Death by Convenience

12 08 2012

You’re driving down a local highway in your Dodge Ram, and it’s raining.  We could argue about your choice in vehicles, but that’s not really important.  It just happens that a Dodge Ram is parked in a bad and annoying place right now, and I had the time and audacity to go outside and take its measurements, for want of a more amusing pastime.  Did you know that the side door is two and a half feet high, and four feet long?  You don’t care.  Of course you don’t care, because you’re too busy trying to steer through the rain.  It doesn’t help that your tires lost traction, and you barreled down an embankment right in front of a bridge, landing you in the river.  Naturally, your first inclination is to open the door and escape your rapidly sinking vehicle.  What’s that you say?  You can’t open the door?  Oh, yes, well, that brings us back to the dimensions of your door.  Did you know that water weighs about 62.4 pounds per cubic foot?  Please don’t yell at me; I’m only trying to help.

Well, fortunately for those of us who never found use for calculus beyond our college years, your door is roughly rectangular.  Otherwise, we’d have to go back and re-learn all that…stuff.  This should help in making the calculations simple.  With the waterline sitting just below the level of the side window, the average depth of the submerged part of the door is about a foot and a quarter.  Because water weighs 62.4 pounds per cubic foot, a depth of one and a quarter feet gives an average pressure of about 78 pounds per square foot (62.4 lbs/ft3 × 1.25 ft).  Because your door is four feet long and two and a half feet tall, giving you an area of 10 square feet, that pressure comes out to 780 pounds.  Fortunately, your hinge takes half of that weight, so you only need to push with the force of 390 pounds.  You can do that, can’t you?  You shouldn’t say those things!  Children could be listening!

If your truck were turned on its side, and you had four and one-third 180-pound men standing on the door, the effect would be the same.  At least, the effect of trying to open the door would be the same, not including the problems associated with hanging sideways.  Never mind the psychological effect of having that third of a man sitting on the door.  I think, now that I imagine it, if I had four men and a third of a man standing on the door of my overturned vehicle, I might consider staying inside and taking my chances with the water, but I digress.  Most people don’t have enough strength in their left arm and left leg to open a door at 390 pounds of force.  That’s about 860 kilograms, for the few of you out there who actually use the metric system…all 6.7 billion of you.  Well, your real problem is that your door opens outward, against the water.  If your door opened straight up, like a Lamborghini, then it wouldn’t be a problem, except for the electrical short-circuit preventing your door from opening at all.

Then, there’s the problem with your second avenue of escape, the side window.  Did you get the option with the motorized window?  You did?  Sorry to hear that.  Well, it was certainly nice while it lasted.  You push the up button, and the window goes up.  You push the down button, and the window goes down.  It’s so much more convenient than having to turn a crank.  Besides, people look at you funny when they get in your car and see that medieval thing hanging off your door.  Next thing they know, you’ll be going outside to start the car with a crank on the front of the grill.  Granted, it doesn’t do you much good, now.  The water shorted the circuit, and the window won’t go down.  It wouldn’t be so bad if your window happened to already be “rolled” down, but people usually do most of their sliding off of roads during storms and freezing weather, which is the least likely time for them to be driving with their windows rolled down.  Although, there was a guy whose door latch froze solid in cold weather, and the door wouldn’t stay closed unless he held it closed, so he drove around with his arm out the window, hanging on to the outside of the door to keep it from taking out a motorcyclist during a curve to the right.  That must have been fun for him, but you’re not him.  You had no problem getting the thing shut.  Now, you just have to get it open, and soon.

Blame the auto manufacturers.  All of their cleverness produced the unsafe situation.  In fact, ironic that it is, they would have needed to be less smart to do the smarter thing, which is to make you crank your own blasted window down.  Then, they would probably sell fewer cars, because the number of customers lost to competition would be less than the number of customers lost to the Susquehanna River (and others), if they had used the electric version.  I don’t know what you’re thinking right now, but I bet it isn’t “Man, I’m glad I have electric windows.  They were so worth it!”  What’s that you say?  No, I can’t write that in my blog.  I’m trying to keep this PG-rated.

Well, we’ve killed so many of our own babies for the sake of convenience, that I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised that we’d occasionally even kill ourselves for it.  Look behind you at the rear window.  Oops, I guess this model doesn’t come with a little rear window for you to attempt to squeeze your fat torso through.  If it had, then you’d still be stuck, because, for the sake of convenience, you may have dined at a few too many fast-food joints.  Oh, yeah.  I forgot.  You’re big-boned.  Well, it doesn’t matter, anyway, because I just looked outside and checked for myself.  You don’t have a little rear window.  What you really needed was a sunroof to escape through.  What’s that?  It would have been an electric sunroof?  Yes, I suppose it would have been, and if it had been a convertible, you wouldn’t have to get out and manually fold it back, either.  That would have been too much trouble.

I’m looking out my living room, now, and I’d say you’ve still got a few seconds to go.  I suppose I’ll call for emergency assistance.  I’d go out there and try to play the hero for you, but…it’s just so much more convenient to make a phone call and let someone else take care of it.

The moral of this story is this: if you’re going to drive a vehicle with electrically operated windows, then, for pity’s sake, do yourself a favor and take the trouble to buy a window breaker, and keep it with you and accessible (and hope a police officer doesn’t charge you with having a weapon within reach while driving).  Window breakers are razor-sharp diamond-edged double-bladed chisels, essentially.  You need them in most places on this continent, except, perhaps, southern California, where a “river” is typically nothing but a dry concrete channel.  However, if you happen to live in the city/ seasonal lake called Carson, then the storm drains are so solidly plugged by the convenience store trash of people who couldn’t bear the inconvenience of taking their own garbage home and putting it in the can, that every time it rains, you find yourself up to your neck in water, even if you stay on the road, then you might consider taking along not only a window breaker, but also a self-inflating life raft capable of holding you and whatever homeless indigent floats your way.  If you give me a ride, I’ll buy you a coffee as soon as it’s convenient.

Advertisements




Life at the Bottom of the Pool

6 12 2008

Nine years is a long time to suffer from chronic depression.  One might see how, after all of those years, I might have come to see it as a more or less permanent state of existence.  In fact, the most depressing aspect about being depressed was the apparent endlessness of it.  Frankly, I’m not sure how I survived.  I had come to believe that not only I, but the entire world, was gripped with the iron hand of the foul mood, and that all happy people were complete frauds.  Fantasies of suicide were a nearly daily occurrence.  There was a certain irony to it, though, that with the depression came a pessimism about all things self-related, and I had no hope for suicide any more than for anything else.  I figured I’d go to Hell and be even worse off, or I’d botch it and maim myself for life, making things much worse, or I’d get caught in the attempt, and people would regard me as a mentally sick individual for a lifetime.  Now that would be a reason to get depressed.  As bad as I felt, I was sure it could get much worse.  As I recall, the most dangerous time of my life was at the very end of this season, when things were finally starting to improve.  The clouds were beginning to part, and I had a sense that maybe life was taking a turn for the better.  It was in that critical time that I had enough optimism to think that I could go through with it if I tried, that I might not be worse off for it.  True, I had less reason to kill myself.  In fact, I had virtually no reason to do so, but the experiences of a decade gave me no precedent to stand on and no reason to believe that true happiness was a thing of permanence.  Perhaps, it was because of this mindset that I found myself on the bottom of the pool, moments away from death.

 

I had made a practice of holding my breath.  It was this contest I made with myself.  It’s not as though I had anyone to swim with, or anything else interesting to do while swimming in the pool.  Exhaling all my breath, I would crawl along the bottom of this large pool until I had traversed it, lengthwise.  With effort, I got quite good at it.  One day, I decided to just sit at the bottom of the deep end and see just how long I could hold my breath.  I held it until I felt like I was going to burst, and then some.  The carbon dioxide buildup in my blood made me hiccup, but underwater it feels different, so I didn’t really know what it was.  I actually tried to voluntarily inhale the water, but I knew that the diving reflex would prevent me from doing it.  No matter how strong the urge to breathe, I could not inhale the water.  This was not an attempt to kill myself.  Eventually, though, the urge to breathe completely subsided, and I knew exactly what was happening.  I was experiencing rapture of the deep.  I was in an underwater paradise, where air was no longer a need, or so it seemed.  When the body detects a low oxygen level, it produces the intense urge to get air, but only to a certain point.  If the oxygen level drops to an extreme, that urgency reverses, and the person feels no need to breathe.  The same is true in reverse.  Over-oxygenated blood causes a person to slow breathing, but when taken to an extreme, the person will gasp for air uncontrollably.  I knew this at the time.  I knew I was moments away from death.  I sat there and thought about how wonderful it was that I was about to die.  I thought about a number of things while I was down there, getting relaxed.  I thought about the woman I had fallen in love with, who actually loved me back.  I thought about my promising future.  I also thought about my past, and I knew that if I merely followed the pattern, then I had nothing to hope for…but that all seemed okay, because I was about to die.

 

Then I thought a step further.  In probably less than two minutes, I would be seeing my maker face-to-face.  This was no fantasy, now.  This would be reality.  Whatever was on the other side of death would be everything to me.  I was pleasantly happy.  It was then that I had a little bit of a flashback to a certain incident at the age of about fourteen, when I was with a scouting group in the middle of the desert.  The adult leaders, who were two brothers, had brought iodine tablets to purify some rather nasty water that we came to and camped by.  Having run out of water in our bottles, this is what we were expected to use.  They seemed proud of themselves for their survival skills, but I didn’t trust them.  In the dead of night, I left with a fellow youth and hiked all the way back to the trailhead to retrieve water from a tap.  On the way back, we strayed from the trail, encountered a coyote and got startled by some gasses escaping the cooling earth with a loud hiss.  We kept our cool, though, and found our way back to camp, somehow.  The next morning, the two leaders took us to task for our behavior.  One of them was angry and red-faced.  The other was ashamed of us and didn’t say a word.  It was the second of the two that impacted me the most.  They had made me a role model for the group, and I had betrayed them.  I did my own thing in my mistrust of their plan.

 

While sitting on the bottom of the pool, I saw in my imagination God in two persons, in the form of these two leaders.  I knew at that moment that he had plans for me, and that I was daring to throw it all away in my mistrust of him and my future.  I knew that, should I die then, I would be facing a God who was ashamed of me.  I had not walked into this with the direct intent to kill myself, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that I really had walked into this with the intent to kill myself.  It was an intentional accident.  Ashamed, God said to me that I had people in my life, now and in the future, on whom I would have a lasting and important effect.  It was his plan for me, and he was determined to have it happen.  He had made me a role model to others, impossible as it seemed.  To choose death would be a betrayal against him, and this was not the way I wanted to greet him on the other side.  I don’t know that I would have gone to Hell.  I’m not Catholic, so I don’t have that stated inflexible belief that all who commit suicide go to Hell.  However, I couldn’t see myself crawling past God to get into Heaven.  I looked up at the air above me, thinking that I had better go up and get some air.  I still didn’t feel like it, and I felt quite comfortable down there, like a man who grows comfortable in his sin, headed for death and feeling good.  The problem was that I was almost too relaxed.  I moved like a sloth.  Here I was, stuck in slow motion, and gravity was working at full speed.  I didn’t have the strength to swim.  I stood there, looking up and thinking that I’m glad the pool was only eight feet deep, which was only a little higher than my reach.  Man, I was feeling sleepy.  I gave a little hop, grabbed the coping and slowly pulled myself up.  I looked at the stopwatch, and I had been underwater for over three minutes after exhaling.  The problem was, I still didn’t feel like breathing.  I actually watched the clock for a half minute longer.  I looked around, feeling fine, and then I took a very deliberate breath.  The transition back into the land of the breathing was completely uneventful.  I never once actually felt like I was about to die.  I only knew, logically, that I was close.

 

Was this the closest I had been to death?  Years earlier, I was almost run-over by a speeding truck that ran the school guard crosswalk stop signs.  An older kid from just up the street grabbed me by my coat and pulled me back just in time.  Sometimes I think about how awful that would have been.

 

I am a fatalist at heart.  I didn’t choose how, when or if I was to be born, and I’ll go out in the same way.  I get a little unnerved, thinking that one day God will kill me.  It happens to us all.  Will I die in my sleep?  Will my head be on a platter, with people dancing in the streets, giving each other presents in celebration?  Everyone dies eventually.  Because of this inevitability, it is actually life that has the most uncertainty, not death.  We simply must trust God, and that he has a plan for us.  We must be willing to live that plan, humbly, and not fight to wrest control of our lives from him.

 

Incidentally, the years following this story have been the happiest years of my life.

 

curlysig