I started to set up this blog in September and then ran into a lot of infrastructure issues. I didn’t know exactly how to set up the pages, how to link the various domain names I had purchased to the blog, how to apply the themes, etc. I also started having some worrisome computer problems and needed to upgrade my internet service. So I took a long detour to analyze and resolve those issues.
Today I think the last piece finally fell into place. I spent the afternoon with the fiber optic service (FiOS) installer. His name was Phil, and I actually had a lot of fun with him. I watched every aspect of the installation. First was analyzing the situation (a 5-unit building with underground cabling to the interior units posed some problems – sorry neighbors, you may NOT be able to get FiOS). Next was determining how to bring the wire into the house, which involved drilling a hole from the garage to the exterior. Despite careful measurements and an intentional lateral move, the drill bit came out of the exterior wall directly behind a large metal conduit running up the side of the building, exactly the spot the lateral move was intended to avoid. Phil made the best of this and eventually got the cable to look like it had always been there. Next was the new cable from the pole across the street to the house. First Phil had to climb the telephone pole (up and down at least three times) to attach the fiber to the service line. Next he needed to create a junction where the cable could cross the street to the house. This he did by hooking the ladder directly over the wire. “That looks dangerous,” I said, to which he replied, “it is… the trick is not to look down.” I responded, “maybe the trick is not to climb up in the first place.” He commented that they used to have trucks with buckets but those had been replaced with smaller vans and ladders, making his work much harder and less safe. Apparently it was an attempt to save on the cost of gas.
We had developed quite a rapport by that time, since I had supplied my new high powered hammer drill to help make the ill-fated hole in the wall; his battery operated drill couldn’t quite drive the dull bit through the exterior plywood. This was another example of his tools not being quite up to the task.
Phil moved the ladder from the wire across the street to the house, climbed back up to the new hole in the exterior of the wall and placed a “ram’s head” connector next to the hole. Then he had to bring the wire over from across the street. I stood guard and raised the alarm of a coming car, but the car turned before running over the cable. Finally I helped pull the cable through the wall. Then Phil mounted all the equipment on the interior of the garage wall.
During all this time we were bantering back and forth. Phil mentioned that he was exhausted from being forced to work 12-hour days, 7 days a week, for several months in a row. We both wondered how that was a better business decision than retaining the workers who had been laid off and could have worked these hours at straight time as opposed to time-and-a-half. Many of Phil’s coworkers are now on disability because their bodies can’t take the extremely physical job, which included dozens of trips up an down ladders in all kinds of weather and often at night. Phil would rather have the time than the extra money from the 12-hour days. He told me about his new motorcycle and how he liked to ride it to the Ligonier mountains.
When I ran upstairs to get an extension cord I picked up my favorite photo of me as a baby in my dad’s sidecar in the Netherlands and shared it with him. I said, “I like motorcycles, but unfortunately I was an Emergency Medical Technician.” He said he had been an EMT too. Phil quit after treating his first gunshot victim; I quit because the stress of arriving at an accident scene turned my stomach into knots (kudos to those EMTs and paramedics who stay the course). At some point we made a joke about getting old and I mentioned that I almost died when I was 25, so I was always cognizant that getting older is better than the alternative.
As he was loading up the truck to leave, he revealed that he had just recently lost his brother, but it was a pretty cool story. Well, that was interesting. His brother Don was disabled, had cerebral palsy, had the intellect of a toddler, and spent his life in a wheelchair. But in spite of this Don was the joy of his family’s life. When Phil was called to the hospital, Don had already been without a heartbeat for a long time. After working on him for ten minutes longer, the doctors pronounced Don dead and started to zip him into a body bag. At that point someone checked his neck and found a pulse! They used cooling technology to bring down his temperature and medication to stop the seizures they expected him to have when he was warmed up again. The family was warned that he had no brain activity, kidney failure requiring dialysis, a colon blockage requiring surgery, and most likely would have lethal seizures as soon as he was taken off the seizure medication. The next morning their mom was sitting by the bed waiting for the predicted seizures. Don suddenly opened his eyes calmly and smiled at her. The doctor came in to examine him and Phil asked when they were going to stop the seizure medications. They were stopped already, the doctor told him. Don was perfectly calm. The doctor then indicated he could find no kidney damage and no colon blockage either. Phil asked how this could be. The best the doctor could do was shrug.
Don survived another couple of days. Phil told me he felt like this miraculous revival was what his family and Don needed in order to be able to let go. On the last day Don was tied down so he wouldn’t pull out his tubes. He was in such misery that Phil said to him, “Don’t listen to Mom urging you to fight. If you’re tired, just go. We’ll be all right.” A few hours later, Don was gone.
I think it’s such a gift to be told that story, and to see the love on the face of this Harley-Davidson riding, gruff cable installer as he talked about the joy his disabled brother brought to his life. It’s another reminder to celebrate and honor those we have loved and lost.