Tuesday, July 29, 2008

If the House is Rockin', Don't Bother Knockin'

Pretty interesting times up in the fluoro suite on 5th this morning, when a 5.4 Richter earthquake set things shaking. Apart from my patient deciding she didn't want to be secured to the table in any way despite being five feet from the floor, it was all pretty surreal. There was about a second-long pause while the phenomenon registered in my brain like the answer to a quiz show Question: What makes entire buildings bounce up and down and sway continuously, without any warning whatsoever? Um...let me see...ooh it's on the tip of my tongue...I'll have it in another two tenths of a second...AHA! An EARTHQUAKE! But of course I was too busy trying to keep the patient from falling off the table to say much apart from "That's an earthquake" in response to her "WHAT'S THAT!?". In an odd sense it was nice to have a patient freak out about something objective - generally it's the misplaced expectation of great anguish that is most difficult to manage. With an earthquake, there's no doubt: something weird is definitely happening. Fear is entirely appropriate.

Fortunately, steel girders and modern structural engineering being what they are, the whole works just gets going like a big spring and oscillates for awhile. At least this time. Someone said "maybe this means we won't have a big one for awhile", but I'm not sure there is any reason to feel confident with seven or eight local active fault lines crisscrossing the immediate area overlying a convergence zone between two techtonic plates.

Phones are worthless immediately after a quake. We couldn't even make calls within the hospital there were so many people on the phone. Someone should really make a public service announcement: IN CASE OF EARTHQUAKE, UNLESS YOU ARE PHYSICALLY TRAPPED BY FIRE, DEBRIS, RISING WATER OR OTHER IMMEDIATE LIFE-THREATENING EMERGENCY, KINDLY STAY OFF THE TELEPHONE SO THAT PEOPLE WITH REAL PROBLEMS CAN USE IT. Instead, all the lines get tied up by people calling their friends in New York or vice versa to tell them they are OK. Let's just presume, disasters being what they are, that barring a major pyroclastic flow or tidal wave in your particular zip code, if there is no immediate structural damage to anything around you, the vast majority of people are LIKELY TO BE JUST FINE. No need to call and reassure each other - this is not Chixulub, a nuclear holocaust or the Permian extinction, it's just an earthquake. Assume the best and if you're wrong, well, there's likely not much you can do about it anyway. You'll find out soon enough. In the meantime, do your job.

I did learn however that text messaging is a great way to keep people in the loop. Apparently, from a data standpoint it puts far fewer demands on the system, and even at the height of the post-EQ hysteria I was able to receive and send text messages without any problem whatsoever. Pretty robust stuff.

After they took us out of "EXPECT MASSIVE CASUALTIES TO FLOOD YOUR DEPARTMENT MOMENTARILY" mode, life went pretty much back to normal, except the news stations couldn't stop talking about it all afternoon. They found one brick wall somewhere that fell over, and kept playing the image in a continuous loop to indicate the scale of the disaster. All that was missing was a headline: "Brick Wall Falls Over In Garment District - Mayor Holds Sidewalk Memorial Service for 127 Fallen Cockroaches and one Rat". Said one surviving Roach: "I've lost everyone - brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, my 54 babies - all gone in an instant. As though being a cockroach weren't enough of a sign, I now know beyond a shadow of a doubt that There Is No God. There is only Franz Kafka."

I halfway expected the Moth to have jumped off the sawhorses or been crushed by falling paint cans, but it was still sitting there when I arrived home, waiting patiently for me to install a final bulkhead. We're on the back stretch now and for the first time in several weeks hydrofoiling is starting to look halfway plausible again, which is always a good inspiration.

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