Wednesday, December 12, 2012

How Not to Freak Out 301: Stop. Okay.

This is probably the hardest of the four lessons. The first lesson and the second lesson generally give you plenty of time to think. This has to happen quickly, often in less than a second. In a car accident this would probably happen immediately before the accident or while your car is still in motion or just after it stops. Seconds matter. Just like the Stop, Drop and Roll training if you are on fire, you must not take off running. Every time I have been in a crisis, time slows down. A perfect example is the summer of 2004 on the north face of Long Peak in Rocky Mountain National Park. Three of us were climbing unroped up a snow slope. I was very new to crampons and plastic boots at the time. To the best of my recollection I heard something above me, looked up, and saw a giant bolder about .75 meters on each side (30 inches or so) tumbling toward us. In the time it took you to read that sentence I was already stopped (it’s easy to stop above 13,000 feet when you are barely acclimated) and began to work the problem (lesson four). 

Another time I was with two high school friends in Lawrence, Kansas for a Saturday and we turned the wrong way down a crowded one way street. I was sitting in the back but my friends in the front started screaming. In the time it took me to lean forward to get a good view out the front window I stopped and prepared to talk. It happens so fast, even though time is going slowly. The point is, while time matters it is better to freeze and pause for even a second, dare I say two seconds, rather that skip to an irrational reaction. 

For example, if you go the wrong way down a one-way street it is better to slam on the brakes and sit there than accelerate into an attempted u-turn. If you are in the stop stage, hopefully you already knew that something in this situation could go wrong so you at least had some preparation. 

Another example, my first night camping above 20,000 feet of elevation I endured a serious headache, the worst I have ever had, that started at 9 PM an hour after I went to bed. It got worse and worse throughout the night. I knew that acute mountain sickness and cerebral edema were possible maladies that could occur at high altitudes. I knew that drinking water and heading downhill were the top two ways to cure it. So when 5 AM came, I quit rolling around and packed my stuff to head down the 4,500 feet to basecamp alone. I arrived in time for a late breakfast. That is a simple example because I had hours to decided what I was going to do, but the other members of my expedition described the situation as though I was packed and gone very quickly as soon as the sun was up. 

Another example, you are drunk and you did not plan ahead for this. You did not figure out how you will get home. Someone who is drunk offers a ride home. Just stop for a second or perhaps a minute. 

The hard part is when you realize a crisis is upon you instead of screaming or running, stop. Just pause. The extra half second that the situation gets worse while you stand there will probably be made up when you make a better decision about how to deal with the problem.

To recap, stop, you are still okay, (time to work the problem).

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