Elizabeth Barrette (ysabetwordsmith) wrote,
Elizabeth Barrette

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Poem: "Proximity and Separation"

This poem is spillover from the May 3, 2016 Poetry Fishbowl. It was inspired by a prompt from [personal profile] wyld_dandelyon. It also fills the "A Mystery to Investigate" square in my 4-19-16 card for the [community profile] genprompt_bingo fest. This poem has been sponsored by Anthony & Shirley Barrette. It belongs to the Officer Pink thread of the Polychrome Heroics series, and follows the poem "When We Get the Rough Times."

Warning: This poem contains some unpleasantries. Highlight to read the more detailed warnings, some of which are spoilers. There is a disruption on an airplane, a call for passenger assistance, in-flight misery due to flickering superpowers, additional stress caused by people who want to help but totally don't understand the problem, discussion of disabilities and other intimate information including superpowers, fatalistic thought patterns, and other challenges. However, Ansel manages to figure out viable solutions, so it turns out fine in the end. If these are sensitive subjects for you, please consider your tastes and headspace before reading onward.

"Proximity and Separation"

After the five-day training course
in how to handle cape fights,
Ansel's brain was full.

He felt grateful to climb
on board the airplane and
leave Richmond, California.

During the flight, Ansel worked quietly
on organizing his notes, which also
helped him settle things in his mind.
He had learned a great deal that
would be useful on the job.

Partway through the flight,
some minor ruckus broke out
in the seats ahead of him.

Ansel leaned into the aisle
to investigate the mystery, but
couldn't see what was happening.

Well, if it stayed minor, then
the flight attendants could handle it --
they were trained for all kinds of things --
and if it turned into a serious problem,
they would call for extra assistance.

Ansel sat back in his seat
and returned to his notekeeping.

There was evidently some kind
of obstruction in the aisle that
slowed the progress of snacks and
beverages, but the fight attendants
managed to compensate for it.

When they reached his seat, they
offered Ansel the usual choices of
mixed nuts, dried fruit, energy bars,
crackers with cheese or peanut butter,
freeze-dried ice cream, sport drinks,
protein shakes, and bottled water.

But his order of dried fruit and crackers
came with two bottles of water and
a bar of actual emergency rations.

Ansel remembered what Skippy
had said about soups needing
extra calories, and appreciated
the flight attendant's discretion.

As time went on, Ansel found himself
intrigued by observing which people
tended to notice the increased need
and accommodate it -- usually folks
who interacted with a lot of customers
and therefore had opportunities to see
the higher caloric demand in action.

Ansel ate with one hand and
continued working with the other.
The food definitely boosted his energy.

When the Fasten Seatbelts sign lit up
and the message screen beside it read,
Now entering River City airspace, Ansel
double-checked his latch and put away
what he had been working on.

The commotion in the aisle ahead
got louder, attracting a small cluster
of flight attendants again.

Ansel kept an eye on it, and
he wasn't surprised when
the senior steward got on
the intercom to say, "We have
an incident in progress. Is there
a special needs teacher on board?
If so, please raise your hand."

Looking around, Ansel saw
that nobody had responded,
so he raised his own hand.

A flight attendant hurried over.
"Yes, sir?" she said.

"I'm not a special needs teacher,
I'm a police officer, and my regular beat
is community outreach so I work with
a lot of kids," Ansel explained. "I have
training in de-escalation skills and
mental crises. Would that help?"

"Yes, please," she replied,
and led him up the row.

A teenaged boy had sprawled
on the floor, partially blocking
the aisle. He hadn't fainted; he
had a death grip on the seats and
was arguing in a pained tone with
his parents and the flight attendants.

Another passenger with an EMT pin
on her lapel knelt beside him,
her fingers on his wrist.

Given Ansel's expanding responsibilities,
he wondered if he should start wearing
a police pin when off duty, and whether
there was any equivalent insignia for
first responders with superpowers.

Ansel crouched down and said,
"Hi, I'm Ansel. What's your name?"

"Geordie," the boy said, turning
to face him. Freckles stood out on
his pale skin, and his wavy brown hair
was mussed from the scuffle.

"What seems to be the problem?"
Ansel asked him.

"I feel awful, and they want me
to sit up, but I can't -- it makes
everything worse," Geordie said.

"Can you move okay?" Ansel said.
"Do you feel queasy or short of breath?"

"There's no physical problem
that I can find," the EMT said.

"It's not ... like that," Geordie said
in a miserable, resigned tone that
made alarm bells ring in Ansel's head.
"Not nausea, not pain, just ... it feels
bad whenever I leave the ground."

"Well, that's new to me," Ansel said.
"Maybe we can figure this out.
What can I do to help?"

"Make them leave me alone!"
Geordie said, and his parents groaned.

"He's just so sensitive," the boy's mother said.
"He's not sick, exactly, but we've been to
all kinds of shrinks and doctors, and
the diagnosis keeps changing. Autism.
Sensory processing disorder. It's close,
but nothing seems to fit exactly.
We don't know what to do."

"Do you like being in the air?"
Ansel asked Geordie.

"No," Geordie whined, glaring at him.

"We can't go down until everyone
is secured for landing, because it
can get a bit bumpy," Ansel said.
"So the fastest way off the plane is
to get in your seat and buckle up."

Geordie's knuckles turned white
where they gripped the base of
the seats. "I can't," he repeated.

There was ... something else,
that Ansel couldn't put his finger on,
a ripple of not-quite-rightness,
almost like a wobble.

Like a flutter, or ...

"I need to ask a personal question,
and you can refuse to answer this,
but it might help a lot," Ansel said.
"Have you been flickering?"

"No," said Geordie's parents.

"I don't know," said Geordie.

"Okay, let's explore a little more,"
Ansel said. "What makes you
think you might be flickering?
You're the right age for it --
puberty is one of the times
when it tends to show up."

"My body's always been weird,
but lately it's even crazier,"
Geordie said. "I think that
something is changing, but
I don't know what or why."

"You said that you feel bad when
you go away from the ground,"
Ansel said. "What helps then?"

"Getting back on the ground,
especially the grass," said Geordie.
"If I can't do that, lying flat feels
better than sitting up or moving.
It's like ... everything is pitching
around and I can't tell where I am."

"Vertigo," the EMT murmured.

"No, I've had that too, this
is different," Geordie said.
"Maybe the ground does
something for me that I need?
And I can't get it in the air?"

"I think that some soups
with Earth Powers are like that,
uncomfortable in the air," said Ansel.
"Direction Sense can upset people
if they try to travel in a vehicle."

"I'm doomed," Geordie said.

"You're not doomed, but you may
need some new accommodations,
at least for a time," Ansel said.
"Sometimes things like this go away
after a while, other times they don't.
So don't panic over it yet."

"But I still feel awful," Geordie said,
hunching in on himself. "Nobody
ever listens or believes me, and
they don't know what it's like!"

"I may not know what it's like,
but you're obviously miserable,"
Ansel said. "Let me think ... you
need to be on the ground, we need
to land the plane, but you can't sit up."

He turned to the flight attendant.
"Do you have an emergency bed?"

"Yes, there's a stretcher for
flat travel in the back of Economy,
but it's not deployed," she said. "We'd
have to fold down some seats, and
there are people sitting in them."

"Can you move the other passengers
to make room?" Ansel asked.

"Only for a medical emergency,"
the flight attendant said.

Ansel looked at the EMT, who
nodded back at him. Standing up,
he beckoned the flight attendant away.

"We've got a kid, miserable and flickering,
on an airplane," Ansel whispered. "Let's
all do whatever we can to keep this from
becoming any more of an emergency
than it already is. All right?"

She glanced at the pink shock
of his hair. "Okay," she agreed.
"We can upgrade a few people
from Economy to Business or
First Class, there are always
more empty seats higher up."

"Thank you," Ansel said,
then knelt beside Geordie.
"Problem solved. We're going
to lay out a stretcher for you.
We'll have to carry you to it,
which might be no fun, but
you can stay flat for landing."

"Oh, good," Geordie said,
his body going limp with relief.
"The ground seems so far away."

"Seconds away, yet thousands
of miles away," Ansel replied.
"It's a strange combination of
proximity and separation."

"I hate flying," Geordie said.

"Considering how you feel, I don't
blame you," Ansel said. "After we land,
we'll take you to the nearest patch
of grass and see if that helps."

"How are we supposed to fly home?"
the boy's father asked. "I have
a convention in River City -- we
usually do these trips as a family --
but we live out in Westbord."

"Flying home wouldn't be safe,"
Ansel said. "I recommend that you
check with SPOON and maybe see
a reader. They might be able to say
whether traveling by train would
be safer, or some other method."

The parents looked at each other
and sighed, plainly exhausted.

"We'll manage," the mother said.
"I don't know if we can get
a refund for our tickets --"

"I'm sorry I got sick and ruined
everything," Geordie said.
"I didn't mean to!"

"Nobody ever means to get sick,
but sometimes it happens anyway,"
said the flight attendant as she
came back. "That's why we have
first aid training for times like this."

She shook out a roll of something
colorful and covered in straps.

"What is that thing?" Geordie asked,
eyeing it with apprehension.

"The stretcher for flat travel is at
the back of the plane because it
won't fit up the aisle, so we'll use
this roll-up one to move you there,"
the flight attendant explained.

"Just think of it as a cross between
a sleeping bag and a sandal,"
Ansel said. "No way could you
manage to fall out of this!"

Geordie giggled. "Okay."

Just moving him onto the stretcher
made Geordie whimper, though.

"You'll be all right, even though
this part sucks," Ansel assured him.
"Have you taken any EFA classes?
Maybe learned about deep breathing?"

"Yeah, when they thought I was
having panic attacks, one shrink
taught me breathing exercises,"
Geordie said. "It helps a bit."

"Okay, then focus on breathing
while we move you," Ansel said.

Between him, the EMT, and
the flight attendants they had
plenty of people who know how
to transfer a patient properly.

Finally they got Geordie onto
the flat-travel stretcher and
then netted securely into place
with a web of straps similar to
the one on the roll-up stretcher.

Ansel thought about proximity
and separation again as he
buckled himself into a new seat
alongside Geordie. The parents
had moved just ahead of him.

"Hey Geordie, do you have
a favorite place on the ground?"
Ansel asked. "Somewhere
that makes you feel safe?"

"Yeah, I love spelunking,"
Geordie said. "Some of
my favorite caves belong to
the Lava Beds National Monument."

"Tell me about that," Ansel said.
"I've never been there. What's it like?"

"The caves are old lava tubes,
so the formations are different
than wet caves," Geordie said.
"Some you need a tour guide for,
but about twenty you can explore
on your own, and I like to go out
with my Activity Scouts troop ..."

During the landing process, Ansel
learned more than he had ever imagined
about caves, which was not only fascinating
but might prove useful on the job someday.

As soon as the plane stopped moving,
a flight attendant came back and said,
"We're going to unload you first, Geordie.
The ambulance can take one person in
addition to you, and the rest can follow
in the support truck. Who do you want?"

Geordie looked at Ansel. "Stay with me?"
he said. "You know this soup stuff ..."

"Okay," Ansel agreed.

This close to the ground, the ride
wasn't as hard on Geordie as
that first stretcher trip had been,
and it only took a few minutes
to get him onto a wide strip
of lawn at the airport.

The staff even produced
a portable privacy screen so
Geordie wouldn't have to worry
about people staring at him
sprawled on the lawn.

"These things are great,"
one man said as he deployed it.
"We usually use them to keep people
away from messy spills, but they work
for health incidents too. We hope
that you feel better soon, kid."

Five minutes later, Geordie was fine.

He sat up and batted away the EMT
from the airport who was trying to run
through a basic health check.

"I'm okay now, really," Geordie said.
"It's just I need to stay on the ground."
His fingers dug into the grass.

Ansel watched carefully,
but nothing else happened.

"Okay, crisis averted," he said.
"You should get in touch with SPOON
for advice about the next steps --"

"How?" Geordie's mother asked,
staring at Ansel blankly.

Ansel remembered that
most ordinary people didn't
have any more contact with
SPOON than maybe reading
their flyers full of safety tips.

He pulled out his smartphone
and dialed the special number
reserved for flickering support.

Ansel made a brief report of
the situation, then when directed,
passed the phone to Geordie's mother
so she could get further instructions.

Geordie leaned against Ansel,
too shy to seek a complete hug
but desperate for reassurance
under his embarrassed blush.

"Thanks for taking care of me,"
Geordie said. "It helped a lot.
I know my parents love me, but
they don't understand what it's like
or how to fix it. And the doctors are --"
He rolled his eyes. "-- just useless."

Ansel couldn't help remembering
the even more unpleasant incident
with Turq and his explanation about
how ordinary hospitals just were not
equipped to help some soup problems.

"Now that you're in touch with SPOON,
I hope that you find more people who
can help you figure this out," Ansel said.

"I think so," Geordie said. "I just needed
someone to believe it's a real problem."

"Well, that's my job," Ansel said,
"to protect and to serve."

* * *


Geordie Beckham -- He has fair skin with freckles, brown eyes, and short wavy brown hair. He lives with his parents in Westbord, but the whole family customarily travels together for his father's business conventions. An enthusiastic athlete, Geordie excels at learning with his body. He does less well in academic classes, but not enough to flounder. Geordie has always had a variety of mental and physical quirks which have led to many different diagnoses, none of which seem to fit perfectly. Among those are autistic spectrum disorder and sensory processing disorder.
Origin: Geordie has recently begun flickering in puberty.
Uniform: Casual clothes typical of teenage boys. He often wears blue, his favorite color.
Qualities: Good (+2) Kinesthetic Intelligence, Good (+2) Sensitive, Good (+2) Spelunking, Good (+2) Team Sports
Poor (-2) Self-Doubt
Powers: (flickering)
Geordie has always been sensitive, with a lot of quirks, but now he really can't tolerate being off the ground. Airplane rides in particular have become prohibitively miserable. The flickering makes it difficult to determine what is going on or how to help. He may be developing Earth Powers, Direction Sense, Energy Manipulation, and/or Teleportation, all of which can be disoriented by travel or loss of ground contact.
Motivation: Figure out what's happening to him.

* * *

"How strange is this combination of proximity and separation. That ground -- seconds away -- thousands of miles away."
-- Charles A. Lindbergh

Terramagne-American regulations require airlines to provide beverages on all flights, nutritious snacks on flights longer than one hour, and full meals on flights longer than four hours. Ansel's flight from Westbord to River City is officially logged as taking 3 hours 57 minutes. Because dehydration and low blood sugar contribute to air rage, health emergencies, and other problems, it is in everyone's best interest to ensure that all travelers have appropriate sustenance. Since alcohol and soft drinks can increase dehydration and mood swings, some airlines do not serve them, and those that do so offer them only in small servings.

Healthy travel snacks include things like nuts, dried fruit, and crackers. Food bars are fantastic, especially if you may miss a regular meal; if you have a high-burn metabolism (athletes, first responders, etc.) then consider emergency ration bars. Not visible to Ansel is that the attendants have discreetly created an extra cache of ration bars, because they're not supposed to get into the emergency supplies outside of flight emergencies. This way they can avoid calorie-crash medical emergencies. Freeze-dried ice cream is considerably more popular in T-America than here. Sport drinks are good for hydration, and protein shakes can help fill in for missed meals.

Terramagne-American flight safety requires that all flight attendants have basic first aid training to handle medical emergencies. At least one per crew needs the more advanced Air Emergency Technician certification. Travelers should know basic flight safety. Airlines are encouraged, but not required, to offer a Citizen Responders program to identify doctors and other passengers who can provide more assistance during an emergency. Doctors On Board is a simple version that only targets one type of aid, but some are more diverse. A few of the high-end airlines post a medic on call in every flight. This avoids having to broadcast a call for help to all passengers, although that is still available as a backup plan. Larger airplanes often have a space in back or between the wings for passengers who must travel flat and/or require a medical attendant, which is much more efficient and affordable than booking a whole separate ambulance plane. There are tax breaks for airlines that take these extra precautions for passenger safety.  Note that you can make a similar program for any  organization simply by asking for volunteers and listing their emergency skills.  If nobody has training yet, you can band together and get some.

De-escalation training teaches people to defuse conflicts without force. In police training, it's part of producing guardians, not warriors. These strategies follow the martial arts philosophy of winning a fight by avoiding it, and also the dominance theory of minimizing the risk of injury. A cop who escalates a conflict that could have been avoided has placed himself and others at unnecessary risk. Here are some basic de-escalation techniques, and this set includes physical aspects such as slow movement and maintaining distance.

Police also need training in how to recognize and handle citizens with mental conditions. Here is an excellent post about a boy with autism and his interactions with the police.

T-America has duty-to-act standards more similar to L-Europe than L-America. A crucial difference, however, is that L-standards tend to focus on payment whereas T-standards focus on agency. That is, T-America doesn't care whether you get paid for the work, but whether you have freely chosen the work. First responders, whether paid or voluntary, have a primary duty to act within their area of expertise while on duty. Otherwise, why do you even have them? It is also understood that nobody can stay on duty 24/7, and in between those ends, that off-duty personnel can save lives by responding to emergencies in their presence.

The legal obligation falls primarily on first responders on duty. There is then a distinction between "soft" and "hard" off duty. Soft is what most people use most of the time: they're available if needed, and they may also be tracking emergency alerts. This is what the pins are for; someone wearing a first responder pin is advertising themselves as available to help until the on-duty authorities arrive. Wearing the pin creates a duty to respond, same as for other volunteers. Some departments have an emergency-only option for personnel, especially if there's only one person who can handle a certain type of problem, like how Ansel is their only supercop. He's currently considering whether to expand his availability by wearing the pin. Hard off duty is for preventing burnout, being out of area on vacation, having medical reasons or major family obligations (caregiving, weddings, funerals, etc.) which make the person completely unavailable regardless of emergency conditions.

Citizen responders who have credentials may have a duty to act based on their area of expertise, because the whole point to them is this isn't their job, it's something they do whenever needed. Civilians do NOT have a duty to act, because they are not trained for it and/or may have conditions which preclude their involvement and which they are not obligated to disclose. The most they can be obliged to do is to notify the authorities, and the laws for that vary in different places. There are apps designed to mobilize localized resources for citizens trained in CPR and for off-duty first responders, thus increasing the response speed for delivering aid until the authorities can arrive.

Rule #1: Do Not Make Yourself Another Casualty is codified in the first response laws for everyone. Nobody is obligated to intervene when the probability of personal injury exceeds that of rescuing the victim, and/or where they have no relevant training, because that just makes the problem worse. This most often comes into play regarding how much training and equipment are needed to handle a given emergency. However, on duty personnel with their equipment are expected to intervene, because taking that job entails accepting that first response is inherently risky work. The FIRST emergency rule people are taught in T-America, as toddlers, is "You can help by staying out of the way." It is extremely useful in reducing chaos even if you can't do anything else.

T-America is also far more alert to the parallax between legal obligations and community expectations. Where these diverge across a wide gap, the shear creates an unending stream of problems. Therefore, people take steps to close the gap as much as possible. A major challenge here regards superpowers, as society generally tends to perceive superheroes as first responders with responsibilities similar to those of police, paramedics, etc. Superheroes rarely have official status, which muddies both the legal and the moral expectations. Some soups have a much narrower view of their duties than bystanders do, and conversely, some people have a bad habit of assuming that just having superpowers equates to a duty to act. As society is still discussing this, arguments are frequent and sometimes devastating.

Off-duty first responders in T-America often wear a pin to show their profession, in case of emergency. EMT lapel pins may look like this.

In L-America, "Special Police" may refer to a wide range of particular training/assignments. In T-America, this is the term for officers with superpowers. There are pins, badges, and patches for this purpose. Notice that Ansel has superpowers but is just beginning the process of training in how to handle cape fights and other issues. His initial incident with Turq is a good example why that training is valuable. But it's not widely available yet. T-America is still mulling over whether the Special Police markers should apply to all officers with superpowers, or only those who have passed education in cape issues.

A roll-up stretcher such as this model is useful for getting into and out of tight places.

Autism is a type of neurovariance that makes social interactions difficult. There are ways to cope with autism for yourself or your child. Sensory processing disorder covers a range of conditions in which information is detected differently and/or processed incompletely. Understand how to deal with SPD. Both of these conditions overlap with superpowers, especially where someone has enhanced perceptions without the required secondary power of enhanced intelligence to support all that extra information.

There can be a delicate negotiation about what is private or public information. T-America has much better privacy protections than L-America. Superpower status and all related details, like disabilities or other health details, is considered intimate and protected information. It is generally not acceptable to act direct questions about such things without a need to know, and when relevant, it is customary to remind people that they are have the right of nondisclosure and are not obligated to answer. However, choosing nondisclosure may limit the accommodations that are available, and nobody is required to accommodate a need they didn't know about.

Panic attacks feature extreme fear, usually with a direct (if misinterpreted) cause; whereas anxiety attacks tend to be random and without a clear cause. Treatment is similar, with the main difference being a need to get away from a direct source of fear in a panic attack, while an anxiety attack just requires a safe quiet place to recover. Know how to get through a panic attack or help someone else during one. Many of the techniques generalize well to treating other types of overload or distress. Breathing exercises, grounding techniques, and other support skills can be learned with practice.

Caving is a fun hobby of exploring underground places. Lava beds are among the best caves in California. Learn how to go caving.

Portable screens like this wraparound model can be used to protect incident scenes, avoid messes, shield privacy, and much more.
Tags: activism, cyberfunded creativity, fantasy, fishbowl, life lessons, poem, poetry, reading, weblit, writing
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