Thursday, May 29, 2008

Spousal Communications

Those who know me and my wife understand that we don't always talk to each other face to face. In fact, we're both so busy with our various activities that Anne's rule from her days at Amdahl - "If you didn't write it down it never happened" - is something we both have to live by.

As a result, we do strange things, like email each other about commitments, or reminders to check our schedules, even when we're both in the house, and sometimes when we're sitting back to back in the den. This is all perfectly normal for a fair percentage of modern couples, I suspect, and thus not a surprise.

The other day, however, Anne hit me with a new twist. Now she's reading this blog to find out what I'm doing, and though I've only just started writing it there's already been one unexpected discovery: a VFD call in the middle of the night. To explain how it is possible - or rather, the surprise I felt when she told me about it - you need to know how the dispatch process work in the middle of the night in our home.

The pager sits in its charging stand right next to my side of the bed, less than two feet from my ear. When it goes off it makes either an immensely loud beeping noise (despite my turning the volume all the way down) or a loud, low growling (when vibrate mode causes it to rattle the charging stand rather violently on the table top).

Next, I grab the pager to smother it to reduce its chances of waking Anne up. Mind you, it has already beeped at 110 decibels or so, and therefore should already have rattled her skull into wakefulness, but in the off chance that she's still blissfully unaware that someone in Felton wants my attention, I lunge for it, yank it back to the bed, and push it - speaker down - into the mattress so I can just make out what is being said by the dispatcher.

Assuming the page is for my department, my next steps actually involve thought. What sort of incident is it? Where is it? Am I even likely to get to the station before the engine leaves without me? And so on. These are all very difficult questions in the wee hours, at least for me, but I do my best.

Note that sometimes the pager goes off and it isn't anything I have to respond to. The way things are structured, most of the times that Burrell is paged out without us, our department's pagers go off as well. That way we know Burrell station's crew is gone and we're primary coverage for a while. But I digress...

At this point, assuming I am needed and there is a good chance I will get to the station before others leave without me, I get out of bed. This is not a gentle process either, and provides the third serious chance for Anne to wake up enough to realize that something is going on.

Next is a tricky bit. I have to find my way across the room to my clothes, and do that without stumbling over or stepping on either of our dogs. The one that sleeps on my side of the bed - Danno - does his best to make that difficult. He moves around at night and he's roughly floor colored, so I never know where he will be. On a night with little moon, just walking that 12 feet or so may be more dangerous than anything I'm going to face on the call, and tripping over an 85 pound dog leads to me yelping at a minimum. Yet one more possible chance for Anne to exit her coma.

For the sake of argument, let's assume I can get to my clothes without incident. I now dress in a hurry and exit the bedroom. And here I face a choice: do I tell Anne I'm leaving or not? This isn't quite as simple as it sounds. If she's made noises like she might be awake enough to know I'm heading out, I generally say something. If, however, she hasn't moved, I assume that despite my activities she is blissfully unaware of my departure, and leave as quietly as I can, trying not to trip over the other dog - Leah - on the way out the door.

I don't know how others would respond, but I can assure you that in most cases Anne has no idea I've left, nor that I've returned. But her statement the other day that she'd read my blog and learned I'd been on a call was a gem.

That morning - at about 1am - I'd gone through the motions as documented above, and she'd made noises like I'd woken her. Enough that I told her I was going to a fire down towards Scott's Valley (I seem to recall) but that I probably wouldn't be first to the water tender, and even if I was we'd probably be canceled before we got to the scene. She said something vague in response - probably something like "Mmmfff.", looking back on it with hindsight - but it was, clearly, a response.

An hour later when I came home, undressed, wandered across the room yet again, trying to avoid the dogs, and climbed back into bed, cold and unable to sleep for a while, I know she was unconscious. How she slept through my return I don't claim to understand, but she did.

So let me ask you, how can it be possible for me to go through all of the above and have her need to read my blog to discover that I went out on a call? You'd think that after being married as long as we have - over 20 years - I'd have a clue. But I honestly don't.

Combine this with the opposite problem - if she wakes up at the wrong time she's awake for the rest of the night - and I live in fear. If my nocturnal VFD work leads to her being awakened in the middle of the night, I may return to find her sitting up, holding a large, blunt object and telling me how she's going to make sure I "get some sleep now."

And that's a kind of spousal communications I'd rather avoid if I can.