Grateful for the 1 Percent

If it wasn’t for the, perhaps, 1 percent of humans who over the course of our history have created things that allow me live in the comfort I greatly enjoy, life would be far different.

I live in a home that I did not have to create by felling trees, cleaning the branches to make logs and then piling them on top of each other, hoping they didn’t tumble down and crush my family.

Whatever is happening outside weather-wise is handled easily by turning a dial — warm to the right, cool to the left. Water, hot or cold, appears by lifting a handle. I can fill my refrigerator by using my phone to pick from millions of life-sustaining items that can appear at my door within 24 hours.

I had the luxury of access to education. It would have taken me three lifetimes and immeasurable injuries to understand that I will never possess the aptitude to do most of the things that I have allowed other people to figure out for me.

I like nothing more than to envision myself the great survivor — a person for the ages, one who leads, invents and survives. Truth be told, without the 1 percent who actually do invent, I would be living in a dilapidated lean-to, or worse, I would be skinny as a rail because I have never hunted or killed anything on purpose, don’t know an edible mushroom from a magic one, and probably would be relegated to eating bugs and pine needles. As for leading, my guess is I would lead myself to ruin as soon as I figured out how to ferment wild grapes and berries.

I enjoy the luxury of existing on a Paleo diet, complemented by a gym membership that allows me the luxury of simulating a great hunt that provides me with the meat and greens that cavemen once had to eat to survive. I drive a shiny, quiet, fuel-efficient and completely magical vehicle two miles to the place where I act like a caveman by lifting heavy things over and over, and then spend half an hour running four miles on a treadmill.

Without the gathered knowledge of the brilliant 1 percent who made all of this possible, I would in all likelihood be forced by my own ineptitude to live like the caveman I try so hard to emulate.

I probably wouldn’t even be able to attract a mate. One of the most important things women look for in a man is competence, followed by good grooming. To be competent, one must be able to provide food and shelter. My fishing skills consist of choosing wild-caught as opposed to farm-raised salmon. As for offering shelter, protection and safety without carpenters, plumbers, electricians, the police and U.S. Marines, any fortress I actually had the luck to establish would easily be overrun by a mob of two.

I will never build a computer, a television, dependable watch or a light bulb, never mind shampoo or cologne. I might manage to pull off the creation of some pottery and a comfortable chair, but I wonder if I would even try.

Thankfully, the 1 percent have greatly contributed to my standard of living, which is quite modest by today’s standards but would be considered obscenely luxurious for 99.9 percent of the time that human beings have existed. They have afforded me the opportunity to find out what I am actually proficient at, and to hone those skills without having to worry about the basics.

Another Battle

The early morning sun had yet to break the horizon as we approached the two family home in the heart of South Providence. Places like this are everywhere in the neighborhoods, well kept multi-family homes, some a little dated, others freshly painted with ornate metal gates adorning the driveways. There was no gate here, just an old Ford parked next to the house, with a wounded combat veteran licence plate on the back.

A trend has resurfaced in this neighborhood. Somebody buys a two or three family home, Mom and pop live on the ground floor, the kids who own the place occupy the second and if available the third apartment is rented, sometimes to another family member, to help foot the bill. My own family started out like this, it actually sounds kind of nice. Absentee landlords still exploit the poor folks who settle here, their homes obviously lacking the TLC needed to maintain the old places.

I walked into the home. The old folks lived on the first floor. It looked like they had lived here for decades. Slumped in a kitchen chair was our patient, an eighty-five year old veteran named Joe. Engine 11 had arrived first, an IV was already established, vital signs taken and hi-flow oxygen being delivered through a non re-breather. Joe had tried to take a sip of his morning coffee, felt sudden weakness and spilled it all over his crisp, white t-shirt. There was obvious facial droop, and no strength on his left side when he squeezed my hands.

His wife of fifty years stood by, nervously wiping the spilled coffee from the green linoleum floor. “He goes to the VA,” she said.

As the guys from the 11’s and Adam helped Joe into the stair chair, having to strap him tight so he wouldn’t tip to the left I took his wife to the side. I hated doing it.

“When did you notice something different?” I asked.

“Right before I called you, about ten minutes ago. He was fine, drinking his coffee like he does every day, then he dropped it and couldn’t tell me what was wrong.”

“I think Joe is having a stroke,” I said as gently and quickly as I could. If we get him to the proper facility the damage can be stopped. We can help him but the VA isn’t the best place for something like this.

She started to argue, insurance reasons maybe, familiarity more likely, but saw the urgency in my gaze and relented.

“I’ll stay here and clean up,” she replied, nervously wiping the kitchen table where the coffee stained paper sat, opened to the Sports Section.

In the truck Joe was in the stretcher, listing to the left.

“Let’s go.”

I reassessed his vital signs and tried to get him to speak. He tried valiantly but was frustrated and unable to articulate his thoughts.

As we sped to the ER I gave him the news. A wounded WWII vet deserved the truth.

“Joe, you are having a stroke. There are treatments available and we’re within the time frame. We can stop the damage, you’re not done fighting just yet.”

His right hand gripped mine fiercely, he made eye contact, then he closed his eyes. We rode to the hospital in silence, him lost in his thoughts, me hoping I wasn’t witnessing his last battle.