Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Tiniest Terrorist

On Tuesday, 19 December, I found myself traveling again, this time to Florida to visit with my parents and in-laws. We flew from Washington Dulles. Pre-holiday traffic was light. One quarter of the seats on the plane were unoccupied - the first time I have seen that in years.

B and I were traveling with our six-year-old daughter. Our son was staying with a friend for the short trip to avoid missing his school Solstice festival. We grabbed some lunch at a terminal burrito stand (err, a burrito stand in the terminal - one must be careful with ordering adjectives) while waiting to board. An unexpected movement caught our eyes. An electric cart belonging to the airport police zipped across the terminal at high speed with a three-year-old boy at the helm and a frantic mother giving chase.

The cart smashed into a row of chairs and took out a brochure stand at about fifteen miles per hour. People scattered left, right and over. The row of chairs - connected as they are in groups of four - broke, bent and slid into the next row, trapping two elderly ladies in their seats.

The recalcitrant cop finally arrived on the scene. He gawked and proceeded to do, umm, nothing. A crowd gathered instantly. Not one of them attempted to help the trapped women.

Now, I get on a soap box about this. Nothing, and I mean nothing, provides me with such burning, passionate feelings of disdain than a gawking, ineffectual crowd in times of crisis. I stand appalled at the ineptitude of my fellow humans, rubber neckers all. You would think that in the post-9/11 United States, in a major international airport, with multiple military and TSA personnel passing by, with a policeman present on the scene that someone in charge would be able to right such a minor situation immediately. Sadly, it is not so.

I rendered first aid and directed the moribund cop to call for paramedics. My wife took the mother and child in hand and calmed them down. The lady in the line of transit had a patella the size of a grapefruit in the thirty seconds it had taken me to reach her. Not good. Her leg was largely purple and almost assuredly broken. The other woman had a minor abrasion. I turned to a uniformed airport service worker and directed him to go to the restaurant and get some ice. "Ice?", he looked at me. "Who the hell are you?" The idiot! I gave him The Look. The Navy gave me The Look and I passed it on in turn. "I'm a medic. Get the damn ice.". He did. Lucky for him.

A doctor showed up on the scene about the time I had palpated and elevated their legs and cleared most of the debris. That cart hit hard. It sheared two metal uprights holding the back of a chair clean off. Each was about 40 by 5 millimeters of steel in cross section. The chair seats were steel and of similar thickness. They were just plates, covered with foam padding. One of those plates had rammed edge on straight into the tibia of the lady, just below the knee. Ouch!

We got the ice on both women. When I requested that the airport worker look for some towels, either paper or cloth, to put under the ice, he replied, "Oh, now you are really pushing it." I was too busy to kill him, so I found some myself. The doc was young and probably an intern. He had never treated anyone outside of a hospital. He hesitated when the women wanted to board their aircraft and left it to me to recommend that the shouldn't and to explain why. Then he agreed. The injured one was clearly in shock and not thinking straight yet. She was clearly distraught to think that she would miss Christmas with her family. We got both of them some water.

The paramedics finally arrived. I gave them the brief and turned it over to them. Then I did the only thing left to do - I faded into the crowd and went to my own gate with my family. To hang around was to be part of the lawsuit for the next six months of my life. The airport staff, from the cop who left the cart on and unattended to the bozo who topped out his skills getting ice, were clearly negligant. I didn't have anything to say to their lawyers that would help them any.

An airport staffer went looking for me later. I had my coat on, my glasses off and my phone in an ear. My wife waved him away and refused to speak English. He went away and we boarded our flight. I have no time for organizations who only get efficient when it becomes clear that they are guilty and about to be sued. I hope that old lady's retirement account gets a nice boost. She deserves it. Throughout the entire ordeal, she was polite, orderly and competant, in spite of being in a great deal of pain.

Can you imagine the chaos that would ensue if a terrorist hit such a facility? These people couldn't handle an errant three-year-old!

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