Thursday, March 28, 2013

Baby, It's Cold Outside...

I know this post isn't going to generate a whole lot of sympathy. I'm okay with that.  What I'm not okay with is the Schmoe who didn't pay the heating bill and now Florida is freezing. Maybe not literally, but within a couple of degrees. Bottom line? The Keys are cold and I'm not sure we have enough rum to soldier through.

Now, to put it in perspective, when I say cold, I mean mid-forties. Before you get all worked up (Yes, I'm talking to you, Wisconsin), for South Florida, this is brisk. The average temperature ranges between a low of 66 degrees to a high of 79. So yeah. Waking up to a 51 degree morning requires an extra cup of coffee to ward off the chill.  Heck, even the water temperature is averaging 75.

Before anyone starts lobbing snowballs my way (Minnesota, you're up), let me confess I spent many a year in Colorado. I remember working accident scenes practically hugging the engine block of my patrol car to stay warm. That's exactly why I'm not there anymore. I think I shaved several years off my training officer's life when I arrived in Colorado via California and had to learn to drive in that nasty white **(Hint: it's a four letter word that starts with S...).

Yes, cops (especially ones recently relocated from California) have gotten their patrol cars stuck in the snow. No, their shift mates will never let them forget it.

Lest ye think I'm a winterphobe, let me assure you I am not. I just like to be prepared for it.  In Colorado, I've had to work in double-digit negatives.  Makes one long for a balmy mid-forty day. I also wore base-layer long johns (Big shout-out to Patagonia and UnderArmor--you warmed my heart), double socks, wool pants, turtleneck, ballistic vest, wool uniform shirt, jacket, gloves, beanie, and whenever possible, a patrol car--preferably with heat blasting through the vents.  In Florida, on the other hand, I wear shorts, tees, and wetsuits. This week, I had to break out my jeans and a sweatshirt. The locals are bundled in parkas and furs (Laugh it off, New Hampshire).

Cops will always find ways to keep warm, even in the worst elements.
I'm currently considering arson.

* Snow! This is a family-rated blog!

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Life and Death

Cops witness death in all its ugliness. They respond to deaths where life is stolen from unsuspecting people. They also enter homes where death is a surprise visitor disguised as a heart attack, or stroke, or accident. Sometimes death enters a home while all is quiet, and because the death is unattended, officers respond to assess the scene.

I have seen death more often than I wish to recall, but I was present to witness life lose its battle three times. I felt helpless in two of the situations. The third, I fought to keep the person alive, watched while ER docs cracked open the man's chest and applied paddles directly to his heart to try to keep death at bay, all to no avail.

I have said a prayer over the body of an elderly woman who died in her sleep. Alone. And hoped that when my time came, I wouldn't share her fate. I've held an 86 year-old man while he sobbed after losing his wife of 67 years. I've witnessed the stunned confusion of a young couple after their infant stopped breathing during the night.

A cop's job is much more than fighting crime. They fight death. And more often than not, they lose. Then their job requires them to pick up the pieces, determine if a crime has been committed and do their best to find justice for those left behind.

In all my years as an officer, I only had to give one death notification. A woman's husband had been robbed while collecting rent from their properties. He was shot in the head for an envelope of checks that were worthless to anyone else. The victim's wife opened her door to a young officer and her sergeant standing on the front porch. The German Shepherd at her side growled at us. She had to secure him in another room while wondering why two officers wanted to talk to her at 9:30 at night, knowing that officers didn't deliver good news after dark in pairs. She absorbed the information stoically. I made her a cup of tea while she called her brother--a cop in another state. I gave him the scant details I could share. Paltry comfort.

My shift continued as normal. But I had delivered news that altered her life forever.

This past month, my life has been altered. I watched while a man I loved and respected fought for breath. He was held by his wife and their three children.

Life does not always yield easily, especially when a willful, retired Air Force Chief Master Sergeant doesn't agree that it's the right time to go. After all, he'd only been married for 58 years. Not nearly long enough to spend with the love of his life, nor the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren that comprised his family.

Cops want to fix things. They want to ease pain, get the bad guys, save the world. It's humbling to be helpless. There have been many words spoken about death. Pithy comments that trivialize it, erudite quotes that immortalize it, words meant to uplift, comfort, distract. The truth is, it hurts to lose someone you love. Death makes a person reevaluate life. It puts things in perspective.

There are some things that can't be fixed. But a good cop never stops trying.