Career choices and their long-term effects on the senses

The worst thing you can do for your five senses is to become a public safety officer. You see, no other vocation takes you into someone’s smelly domicile in its ‘as you find it’ state, than when 911 is dialed (that’s 999 for you Brits, which, I would wish for us Americans, but to make it even EASIER for people to abuse the system, well, I just won’t have it). Thus, you come full-face, full-force, full-diaper into contact with the awful and the offal. I’m so sorry, fledgling paramedics, cops and firemen, but there’s just no time for the denizens of this local eye-sore to spruce up the place for you or to take out the dog for once instead of letting him just go where he must on the carpet.

There’s no easy way to say it – you will pay a price for the job you’ve been dreaming of and it may not show its cost to you up front. Those precious senses have a memory, one that is keener and meaner than the one holding all the knowledge you’re clinging to from the academy or college.

You’re not in a clinical setting looking at these bodies empirically. You’re not studying morbid outcomes through a microscope with its 50x lens because you are so removed from the real process. You’re not relying on test data and metrics coming through the lab. You’re not able to distantly hope for someone else to come up with the answers. You’re in it NOW, baby. Probably neck-deep, too. The smeared remnants of whatever you just cleared to go back into service, will still be on your mind’s eye and nose hairs, long after they have been washed from your uniform.

“But you said ‘five’ senses – I’m not tasting anything in these places.” Oh, my precious friend, yes you are. At least have some sympathy for your nose, and do that thing we all learned to do when we had to hork down pickled beets as a kid – block off the smell/tasting portion from your nose. This will require you to breathe through your mouth, unfortunately. Mmmm, sometimes, there is just no dodging the Crapocalypse. Now!

You will learn, however. You’ll learn subtle tricks to deal with the fetid. The less experienced, junior members of your organization will be your most ready canaries. As will the wonderfully-timed, wonderfully-clueless members of fellow agencies who just had to get there first! There will be improvements in particulate mask technology and donning techniques. We hope for this, anyway. It’s not likely to come from an improvement in the ability of people to clean their houses. And this is elemental, really, because our own filth isn’t so filthy to us. I’m talking about myself here who doesn’t keep the cleanest house and had to resort to employing my teenage daughter as a cleaning lady. She gets paid – we get a clean house. It works. Little does she know, that in her desire to make money as a cleaning lady, she is really only hurting herself in the long run; believing that homes are places that should be clean and swept.

You see, she wants to become a cop when she’s older. As one of these people you come across who set their minds and rarely deviate, I have no doubt she will achieve it. Even now, though, she cannot hear the cries, the warnings, the lamentations of her poor nose hairs trying to pull themselves out before it’s too late, her eardrums – obscenities and curses yet unheard, the tastebuds wishing they’d never been born, her optic nerves absorbing everything with a hungry delight soon to be burned with horrors not found in fiction, the skin bumps that will crawl under her uniform someday – responding as any normal person would, to the unimaginable. I hear them beg her to become an attorney, or a park ranger, a farmer.

Someday, long from now, maybe at Thanksgiving or a visit to her house unexpected, I will look at her when she’s not noticing. In her eye, I will see the reflection of the things unforgotten that should never have been seen by my baby girl. But it’s what happens when brave kids grow up to do brave things just like you hope they would. Maybe then she’ll see me watching her, turn my way and nod with too much understanding. I won’t say the proverbially revolting ‘I told you so.’ I’ll just give her a hug and a squeeze on the arm. Probably a stiff drink too. After all, she can’t taste anything else anymore.