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My Name Is Iden | One inch at a time

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It’s 1998. I am 19 years old sparring with my martial arts instructor Master Genna. He steps forward in a front kick. I quickly jump to the side and dodge it. I duck, anticipating the follow-up attack. With the speed of a 19-year-old, I spring up, launching a counter-attack.

Master bats my punch to the side, opening my defenses, leaving me wide open and helpless. I will have to eat whatever attack comes next. I brace myself as best as I can. But it never does.

There is no punch, no knee-strike, no takedown, only Master’s voice: “Stop.”

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I do. I step back, snap to attention, and bow. He acknowledges this. He then asks me, “Crockett, where is the fight?”

It’s 2018. I am a 39-year-old paramedic. It’s night, and I am in a tiny bedroom that must have been converted from an attic. The room is literally filled with empty liquor bottles — in some corners they are level to the bed.

My patient is at least 300 pounds, completely unresponsive and barely breathing. My partner is behind me, unable to help because there is only space for one of us to get a few feet into the room.

There are a dozen things that could be wrong with this person, and I have no idea which of those brought them to this critical state. We need multiple diagnostic tests, multiple complex interventions, and we need to do them soon.

My partner’s voice comes over my shoulder: “Crockett, how do you want to do this?”

I’m not sure. There is so much to do and so little time to do it, but I am responsible for this patient and their care. I have to make a choice. If I make the wrong one, I won’t have another chance. The tasks, the choices, the possible outcomes, the responsibility, are all spinning in my brain, a tornado driven by the tension and urgency of the situation.

“Crockett, what are we going to do?”

My partner’s voice from 12 inches behind me.

“Crockett, where is the fight?”

Master Genna’s voice from 20 years in the past.

I didn’t know how to answer that. Where is the fight? It’s here in the dojang. It seemed like a stupid question, but Master Genna did not ask stupid questions. My mental struggles must have shown on my face, because he squared himself up in a fighting stance.

“Punch me.”

I did as he instructed. I threw a front punch straight at his chest. Master jumped to his rear and leaned backward at a ridiculous angle, windmilling his arms. It was hilarious to look at.

Then he stood up straight and said, “That’s you. That is how you fight. You’re too flashy. You are making things too complicated. Punch again.”

I did as he said. Again he dodged, only this time, as my fist sailed toward his face, Master merely moved his head backward an inch. The punch fell short. Master Genna grabbed my still-clenched hand before I could retrieve it. With his free hand, he slapped the business end of my fist.

“Here is the fight, simple. Of course there is a final goal and a bigger picture to keep in mind. Today, in this case, it is sparring your opponent. But there will always be an opponent. Every challenge you face is an opponent. You cannot defeat them if you lose sight of this.”

He gave my fist another slap.

“In each fight there are many smaller fights. Win those fights and do it with the least amount of effort. You don’t need backflips or whatever the hell you were doing. Flashy is for later. Flashy distracts you. Flashy wastes your energy, and you will need that strength because more fights are coming. Remember that.”

I did.

My patient needed to breathe. There was the fight. I didn’t need to know why. Not yet. I didn’t need to intubate them or perform any complex interventions. Not yet. That was too flashy. That was too complicated and would take too much time. Eventually they would need that tube in their trachea, and much more, but that would come later.

I quickly jammed a nasal airway into my patient’s nostril. This flexible little tube was a quick, no-frills way to keep the airway open. It wasn’t all that they needed. But it was enough.

Next, I told my partner to call for something to drag this person down the stairs to where more help waited.

Our job didn’t end there. There was still much to be done, but one fight at a time, we got there. We saved our patient — that had been our goal all along, but we would have failed that night had I forgotten Master’s lesson.

We all face our own opponents every day, and those opponents, no matter how big or small, can feel overwhelming. “How will I reach my career goals?” “How will I fold all this laundry?” “How will I ever run that marathon I’ve always said I would?”

When 26.2 miles seems impossibly long, remember Master Genna’s lesson. Ask yourself, “Where is the fight?” It isn’t at the finish line. It is one step past the last. Steady, efficient strides taking you forward just enough to meet the challenge.

All that separates us from victory or defeat is one inch. Remember that.

*The author is an artist and writer. She lives in Yellow Springs with her wife and three children. You can follow her work at mynameisiden.com.

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