastic chair and watched the person in front of me finish up the stair climb.

Exercise 1 was the Stair Climb. As my turn came up, the judges put an additional 20 lbs on my shoulders, to simulate a High Rise pack, for a grand total of 70 lbs. I got on the stair machine for a 20 second “warm up” that I didn’t want (but luckily didn’t count toward the overall time). When the warm up period was over, the stair speed increased to 1 step every second, with I had to keep up for 3 minutes. I sang a slow Be Thou My Vision in my head to the beat of my steps, mostly to distract myself, but partly to keep rhythm. By the end, my legs were shaking and I was gulping air.

I got a 5 seconds break as the judges removed the additional 20 lbs. The judge assigned to follow me through the test followed me as I moved to the next event. He reminded me that I was not allowed to run between events (not that I could have) and started telling me the rules of the next exercise. My brain registered that he was speaking, though his words seemed a barely coherent and mostly ignored mash.

Exercise 2 was the Hose Drag—the only event where I would be allowed to run. I picked up a fire hose, threw an end over my shoulder and ran—really a slightly faster walk—30 feet, where I took a 90 degree turn around a barrel and ran another 30 feet to the goal. Once I passed the goal, I turned, dropped to one knee, and pulled the rest of the hose to me. I didn’t watch it come, just waited for my brain to register that the judge said stop. My knees wobbled as I stood to move to the next exercise.

Exercise 3 was the Equipment Carry. One at a time, I took a chainsaw and a concrete saw off a shelf and put them on the ground. Then I picked them both up, one in each hand, and carried them in a 50 ft loop. Then I put them both on the floor and, one-at-a-time, put them back on the shelf.

Exercise 4 was the Ladder Raise. I picked an extension ladder off the ground and raised it up against a wall by walking my hands up the rungs, one by one. I was not allowed to skip any rungs. Once it was up, I used the rope to raise the extension up and lower it again in a controlled manner.

Exercise 5 was the Breach. I picked up a 2-handed sledge and began beating it against a contraption meant to simulate the effort needed to beat down a door. Once I’d delivered the necessary force, a buzzer went off and I carefully put the sledge back.

Exercise 6 was the Search. I dropped down on all fours and crawled into a tunnel. Once past the initial entry point, it was black. It is a 50 ft crawl over, around, and under obstacles in the pitch. The hardest part was resisting the urge to just lie in the dark.

Exercise 7 was the Rescue Carry.  Any rest I’d gotten in the Search tunnel (not much) was lost as I grabbed a 130 lb dummy by a harness and dragged it in a 50 ft loop. There is really no comfortable way to do that while also wearing a 50 lb pack.

Exercise 8 was the Ceiling Breach and Pull. 1 set consists of using a fireman’s pike to push a 60 lb plate up 3 times and then pull a 80 lb weighted hinge down 5 times. To pass this exercise, I needed to complete 4 repetitions. As I started my 4th repetition, I ran out of time.

My judge immediately took the weight off my back and led me into a side room to cool down. I paced around the room, gasping air and swallowing a lot lactic acid, trying not to be sick. A judge waited behind a small table. He reminded me that I was entitled to retest as long as I could take it before the end of the day. Once I had settled down enough, I signed my form confirming that I failed and drove home.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Before Brad@Home: There are only so many hours...

So I jumped headfirst into a seemingly very shallow pool.

First, I went to every Fire Departments website within 30 miles of my home, which is quite a few. I found which would be doing testings for their fire lists and started applying. Within a few days I found 2 or 3 websites dedicated to following that sort of thing, so I would get alerts without having to do so much legwork.

Next, I bought several books on preparing for firefighting tests and took some practice tests on the web. Luckily, most fire departments don't expect you to know anything about Fire Service for the actual tests. It is mostly spacial awareness, memory, math skills, logic skills, and deductive reasoning.

Then, after looking through the options for getting other qualifications out of the way, I signed up to take a EMT course. The vast majority of Fire Fighters in Illinois are also trained as Paramedics. I did some research and signed up to start my EMT course in January of 2010.

Finally, I'd been working out before, and my wife and I had done some short Triathlons before she'd had her clotting issues,  but I'd have to step it up. Initially, I focused on just the skills I would need in order to pass the physical exam. Almost every fire department in the Greater Chicagoland area uses a physical exam called the CPAT - Candidate Physical Ability Test. This allows someone pursuing a Fire Service career to take 1 physical test and apply it to countless departments. That's very helpful. Unfortunately, while the test technically never expires, most departments have a requirement that you have passed the test within the last calendar year-some as soon as within the last 6 months.

Getting ready for the physical test was my first big hurdle. I started this process in very late 2009, and I believe I signed up to take the test in February of 2010. The first department to which I felt I could be ready to apply tested in March.

All this meant my wife had to do a lot of the preparations for the baby. I helped where I could, but I was often busy. There is no way for me to explain how much she helped or how much it meant to me, and I'm afraid I didn't thank her sufficiently for it at the time.
Or since, really.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Before Brad@Home: A beginning fraught with limitations

In Illinois, Firefighting is a Big Deal.

The City of Chicago Fire System is considered one of the prestigious Fire Departments in the country. To bolster this point, there is a new show coming onto TV with Chicago Fire as the setting. I think part of the prestige comes from the history of fire in the city, originating with Old Lady Leery's cow-a rhyme that I learned in elementary school in California (and I've heard isn't true).
The City of Chicago has its own process for becoming a FireFighter, not the least part of which is a very strict residency requirement. I decided that I would instead focus on the suburbs.

Every suburban department has some structure in place for creating a list of potential applicants, we will discuss some of these as we talk about specific departments. Mostly, you take written exams, pass a physical, and go through an interview. If they like you, you're put on a list of candidates. Otherwise, the Suburbs subscribe to the general Illinois guidelines. The most troubling to me was the age restriction. 

Once you have turned 35 you can no longer apply to any Fire departments. When I started looking into this, I was 33.

The upside is that, once you are on a list, it doesn't matter how old you are. The downside is that all suburban departments reset lists ever 2 years. The City of Chicago, by way of comparison, doesn't test for lists as often, but when they do, you are on the list indefinitely.

After talking to my wife and not praying about it enough, I made a list of the things I needed to accomplish as quickly as possible. This was the list:

1. Start applying to Fire Departments immediately.
2. Get in shape - fast
3. Learn as much as I can about firefighting for the tests.
4. See if there are any prereq's I can get out of the way that will make me look more attractive.

What I didn't think about, but have alluded to in these little discourses, is that I didn't turn enough of this process over to Christ. I prayed, I got advice from Godly people, but I didn't really turn my heart to what God wanted for me. I wanted him to support what I was doing. 
By his grace, he used this process to gently break me.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Before Brad@Home: Due to Care of Tiny Humans

The threat of becoming partially responsible for the care and development of a tiny human drove me to consider a career change.
Initially, all I was looking for was something that would give us more flexibility in regards to our family. My wife and I both worked full-time and have a mortgage to pay. We discussed the option of one of us staying home. I will admit that I wanted to--intensely--but offered the option to my wife. She was not sure she wanted to leave the working world; she is far more skilled at navigating and succeeding there than I. She is a hardworking, capable, intelligent woman who has an excellent ability to problem solve. She also has a much better background for business life.
I still wanted to leave the door open to either of us, as opportunity arose, but after looking into our finances a bit, we determined that one of us not working was simply not feasible, at least not anytime soon. So other options needed to be considered.
My wife really liked her job, and I didn't want her to have to leave it, also my work situation was far from ideal at the time; so I went out to find some sort of occupation that would pay similarly to what I was currently making but give me more time at home.
Firefighting is something that had been coming up in my life over the last 15 years. Out of college, a friend of mine had suggested it as an option, when we were trying to figure out what to do with ourselves. I had looked into it then, but didn't feel capable of pursuing it due to some knee issues I was having. Within the last few years, I had a friend who was pursuing firefighting himself and often confided in me on his progress. So it wasn't strange that Firefighting came into my head as a possible choice.

My wife and I talked about it. It made similar enough income to what I currently made, and would allow me to be at home during daytime hours on a more consistent basis. Also, it really appealed to my sense of learning and adventure. 
My wife was understandably hesitant. Firefighting is dangerous and we were about to have a family. After some more discussion, she decided that, if it were the Lord's will to get me this job, He would also protect me.

With that, I began doing in-depth research on what it would take to become a Illinois Firefighter.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Before Brad@Home: Monkey in a Diaper

The news of my wife's pregnancy was a joyous and blessed occasion which I ruined.
When my wife's belly appeared on the screen, I gaped like a lobotomy patient. The sun was just rising, and I had (despite my preparation) a mildly plane hangover. Also, as our baby plans were still officially a year or so off, I wasn't quite prepared.
I moment passed as I thought, "Is that monkey in a diaper?"
My coffee hadn't taken effect really either.
Once the caffeine hit the cortex, I believe the conversation went something like this:

Blinking into the computer with dawning comprehension, I said "Wait...really?"
My wife's head drops into frame, the head of the baby-picture is still visible. "Yeah, I found out last night and the doctor confirmed it this morning."
"Uh, wow."
My wife is beaming, "Yeah, pretty crazy, huh?
"Yeah, how does this affect your blood clot situation?"

A few months before, we'd done a sprint-length triathlon and she had started to feel lethargic and odd. She pushed through it and finished the race, but it was strangely hard for her--considering that she had done 2 other such triathlons over the last few years and had no such issue. When the feeling didn't pass, she began what would be a series of pokes and prods from doctors, and various MRIs to discover that she had a small battalion of blood clots in both of her legs. She had no history of blood clots up until this point. See, my wife had been taking a medication called YAZ, which seems to have a few unfortunate and seriously intense side-effects. There are currently multiple lawsuits pending. 
They found the majority in her upper legs and thighs, but dozens of little dots showed up in her lungs as well. We were told that her lungs were taking care of it so far, breaking down the clots before they could become a big problem.
He put her on medication and explicitly warned us that the medication my wife was taking was very bad for pregnancies. We assured him at the time that we had no immediate plans to have kids.

So, in regards to the baby news I was hearing, it was definitely something that needed to be discussed, but as I watched the excited light slowly dim in my wife's eyes over the wonders of the Internet, it occurred to me that I could have waited a bit before bringing it up.

When I say it occurred to me, I mean days later. In the moment, I kept pushing. 

She had stopped taking the original medication and the doctor was going to give her a new one that was safer. Over the next few days she had some tests done to confirm that the Christ had shielded us and the baby was Okay. The only issue was that the only medication that could treat dangerous "deep vein thrombosis" (blood clots in her legs) and not harm the baby were injections that had to be given in the stomach twice a day.

So we began our new, grand adventure: One of us on the other side of the world, the other jabbing sharp metal into her abdomen.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Before Brad@Home: A lot changes during a transatlantic flight.

It started in the Fall of 2009 when I found out my wife was pregnant.
Sunday night, I went to the airport to catch a plane to Amman, Jordan. It was a work trip to orient and train the people who were at our new Middle East office. I was supposed to send a week in Amman, then fly to Tokyo to do some upgrades in our Japan office. The first leg of the flight was the transatlantic to London. I believe it left around 6pm or so and I was in the air for about 6 hours.
Meanwhile, My wife, feeling odd, decided to take a pregnancy test. This was something that she did often when she felt odd and couldn't explain it. This one came back positive. Wanting to be thorough  she took another. It also came back positive. She took a third. When that one came back positive, she decided to go to sleep and just swing by the doctors office in the morning for confirmation.
I landed in London Heathrow and began a ridiculously long layover that consisted of playing computer games, eating at a English pub style restaurant in the airport, and debating whether to pay to take the speed shuttle into London for an hour--I did not.
Meanwhile, my wife woke up and went to the doctors office. There, they confirmed that she was, indeed, pregnant with the growing fetus of my future-daughter.
I had gotten on my flight to Amman. It was uneventful and I landed in Amman. When I landed, I received a text message from my wife, asking if we could Skype-chat in the (my) morning. I confirmed that we could, giving her the approximate time that would be for her. I went to my hotel, took several pills intended to help me sleep, and went to bed. I went to sleep fairly easily since I had actually been staying up on Amman time for a few days prior to the trip.
Later, when we had more time to talk about it, I found that I was the fourth person to find out the news. The first was, of course, the doctor. Then my wife. As I was not there and very out-of-touch, my wife confided in her sister. Totally understandable and I am glad she could do it, but it dropped me down the information ladder another rung.
I woke up the next morning and went to breakfast. I remember I had a mini-croissant with marmalade, a hard-boiled egg, a small bowl of cereal, some fruit, and some coffee. I propped my computer up on the end of the table and signed into Skype.
When the camera brought up the picture, I saw my wife's belly. On it she had drawn a large, simple and silly picture of a baby.

That was how I found out I was going to be a father.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Before Brad@Home: Fire Walk with Me

Over the last few years, I have been trying to become a firefighter.
It isn't something that I have kept secret, but I also didn't scream it from the rooftops, partially because I didn't want that pursuit to cause any issues with my current employer.
I feel like i can be a little more open about the pursuit because it's over, and I will not be going off to have that adventure.
My experiences over the last 3 years will probably take up several of the next posts, as I go through the history of the pursuit, my thoughts on it, and the outcome.
Mostly what I want to show is that, even though the circumstances did not work out the way I would have liked, the Lord worked in it and through it. There are parts of it with which I am upset, confused, or disappointed;  but ultimately it served to push me deeper into my dependence on Christ. Therefore, it was a worthwhile endeavor.
The subsequent posts on the subject may have moments of anger, sadness, and doubt in them; but I wanted to post this first to assure you that, though you may see some honesty that makes it seem that I am still caught up in anger or resentment, I am trying to show how God worked slowly through those trials, humbled me, and glorified Himself.
In my walk with Him, I must decrease so he may increase. My hope is that an honest (and probably unflattering) look at that process will not only help me, but maybe you as well.
And if not, it will hopefully at least be entertaining.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Renewing Mind: the Lord loves wondrous variety

sometimes I feel I have to make myself more palatable for public consumption.

I tend to like things that the average person does not like, and in fact looks down on in some way. I also tend to believe things that the average person does not believe, and may in fact be offended by. Both of these things cause me to, at times, avoid conversations that may bring up the topics that illicit judgement or offense.

It bothers me that I do this, both because I feel that I should be ok with who I am and what I like and also because I feel that other people should wait on judgement until all the facts are in. The games I play, the movies I watch, the books I read should not really inform a negative opinion, as they have little impact in how I relate to others.

On the other hand, i know that there has been may a time that I have missed an opportunity to share the Gospel with someone because I am too afraid of what they may think. Sometimes it is because I work with the person and I don't want to make our working relationship awkward, sometimes it is just that I am a coward who wants people to like me. Either way it is unacceptable.

The whole thing is unacceptable. If the Lord is honored, if sin is absent, then no apologies should be made.