Friday, 27 November 2015

The front line of an emergency

situation is not a place I would care to find myself in. I hear too much about what is going on without that.
When the disaster is much closer to home then there may be no escaping it. I consider myself very fortunate that we live in the suburbs and not in the relative isolation of the current bushfire emergency. The extreme isolation of some rural areas would be even worse.
But yesterday I found myself doing somebody else's turn on the emergency roster of a small group I belong to. It was set up for a number of people with special needs if they should find themselves alone in a situation where they need urgent help. All of them have problems which would make it difficult for them to let the authorities understand what they are trying to tell them. My role, like the others on the roster, is to act as an intermediary and help them communicate. I have done this a number of times in medical and legal situations.
And there was a call yesterday. I got a message from a young man who is, we think, brain damaged.  He doesn't speak. He cannot read or write. Nobody is too sure how much he understands. He is physically able but he doesn't drive a car because he sometimes has seizures. He lives with his father on a small property and the two of them have little contact with other people. He communicates with signs or a small range of pictures.
The message I got was in pictures - just before the power went out.
It read "house water up Dad no". I took that, correctly, to read he had turned the sprinkler system on around their home but that his father wasn't there. I tried to send a message back and couldn't but wasted no time in trying again. I sent the message on to the person I knew who needed it. Result. They sent one of the crews further along the road and picked him up.
His father, a man of almost as few words as his son, left me a message this morning, "Thanks. A safe. House okay."
It's enough. 
I'll probably never know how close the fire got to the house but it made me wonder how close it was and how frightened A was. He was obviously calm enough to turn their sprinkler system on and then think he might need to leave. 
If I hadn't been around then someone else would have taken that message. A could have gone direct to the emergency services but it would have wasted time while he tried to get his message across. It was faster to do it through someone else. It's just about speed and ensuring that the message is understood. He was perhaps fortunate that the power was still on up until moments after he sent the message. 
I wonder what he would have done if the message had not got through. Would he have taken the risk of trying to drive their truck? He knows how to do it but he knows he shouldn't in case he has a seizure.
I would like to know what goes on in the mind of this young man - he's in his twenties. How does he process information? How does he make a decision about what and how he wants to communicate? Does it come automatically as it does for so many of us? I doubt that. But those five words were an extraordinarily economical way of getting a very complex message across. I admire him.
Most of us use too many words. 

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