How it Started

When I was 12, I found a blank ledger book. It was a treasure beyond treasure to me. I debated and debated about what to do with it - it had to be something special. Finally I decided to make a list of things I wanted to do and places I wanted to see in my life and then cross them off when I had accomplished them. At first they were simple things, but soon I was adding dramatic things, impossible things, but things still worth dreaming about. Oddly enough, putting them on the list somehow made them attainable. I have kept the book and updated the list my entire life. Here is the story behind some of the entries - successes and failures, embarrassing and proud moments, laughter and tears - the ridiculous to the sublime!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Jump Down an Airplane Slide - DID IT

Commercial passenger airplanes have self-inflating emergency slides at each door.  So if there is an emergency, the flight crew opens the "armed" doors, the slide inflates in seconds and the crew can quickly funnel people out of a burning aircraft to safety. Jumping down the slide can be intimidating - it's a long way down when viewed from inside the plane. For flight crews, the only way to be good at it is to practice jumping.  You would be surprised how many potential Flight Attendants wash out of the training program when faced with jumping and they can't.

I was a flight crew instructor in the early 2000's.  As part of my training, I attended the FAA's Civil Aeromedical Institute (CAMI) in Oklahoma City. It was a rigorous week of emergency procedures Train-the-Trainers that included escaping from a dark, smoke-filled cabin and jumping down the slide.  It also included water survival and exposure to hypoxia (lack of oxygen).

I was amazed at how fast the training cabin filled with pretend smoke - I LITERALLY could not see my hand in front of my face in seconds.  We felt our way out of the plane to the door (those little floor lights really do work), and jumped, hoping the slide was there! Although it was a long way off the ground, it was a fast ride down, and for some, a hard landing.

Later in the week, we jumped in the pool wearing jeans, a sweatshirt, shoes and a bulky inflatable life vest.  We had to work as a team to inflate an emergency raft and help each other climb aboard.  Then we had to attach the foul-weather cover.  As soon as we were in the raft with the canopy roof almost up, our instructors turned off the lights and began spinning the raft and making waves in the pool that tossed us around in the dark. Wherever the cover wasn't sealed tight, they sprayed ice cold water into the raft. It was a long 15-minute ride that was none too amusing!  Later, while kept afloat with our life vest, we had to wrestle an "injured" person - also wearing a life vest - into a helicopter rescue basket that was winched to the ceiling, spinning all the way up - another ride that seemed like fun until you were in the basket!

The big day was the Decompression Chamber. We donned oxygen masks and began a series of experiments designed to acquaint us with the symptoms of oxygen deprivation.  Our vital signs and reactions were carefully monitored for safety. Comfortably seated in the tank, we removed our masks and began performing a series of tasks.  First there were math problems.  I carefully added, subtracted and divided and came up with 0 for every equation (zero was not the correct answer, but I was very proud of my math skills!)  At 60 seconds on the timer, I was asked to write my name.  I got Kathleen just fine, but for the life of me, I couldn't remember my last name - something my husband of 25+ years wasn't too happy about! I kept thinking, "I should know this."  At about the 75-second point my fingertips were tingling and tunnel-vision was setting in. It was time to put the mask back on and suck some O2.  We were handed a painter's color wheel that had only black, white and grey colors.  Watching the wheel as I breathed into my mask, it slowly changed to full color.  It was like magic!  Your brain cannot distinguish colors when deprived of oxygen. (Or, apparently, remember your married name!)

CAMI is an amazing facility.  It gave me some incredible insights and stories to share with my students.  And it was one of many trips I've taken down the emergency slide.  It's so much fun, I can't get enough of it.

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