Friday, March 11, 2011

Emergency Services

A freak accident today brought me face to face with one aspect of Homer I'd never thought about before: its emergency medical services. Relegated to "A service I won't ever need," I appreciated the speed of response of the EMT's and ambulance. Here's what happened:

We were in the kitchen cooking when I noticed a pan of hot grease smoking. I grabbed it to move to a cool burner and the hot grease splashed my hand. After the most bloodcurdling scream I've ever screamed in my life, I immediately turned on the water and shoved my hand under the stream, told Aurora to call 911 and I proceeded to give the dispatcher the basic info of address, phone number and injury. I chuckled mentally when they asked for directions in addition to the address; the side streets around Homer are a maze and roads look like driveways or houses have no driveways or any other set of weird scenarios.

While waiting for the ambulance (which I thought was overkill but they have to send one) I called Douglas and left a message on his cell phone and then pulled off my wedding band, at which I sent up another scream as the skin sloughed off. I started feeling sweaty and woozy, and it seemed an eternity but was only minutes before Douglas called back and headed home and then a strange car came inching down our icy driveway. It was the first EMT on the scene. Within a minutes two more vehicles pulled up, spitting out EMTs, then my husband peeled in (wondering at the party with so many vehicles) and a minute or two after that the emergency medical truck and the ambulance completed the entourage.

EMTs number two and three assessed the burn and dressed it, we declined transport in the ambulance, filled out paperwork and hopped in the car to head to the hospital.

The emergency room was expecting us, got me right into a room, cut off the bandage, applied a moist saline covering to keep the burn from drying out and then the small town social whirl started.

First one of the nurses walked in and introduced herself as the neighbor across the street (one of the few neighbors we hadn't met), and by time she left we'd signed our kids up to mow her huge lawn come summer.

Then the doctor came in to assess the wound. When he found out Douglas is vice principal at the high school he said, "I need to talk to him." Apparently this doctor pledges money to Homer High School sports teams if the kids stay drug and alcohol free. We had a great conversation while he snipped away my sloughed skin and bandaged up my hand.

I put Douglas to the task of calling our church's prayer chain, his parents and my aunt to get them all praying, to me as essential as dressing the wound.

Before I left they'd made my appointment to see a family doctor tomorrow (yes, on Saturday!) to change my dressing and continue monitoring progress (the severity of a burn is not always immediately evident and I may need therapy to regain full range of motion). An hour in the emergency room ended up being a fast, fun social hour, not something one can normally say about ER visits. It helped that there was virtually no pain, a fact the attending nurse could not believe (she said I should be screaming in agony considering the severity of the burn).

I kept expecting the pain to hit all afternoon, but instead what little pain I had disappeared. I have now had the privilege to see up close what Homer's emergency services are like, and also what it is like to type an entire blog entry with one hand!

P.S. I assure you, you don't want a picture of this, though the hospital did take one!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Iditarod Start!

The start of the Last Great Race on Earth!
Iditarod #39!

We've had things going on every year during the Iditarod start, but this year we committed to going despite basketball regionals going on in Homer. We left Douglas and Aurora to the basketball games and headed up to Anchorage Friday. I opted to stay in the Sheraton in downtown Anchorage since it was only two blocks away from 4th Avenue that the Iditarod racers would be heading down for the ceremonial start on Saturday.

I didn't see many signs of the upcoming race until nearly 10:00 p.m. Friday night when I looked out the 14th floor window and noticed dump trucks full of snow rolling in, dumping their loads on 4th Avenue, and taking off. I felt like a kid on Christmas Eve, with the excitement building for the upcoming race. I pondered how the mushers must feel, knowing the big moment had nearly arrived to hit the trail.

Saturday morning when I looked out the window the course was set, a swatch of snow a foot or so deep with extra ridges on the outside to keep the dogs and sleds on track. The intersection a block from the Sheraton was covered with snow and monitored by police and snow shovelers, allowing traffic through.

We got down to 4th Avenue at almost 10 am, where the course makes a 90 degree turn onto C Street. Before we knew it, a dogsled and team came sliding by. I thought perhaps it was just a forerunner, but come to find out that was the first racer. Soon a steady stream of racers came by; they were set to start every two minutes. There were 60+ racers, so that was a few hours of starts.

We made our way through the ever-thicker crowds closer to the starting line, passing a parking garage lined with fans. We arrived at the starting line but could hardly see anything with the crowds four deep, but some people left and we got a front-row view just as Lance Mackey, the winner of the past four Iditarods, came up to the line, got his dogs ready and took off. He looked much more human (!!) than the videos I'd seen of him out on the race course in previous years, but after 2 weeks on the trail, sleep deprived and weathered, I'm sure he'll be roughed up! That was the highlight of the day for me.

After seeing a few starts we continued up 4th Aveune in an attempt to stay warm and to check out the staging area. Temperatures were at 3 degrees and calm at 10 am, and had warmed up to 9 degrees an hour later as the sun rose above the buildings. I had on my balaclava, hat, neckwarmer, hood, two pairs of gloves, two pairs of socks and numerous layers on my torso so I was mostly comfortable, though Elisa wore only holey jeans and a couple pairs of tights so she was a bit chillier.

I found the staging area neater than the starting line and race itself. Here we were closer to the dogs and the handlers, though there was still a fence dividing the fans from the racing volunteers, dog trucks and handlers. All the side streets were covered with snow and dogs were in various stages of getting ready for the race: chained to the bumpers of trucks, drinking, sitting inside their hay-lined nooks or being harnessed up.

It was really exciting to be at the starting of the Iditarod. I've watched so many movies, read about, talked about and seen the dogs and racers around the state that it seemed like it was the place to be. The ceremonial start was just a 15 mile jog up to Eagle River; many people headed up there to see the dogs and mushers come in, and then on to the re-start on Sunday at Willow. We were on a tight schedule and so didn't make it up to either of those. Next time I think I will become a race volunteer so I get on the inside track of pre-race gatherings, parties and whatnot. Even though we just saw a tiny slice of the Iditarod, it still was thoroughly exciting to be there and be part of it and for the first time I am following the racers with their GPS trackers through the official Iditarod website,