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Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Ladder 49 Effect

My wife literally paused the movie. It's not what you think, though.

The crew was on the roof of a burning multistory building, and a man was trapped at a window below, on the ledge, and looking ready to jump. The guys were rigging their rope equipment, methodically and expertly checking everything twice before sending a man over the edge.

My wife stopped the movie and said "I get it, now". This was years ago, but I remember it. She went on to describe how, when things get dicey at home, like one of the kids gets injured, or an appliance springs a leak and floods the basement, or we're just really late for something important, it always drove her crazy when I would sort of slow down instead of showing the appropriate amount of alarm.

Suddenly, it all made sense to her.

Actually, I hadn't realized that it was ever an issue, personally.  That shows my ignorance.

She realized that, as a conditioned response to creating order from chaos, deliberate calm must be injected into the situation. This attribute is how firefighters, soldiers, police officers, medics, etc. stay in control, prioritize (triage), and start to take apart the problem in order to fix it. For me, it is essential both on the fireground as well as in the transmission grid control center.

Epiphany realized, the film was continued.

Fast forward years.

We were in the ER with the three-year-old son #4, experiencing some symptoms of an anaphylactic reaction that nearly took ten-year-old son #2 from us a year ago. Sure, I was concerned, but on the OK-UhOh-OhCrap scale, he was only slightly on the UhOh side of OK. The nurse came in to hook him up to some monitoring widgets and get his latest vitals, and I remarked that his color was great and his breathing was not labored.

Some discussion later, after the nurse departed, revealed that wife was a little offended. She perceived that I was belittling her concern for our son and getting chatty with the help.

We had a good long talk in the ER as son #4 slept (did I mention, it was 3AM?).

She now realizes that the Ladder 49 Effect was in play here. That detachment from any actual emergency is essential if I am going to be useful in helping fix it, especially if it involves my family. I am not going to do my children, wife, or anyone any good if I am freaking out.

She understands now, that when I detach and distance myself from an emotional response when  six-year-old son #3 has blood streaming down his face from a playground injury, it's not that I don't care. It's how much I DO care. The apparent detachment is in exact opposite proportion to how concerned I am.

You've probably got that one captain on staff. You know, the one who is always calm. And when he gets really, really calm, everyone else on the crew and overhearing him on the radio starts to get a little lathered up, because when he actually puts the calm on in full force it is precisely because the OhCrap score is really, really high.

So, to those of you who detach by necessity because of how much you do care, just realize how it looks to your significant other. Wife gets it now, and can rationalize what looks like increasing detachment into how concerned I really am, but emotionally it will never work for her. When you're dealing with family, if you can remember it and if it doesn't interfere with mitigating the chaos, at least try to pretend to look concerned once in a while, for the sake of those who don't "get" how we roll.

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