A change of tires, heart, and habits

Issue: BCMJ, Vol. 59, No. 2, March 2017, page(s) 78 Editorials
David R. Richardson, MD

Question: How long does it take to change a flat tire?
Answer: Apparently, 7½ hours.

After doing hospital rounds over Christmas I decided to go on a little trip to San Diego to try to get some rest and relaxation over the New Year’s break. Bellingham International Airport is a short jump over the border and a good place from which to catch a quick flight to a larger airport to connect to various destinations. We were all onboard the 5:00 a.m. flight when the captain asked us to deplane as one of the tires was a little low (nary a laugh when I suggested Prozac). A flat tire needed changing—apparently tires are somewhat important airplane accessories even though they are required for only a brief (but very crucial) period of time. I figured, no problem, quick change and we will be on our way. Alas, the revised departure time kept getting extended until we had been sitting in Bellingham for most of the day. They had to drive a spare tire up from Seattle, which is interesting since I could have driven to Seattle and back almost twice in the time it took for the fix.

Nevertheless, we had a wonderful time in San Diego and I breathed a sigh of relief as our returning connector flight from Portland back to Bellingham took off without a hitch. As I boarded I did give the tires a good talking to. At around midnight, when we were on our final descent, we began a rollercoaster ride worthy of being ranked in the world’s top five. Two thoughts entered my jostled brain: how is he going to land this thing, and I really wish I had finished my new will. After two nerve-wracking attempts we aborted and headed back to Portland. I wistfully waved goodbye to Seattle as we flew overhead, hoping the captain would decide to land there. At about 3:00 a.m. we managed to rebook on a flight to Vancouver from Portland that was leaving within a few hours. A hotel room seemed silly so we dropped ourselves in the departure ticketing area and tried to sleep on the carpet. What I found interesting was that people didn’t even notice us and continued to talk as they maneuvered around our slumbering forms. I found this process a little dehumanizing and it gave me some insight into what it must be like to be a homeless person sleeping on the street (I do realize my plight of dozing in a warm airport after being delayed coming home from a vacation to San Diego doesn’t really compare).

This experience got me to thinking about what else I don’t take the time to notice. My community has many apparently homeless individuals, many of whom likely suffer from mental illness. Perhaps they deserve some notice and a little kindness. I could enter into a sociological debate as to why the homeless exist or try to ease suffering a little by giving something of myself—maybe some food or hot coffee. How about a warm blanket or some clothes I don’t need? I am sure even a hello or an acknowledging look in the eye might be appreciated before I step around and get on with my busy day. Charity starts at home and my recent travel adventures have encouraged me to try to do a little more for those less fortunate individuals who live in my community.

P.S. In case you think me ungrateful, I am thankful to be alive and applaud the respective airplane captains for not landing on a flat tire or in a vicious crosswind.