Things That Won’t Kill You (or make you stronger)



My underwear are inside out. I just discovered that when I made my first of what will be many forays into the ceanothus bushes on the side of the road today. In my defense it was dark and cold in my truck when I put them on, and also in my defense, at least they are clean. This fire assignment has been one of the ones where I break all of the rules, that, as a mother, are the cardinal guardians of health and propriety. Rules like:

Change your underwear
Don’t sleep in your clothes
Brush your hair
Take a shower
Call your mother
Wash your face
Put on clean clothes

Broken. All of them. I think of myself scolding Halle about her fire showering habits, and at ten o'clock at night as I stare at the line of grubbier-than-me firefighters waiting for one of the five shower stalls in spike camp, I decide that it’s just not worth it. I have deodorant. I have hardly broken a sweat in the last two weeks, except when I had that teensy-weensy fever the other day. I have been wearing the same shirt and pants for two weeks. I have changed my underwear, more than once, as well as my socks. We will leave it at that and allow you to extrapolate the worst. I have had three total showers since I got here 15 days ago. You do the math. And at night, when it’s dropping into the mid 30s and I know I will be waking up to sub-freezing temps, I crawl into my brand-new down sleeping bag in my two-week-old dirty clothes and drift off into a NyQuil induced coma, knowing I don’t have to wake up and struggle into freezing clothes in the morning.

This fire is also a little unusual in that I have absolutely no contact with the outside world. Apparently people in this neck of the woods have never heard of AT&T. I am a cellular outcast, watching with longing as The Others run up to lookout hilltops to call their loved ones and check Facebook on their Verizon devices. I had access to wifi at the incident command post when I would walk All The Way across camp (it’s far) and stand awkwardly in a hallway in the way of all the important ICP people doing important ICP things. But now I am at Spike Camp, where the only cellular activity is the faint hiss-pop of brain cells exploding after constant contact with ambient smoke for days on end.

I got a head cold from a Division supervisor who got it from a crew of unshowered snot bags on the line - one of which might have been my own daughter. It’s like a mosaic of viruses out here, a pretty technicolor blend of upper respiratory and intestinal symptoms that swirl in harmonic cadence to the rhythm of a dry cough. I have been in a sinus-smogged haze for a few days, thinking everyday it is a little better and then waking up with razor blades in my throat or dizzy spells that convince me it is not. Luckily I am part of the medical unit and have All The Drugs to fix what ails me. But not. For the record, DayQuil is garbage. What I need is real sudafed and apparently in Oregon, that’s a prescription drug. So I suffer in semi-silence.

Being The Worst Mother In The World, I also missed my kid’s first day of school. I have been entertained with arguments against myself about whether making enough money to pay all the bills is more important than big landmarks like that, and so far both sides are winning, so it’s safe to say my guilt mechanisms are alive and well. I have gotten used to talking to myself - a habit that comes in handy for a line EMT who sits alone, with no cell service, at a drop point for 14 hours a day. All of the things I think I need to tell The Whole World become trivial information I feed to myself. Also I have read 17 books. That’s a lot.

I am living proof that neither dirty underwear, lack of connectivity, parenting badly or a virus pot-luck can kill you. I am reluctant to assure you that any of the aforementioned will make you stronger, although I can feel my immune system rallying in the form of thick yellow mucus every day.

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