Last week I had a rather unique experience. I was invited to a disaster. Well, actually it was a mock disaster drill.
It took place at a local medical center. One of my granddaughters asked me to join this party because they were short of victims. My instructions were to be there between 2 and 3 p.m., wear old clothes, and bring a friend.
We arrived at 2:30. There were a bunch of folding chairs set up around a tent, which housed a make-up center. My friend and I were each given a card that named our various injuries. I had a badly bruised shin. My friend had a bad bruise on her head, knew her name, but was confused. She took it well when I told her that her role was type-casting.
When it was our turn, we reported for make-up. The young make-up artist checked my injury card and quickly aimed a brush with screaming red grease paint on it at my chin. I ducked as I said, “Shin, shin! Not chin.” By the time he was done I was glad I caught him in time. He did such a good job my leg began to ache.
We were sitting in the shade watching the other “victims” getting make-up when one of the disaster team approached us. “Can you wheeze?” she asked. I assured her that I could. “Good, I need to trade you cards. ‘You’ll start wheezing in triage. Then you’ll keep getting worse, and when you get to the doctor, you quit breathing.” I told her I could wheeze, but I didn’t think I’d be very good at not breathing. She moved on to find someone with a talent for not breathing.
Shortly after that we were joined by another granddaughter and her now five-year-old son. He looked over the various victims of all ages with really ugly injuries with great concern. “Don’t worry,” I assured him. ‘They aren’t hurt. It’s only make-up.” I pointed to the tent where they were still working.
After watching for a little while, he decided he wanted to be made up too. He was especially fond of a stomach wound that seemed to pump real blood. “EEww, gross!” he happily said.
However his card only called for a badly deformed knee. His disappointment over just having his knee painted was quickly relieved by the delivery of 25 pizzas for the “victims” who were sitting around chatting and joking with people of all ages that they never knew before.
At 4 p.m. the disaster officially began. The “walking wounded” were ordered to walk about a block to the triage station. Grandson decided he was ready to go home. I had to find the fearless leader of the affair. I needed a wheelchair if I had to go a whole block.
No, my card didn’t call for a wheelchair. It was the messed up hamstring in my leg that limited my walking. I had managed to do that the week before. Once I got the wheelchair, grandson was happy to stay as long as he could ride on my lap.
I told him that when we talked to the nurse he should tell her that his leg hurt. “But it doesn’t,” he replied. “We’re just pretending like they told us to do,” I told him. He just shook his head no. “Maybe she’ll give you a bandage,” I promised.
He turned and looked at the nurse, “I need a bandage.” She looked at his knee and asked him what happened. We had agreed earlier to say he got hit by a red brick. He looked at her and said, “She got hit by a brick. I want a bandage.” She smiled and told him, “I’ll see if I can find one,” She found a roll of gauze and gave him a dandy bandage.
Shortly thereafter they took my wheelchair away for someone “who was really hurt.” I didn’t get a chance to say I really was hurt. It was OK though. We got to go inside to sit in soft chairs in air-conditioned comfort until a doctor released us. One of the male “victims” told everybody we were probably in the billing department.
All in all it was a pretty neat social afternoon. The medical people got lots of practice and “victims” got to chat and joke with old friends, new acquaintances, and total strangers. I’d do it again, if they’d let me. Maybe I should practice not breathing.
AUTHOR’S NOTE: This column was first published in the Daily Advocate Oct. 3, 2008.