After you’ve been around for more than a couple of decades, and I have, you begin to notice patterns, repetitions, and cycles. You discover that you can set your calendar to the occurrence of certain events. You could place bets and win. You begin to feel clairvoyant. In truth, you’re not. You’ve just been paying attention, making mental notes, and learning from others.
As sure as the sun rises in the east, you know that come March or April emergency workers will be dispatched to a lake, river or farm dugout to rescue some pre-teen boy who’s fallen through the ice. Media will gather, emotions of either relief or despair will bubble over into your supper hour depending on the outcome. Experts will reiterate for only the ten thousandth time that ice is unstable and unsafe when it is melting. Duh? Ditto for the guys on snowmobiles. What part of this is a surprise, unforeseen, and not preventable?
By May, we’re treated to scenes of wild grass fires. Many parts of Alberta are still trying to cope with persistent drought conditions. Most counties and municipalities now issue year-round fire bans. Yet careless flicking of cigarette butts out of car windows is still occurring. Some farmers and acreage owners are surreptitiously trying to do that spring cleanup with a fire out back beyond their view. When six rural fire departments and the media show up, it’s no longer a secret.
Any day now, the first of the annual boating incidents is bound to happen. Precious resources will be deployed to drag lake bottoms looking for the drowned. Tearful crowds will gather. Vigils will be held. Someone will be mourning the loss of a son, father, or husband. Too often, the footnote to the story will explain the deadly combination of alcohol and no floatation device.
We mustn’t forget the motorcycle and motor vehicle crashes, hunting accidents, dog attacks, drunk drivers, out-of-control house parties, and fires. Inevitably Dr. Louis Francescutti, injury prevention guy and emergency room doctor, will be interviewed on camera or in print for his take on the event. He’ll repeat the usual warnings about risky behaviour, the senseless loss of life, and the total preventability of the incident. He’ll talk about lost productivity, human suffering, and huge treatment costs. He’ll talk about the seeming lack of political will to make injury prevention a priority.
So why rant about this now? Why can’t we learn from the misfortune of others? Surely we don’t need to have a toddler drown in a dugout, have Dick Cheney accidentally shoot a friend, have someone fall out of a coconut tree, or lose our uninsured home to a candle fire in order to learn these lessons. Surely we’re aware and bright enough to use the six o’clock lead stories and the front-page disasters as teaching tools for our families and ourselves. Surely we can stay safe long enough to die of natural causes at age 85. Noticing the patterns is key, from where I sit.