Saturday, February 12, 2011

Violent Explosions

Today I spent part of my day at a birthday party with my son, who is 12. His friend up in Loveland, CO had a party at an Airsoft competitive gaming place.

I didn't have any idea we were going to a party - I thought he'd been invited to come up for the day to play at Adam's house. I got to the place, and I was at a loss for what to say. There are six or seven kids running around in camoflage, freaky facial masks, padding, goggles and, well, machine guns. Now, I had seen a Airsoft gun in the past - I even bought one for Adrian. It was a basic handgun-style plastic BB gun. The gun shot at a very low 'force' - it didn't hurt much, and we had rules about where it could be pointed. Never at a person. He played with it a few times and then forgot about it.

The experience today was like a bad movie. No one asked me to sign a waiver, there was no safety presentation, there were no rules about where to shoot. In fact, the whole point was to shoot at and hit the other players. And these guns are very different from the little handgun we'd had. At a close enough range, you end up with a bloody welt from the shot. (I didn't know that at the time.) But Adrian seemed game - he hadn't seen his friend in a long while, and didn't want to wimp out. I eventually left. I was supposed to come back in 4 or 5 hours. At one point, before I left, two of the kids came running out to tell Adam's father "Michael got mad and shot Adam point-blank in the face!" I knew Adrian was not going to last that long. The drive home was about an hour, and 15 minutes after I got home, he called and said he was done. He hated it, had two welts on his back, said the guns were more forceful than he had realized, and that he found there was nothing fun about it.

Later, I read a little about Airsoft, and found that these competitive gaming places exist around the country, but kind of under the radar. They are purposefully staying low-key, so they don't raise the hackles of Boulder-heads like me. Now, I don't know if I care that much what other kids do with themselves. No, wait. I do care. I just don't think it's up to me to decide that for other parents. If I had known what I know now, after reading about the current variety of guns, the injuries.....I still would have let him decide. But I really wouldn't have left, and I wouldn't have been so genial about the whole thing.

I'm pretty aware that I have found a nice world for myself here in Boulder, where there are a lot of peaceniks like me. And I know that it takes all kinds to make the world go round. I know that playing with BB guns is a far cry from the real thing. I just don't spend much time with people who are intentionally into violence. I don't really understand the intentional glorification of war in young kids, the love of guns that seem to have no purpose other than to brutally kill people, and the lack of attention to teaching the kids to respect the force of the guns. So it was enlightening for me, and I've once again expanded my little worldview. And yeah, I was happy to grab my kid and leave. I'm not completely anti-gun, and I think studying combat strategy can be interesting. But the 12 year olds in cammo, terrifying face masks and the resulting welts, anger and hidden tears were not confidence inspiring, in terms of the kind of people we're trying to raise our kids to be. I know not everyone would agree with me.

Speaking of violent forces, I was driving home from a Superbowl 'party' last week (a theater that serves food, drinks and broadcasts the game) right after half-time. Something that looked like a big chunk of black ice or snow came flying off the car in front of me. This is at about 65 MPH on a three-lane urban highway, I-25, just north of Denver. A mere half-second later, I heard an explosion that sounded like a gunshot, smelled something that smelled like burning gunpowder, and felt a huge force under the driver's seat. At the same time, my seatbelt started tightening around me with the force of a tornado. The only time I've ever felt a force like that around my hips before was childbirth. I had to try and get it unbuckled because I thought it was going to cut me in half. I had no idea what had happened to the ice chunk, with the calamity going on inside the car. I felt fortunate that I didn't swerve off the road just trying to manage the 'inside the car' scene. I was lucky that everyone else was apparently still watching the game - I was able to quickly slow down and pull over to the side of the road.

I had no idea what had happened. I really didn't. I checked all the tires, I tried to identify the smell inside the car. I could only think of gunpowder and fire. I checked the front end - there were no dents, no sign of impact. The driver's side seatbelt was useless. It had no more tension or give, and I couldn't pull it out enough for it to be usable. I tentatively got back in and started the car, to see what would happen. An airbag light I'd never seen before came on, on the dash, and the passenger seat airbag light was flashing. I was about 8 miles from home, and intuitively felt like I could get the car home if I drove it.

My mind was just going over all the possibilities, and the closest thing I could imagine was that, when I saw the chunk of ice, I had naturally tapped the brake to slow down a little. And that somehow the car assumed I was heading for an accident, and had tried to deploy the airbags. For some reason, they didn't deploy. I assumed the seatbelt tightening was what was supposed to happen in the event of an accident, but I didn't feel as if I'd had an accident. I didn't know what the loud explosion was - I assumed it was related to the airbag not opening. I had a horrendous bruise on my right hip from the seatbelt getting all rough with me.

I went to two Honda dealerships, and talked to four different people before I got a full explanation. It took me three days to get to the right person, who was able and willing to tell me. It turns out in newer cars there is "an explosive device" connected to the seatbelts that deploys when the cars 'black box" senses a likely accident. I was told that there had to have been some combination of deceleration and impact. I was told that normally, the explosion happens when you are already en accidente*, and you normally wouldn't notice it. My good buddy Linda at the Honda body shop in Boulder was my best source, and she told me that most likely the chunk of ice had gone under the car, and caused something under the car to deduce that there was an impact. She said the Honda CR-V is notoriously low to the ground, for a SUV-type car. I asked her - what if my son had been in the passenger seat - would his seatbelt have tightened like mine, or because he is only about 70 lbs, would it not do that, like the airbags? She said "a kid who weighs 70 lbs shouldn't be in that seat." Yes, the same thing would have happened on his side. Because I slowed down immediately, the car decided it didn't have to go to Defcon5 and deploy the airbags. Thank god for that. I do appreciate the value of the seatbelt/airbag thing in a crash. I just didn't understand fully what was happening, and I would have preferred to know.

I left my car at the body shop. Linda called me to say "holy crap, was there an impact!". She said under the car, it was messy and it's about $2500 of damage.

What have I learned from this?

1) Don't bother going somewhere to watch the Superbowl. It's not worth it.
2) I am the kind of person who wants to be notified about things. I want Honda to tell me that there is an explosive device in my seatbelt that might go off sometime when I don't expect it.
3) RTFM. I have not read the entire manual for my car. I basically read the stereo/navigational stuff and read the rest as needed. It's quite possible Honda did notify me about this, I just haven't read it yet on page 263.
4) My first impulse was to go right to Linda at the body shop. Instead, I went to the service department at two different dealerships, and they mostly gave me the old "optic neuritis"** gaze.  Always just go to Linda.
5) You can have a car accident with a chunk of black ice.

Meanwhile, I started a new med that was supposed to help me with energy a few weeks ago. It's called Amantadine, and my understanding is that it increases the dopamine that is available to the brain. It, like many things, almost always has a tapering-off effect, so it isn't a long-term solution. It has completely changed the quality of my life. I'm shocked by it. I hadn't realized how weak and low energy I had become. Every single thing I did was a complete effort, and would exhaust me. Using Amantadine (plus caffeine), I am able to almost get through the day. Previously, I would have no choice but to sleep during certain times of the day. I couldn't make a freaking cup of coffee without being out of breath and tired. I can already feel it slowly feeling ever-so-slightly less effective each day. I will probably go up to two pills a day. I'm not sure if you can go higher. It just makes me wonder -- does dopamine deficiency have a relationship to MS? It does in Parkinson's.

I don't know how long this will last, but I'm appreciating every minute. And after it stops working, I will move on to the next thing - Provigil or Nuvigil. What I know now is that my unmedicated fatigue level is NOT acceptable and I will keep trying whatever it takes to do what needs to be done each day. Perhaps the day will come when nothing helps, but I'm going to put that off as long as I can.


Medicated Trrish

*I just made that up

**The old "optic neuritis" gaze is something I coined from back when I was getting (eventually) diagnosed with MS. After my first child was born, I had a very strange situation happening with my vision that I just couldn't explain. It was like I had a blind spot in the middle of my visual field, though I could see ok out of my peripheral vision. If I wanted to read something, I'd have to turn my head and read it out of the corner of my eye. That's honestly the best way I can describe it. I went to a couple of optician-type people and could not get anyone who could tell me what it was. Four years later, the same thing happened after my son was born. By this time, the web was in full swing, and I was able to diagnose myself. At the time, I lived down the street from an opthamalogist, who confirmed it for me.

While reading about optic neuritis (ON), I was led to read about MS. I was kind of astonished when I thought "hey, that's me". My neighbor told me that many optician-types will not diagnose ON out loud to someone, because 75-80% of ON cases are indicative of MS. They don't want to be the one the gives someone that news. They just want to sell you glasses. So they looked at me and said, "I don't know. You might want to see an opthamalogist." Which I did, but they couldn't diagnose me, either, that first time, for whatever reason.

That just shocked me at the time. I kind of get it, now, knowing what I do about MS.

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