Friday, August 30, 2013

Childbirth, Self Confience and Leadership

I am a great follower.

What I mean by that is if there is an individual present who I perceive to be in authority I yield easily him or her. This has served me well in many instances with good leaders. It has also served me very poorly as there have been times I have followed the commands of "authority" knowing it wasn't the best course of action.

There is a lot of safety and comfort in not making decisions for yourself or anyone else. Being able to point at someone else and say, "I'm just doing what he told me to," is a safety net I enjoyed in my youth. It got me off the hook many times.

But it's really no way to live a life. Yes, there are times when you need to know how to follow orders completely and without question. There are other times when you need to stand up to authority and say, "I'm not doing that." There are also other times when you have to step up and be the leader no one else can be in the moment.

My first role as a leader was as a high school drama team leader. There were four teams and ours came in dead last. It made me never want to be a leader again and I avoided leadership roles as long as I could.

But leadership roles have found me and life is nothing if it isn't a series of things you have to do that you may not want to do.

As the movie quote goes: Sometimes I do what I want to do. The rest of the time, I do what I have to.

I've gotten more and more comfortable in a role as leader. When I instruct I take my role as leader very seriously. I am fun and we have a good time but I have no problem getting authoritative when it comes to certain things like safety.

I have not been given the opportunity to be a leader as an EMT. I've always been under the supervision of paramedics or senior EMTs and, much to my own surprise, I really want to be lead! I feel very confident in my skills as an EMT and I feel as though I would do a decent job... at least until I got more experience and then I would rock it!

Previously, even if I was on the correct path, being in a leadership role would make me panic. The higher the stakes the more the panic. It put a knot in my chest and I would doubt myself constantly. I was constantly on the edge of freezing up entirely and that scared me more than not knowing what to do.

I'm finding that EMT training has helped my self confidence more than anything else I have ever done to date. It has given me a sense of self awareness and preparation that makes me feel confident and ready for almost anything. It has given me far more confidence to look at someone and say, "You! Do this!.. You! Pick that up!... You! Start doing this... You! STOP!"

That being said, I've seldom been tested on my own. I've always had a safety net of other experienced people around me. When I have been tested has been in relatively low-stress environments.

Then I got a phone call at 6:30 on a Sunday morning.

My friend and neighbor was having a home birth and, trusting my skill as an EMT to recognize a dangerous situation and being close friends, she had wanted me at her birth.

Her midwife lived an hour away and so I knew that there was a good chance I would be the only caregiver for quite some time. If something went wrong or the birth was exceptionally fast it would be on me to make decisions and lead the family in the correct course of action. As honored as I was to be trusted in that role I was worried I wasn't ready.

But when her husband said, "It's baby time," I sprang into action.

I was at their house in less than five minutes and a little surprised at just how calm I was. Mom was doing well, laboring well and I took a moment to recognize what was going on and orient myself to what needed to be done.

We'd gone through childbirth in EMT training and having had two children of my own the process was not new to me but this would be the first birth I would be attending as a caregiver and not a mother in labor.

I realized that dehydration and a lack of energy is a huge complication in labor. I asked Mom what she'd had to eat or drink that morning. I got her drinking water as her husband set up the birthing area.

Between contractions we made a game of figuring out baby's position so I knew I wasn't dealing with a surprise breach. During contractions I was her support and couch.

When I recognized she was going through transition and the midwife still wasn't there I waited for the panic to come but it didn't. I moved Mom to the birthing area and started thinking about what needed to be done if baby came and there was no midwife.

Mom started pushing in earnest and still the panic didn't come. I started mentally going through the check list of things to do to assess both baby and Mom.

I made sure we didn't have parts of the baby coming out first that weren't supposed to be coming out first and told her to do whatever she felt her body was telling her to do.

I was ready... totally and completely ready to deliver that baby on my own with no hesitation when the midwife finally walked through the door.

Baby was born about fifteen minutes later into mine and the midwife's hands.

One of the most incredible moment in my life aside from delivering my own children.

Afterward, my job was to continue monitoring Mom's vital signs and assist the midwife. I fell back into the role of assistant, taking instruction from the midwife. Handling the blood and relative gore of the afterbirth was a breeze though when it came to that part everyone else was more than happy to leave me and the midwife to ourselves.

Delivering a baby may not be as stressful as some things people find themselves facing. But it was a crystal clear moment to me of how far I've come in my ability to handle stressful situations and leadership roles. I had a lot of responsibility resting on my shoulders. I was completely alone as a caregiver and trusted to make the right call when it came to the health of both Mom and Baby. I had no tools except my EDC bag, a stethoscope, a blood pressure cuff and a telephone. And I rocked it.

The best moment of the day for me was when a friend of the family arrived, looked at me and said, "Who are you?"

Mom said, "She is my birthing assistant. She was here for an hour before the midwife got here and I don't know what I would have done without her. She was helping me so much. She was amazing!"

That's right.

I was amazing!

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Distractions In Class

I taught another basic gun class this last Saturday. It was small but it was a great group. Everyone there was eager to learn, excited and fired up about self defense.

One of my students I have known for a couple of years and have watched her explosive entry into the world of self defense. I've loved the random emails asking about all manner of equipment and self defense concepts. She's a fast learner and eager.

She went from working in a library to prepping to become a reserve police officer. She's started taking regular hand-to-hand combat classes and other training seminars for all manner of defensive situations. She'd already taken one carry class but felt it was a bit lacking and enrolled in mine.

She was, by far, the most interactive student. She asked thought-provoking questions, gave examples of self defense concepts I spoke of and generally engaged herself throughout the entirety of the class. I was thrilled to have her there!

When the discussion turned to the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) loop she was on fire. As I talked about interrupting someone else's OODA loop she raised her hand.

She said, "May I show you something regarding OODA loop interruption?"

I wasn't sure what she was up to but always up for a practical application I welcomed her to demonstrate.

She stood at one side of the classroom with an empty water bottle in her hand and said, "Okay, let's say you are the bad guy and we are walking towards one another."

We started walking towards each other and out of the blue she throws the water bottle as hard as she can into the corner of the room. I watched her carefully expecting some kind of a strike or furtive movement.

"No, no, no," she said. "You're supposed to watch the water bottle! It's a distraction technique!"

The whole room burst out laughing including the both of us.

"I'm sorry," I said, "but the threat isn't the water bottle it's you! I'm not taking my eyes off of you."

"This time watch the water bottle," she said as she retrieved it from the floor.

"I'll try," I promised.

Even knowing what I was supposed to do, when she threw the water bottle I kept my eyes glued to her.

Once again the room burst out laughing.

She threw up her hands and laughed, "You're too hard to distract."

"I'm sorry," I said. "I think I'm a little too conditioned. If I got distracted like that in my martial arts class my instructor would smack me in the head so I'm very trained to watch people vs objects. But, you're on to something. May I?"

I held my hand out for the water bottle and she gave it to me.

I said, "Now you're the bad guy coming toward me."

We started walking at each other from across the room and when she was just outside of my striking distance I tossed the water bottle straight at her face, striking her softly on the bridge of the nose and forehead. She threw her hands up, twisted sideways and stopped as she blinked a few times. By the time she recovered and looked at me I was several steps back, my hand over my gun, waiting for her.

"Or you could do that!" she said as she smiled.

Everyone was laughing again but the point was pretty clear.

"If you're going to use a distraction technique," I said, "make it count. People can be condition not to watch objects being thrown around them but it's hard to ignore something coming straight at your face. A water bottle, a cup of coffee, gravel, whatever you have, throw it right at their face. It will be more distracting." 

I'm not sure where she learned the distraction technique she tried to demonstrate. It may very well work if the attacker was in "task fixation mode" such as wanting your wallet or purse and you tossed that item to the side to gain distance, but as a general distraction technique throwing objects away may or may not be as effective as just smashing them in the face with said object.

I told my krav instructor about the incident and he smiled, "Yeah, I would smack you if that distracted you."

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Woman Shoots Herself In Hand At Staples

I was sent THIS STORY by a Facebook follower who wanted to get my take on it.

First let me say that I trust news reports just about as far as I can throw them when it comes to details. That being said, we know a few things to be fact:

1) A woman and her toddler were shopping for school supplies at Staples in North Carolina.
2) The woman had a carry permit and her gun was in her purse.
3) She ended up shooting herself in the hand.

My take is that women need to wake up to the realities of purse carry.

If you watch the short news video in the above link you will find yourself giving yourself a double palm strike to the face. First when you hear about the woman shooting herself in the hand and again when you hear the eyewitness who is also a gun owner speculate that the discharge was due to a firearm having an external hammer.

(Don't believe me? Go watch the video.)

No, I don't know exactly what made that firearm go off but I have serious doubts it had anything to do with the firearm being hammered vs hammerless. I know guns well enough to know that the trigger being pressed is the #1 reason for discharges of any kind. #2 would be things getting inside the trigger guard that were never supposed to be there in the first place (which, when you think of it, is merely an extension of #1).

External hammer or not something got to that trigger. Period. End of story. Full Stop.

Every year I read a slew of stories like this. And every year I want to go shake some women.

If we women want to stop the stereotype that we don't know what we are doing when it comes to guns we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard and stop doing things that are irresponsible, dangerous and neglectful.

Yes. Leaving your gun in your bag where your child can access it is irresponsible. It is dangerous and it is neglectful.

Not having your firearm properly secured within that bag so that objects and fingers can't get inside the trigger guard is irresponsible. It is dangerous. It is neglectful.

And trying to shift blame onto something like an external hammer shows a lack of working knowledge of firearms that is, quite frankly, alarming.

I hate being overly harsh to people who have gone through tragedy when it comes to firearms. This woman is likely looking at a long road of recovery for herself and my hope is that her hand will heal with not a lot of lasting damage. She'll have to live with the scar as a reminder and be grateful that it wasn't worse, that her child is safe and no one else was injured.

Ladies, don't waste this story by ignoring it. Woman up and carry your gun on your body in a quality holster made for that firearm.

If you cannot or will not do that (for whatever reason). Get a gun purse. Get a holster for your gun that fits that gun purse and secure your firearm properly.

Then, keep that bag on your body and away from your children.

Stop being irresponsible. Stop being dangerous. Stop being neglectful.

What would be your recommendations for a gun purse?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Kids, Guns and Schools

When it comes to the subject of kids, schools and guns tensions start to rise. With school shootings seeming to happen more frequently and the terrorized knee-jerk reactions of politicians and frightened parents and teachers, never before have we seen children so punished for being children. Kids who talk about guns, draw pictures of guns, even point their fingers, bite pastries into gun shapes and wear gun shirts have been suspended, the police have been called, they have been expelled, punished, questioned to the point of wetting their pants and so on.

Our Son at 1 year with his first toy gun.
 The American parent is forced with a conundrum. What do I tell my child's school about guns and what don't I? Is it any of the school's business? Will my child be persecuted and his opinions be tainted because of the negative attitudes of staff against firearms? Will my child's teachers even care?

This is the first time I have had to ask these questions for myself because it is the first time I've put my child into school.

My son, who will turn five this year, is starting preschool this fall. While I desperately wanted to home school him I had to self evaluate and be honest with myself about my abilities to teach my own child at this stage in his life. I came to the hard conclusion that, as of right now, I am not the best person to teach him (for several reasons).

That being said, it should be a surprise to no one that guns are a very large part of my son's life. He sees guns every single day of his life. He makes everything (and I do mean everything) into a gun. He gets to play with trainer guns and toy guns. He knows how to identify the different parts of guns and anything that explodes makes his day. He begs us to let him go shooting with us and he's been to the range with us quite a few time to watch. He even demands to see our targets at the end of range sessions.

Of course he is not blind to what is on TV as well and his play reflects that. He talks about shooting bad guys and shooting down airplanes and every airplane toy he has is a combat aircraft that shoots any and everything which consequently explodes.

We continue to actively construct his play in a positive manner. We influence his morals in regards to firearms in that it is inappropriate to talk about killing people. However, I refuse to make him feel ashamed for liking guns. I will not attempt to reconstruct his entire idea of play in the few short weeks before he is off to school. I also refuse to construct an idea for him that his parents are ashamed of being gun owners by encouraging him to hide that part of his life when we are so open about it with him and so many others who we come in contact with every day.

I would also much rather be proactive than reactive.

At 2 years, learning how to load and unload a shotgun
with dummy ammunition.

His preschool teacher scheduled a home visit with me and our son and I fully intended to bring up the subject with her. If it didn't come up I would have brought it up and if she hadn't scheduled a home visit I would have sought her out to talk about the subject. I was (and am not) above going to the administration with my concerns and questions as well.

My intent was simple and two fold:
1) Inform them that guns are a part of my child's life and therefor can be expected to be talked about, drawn and mimed in school.
2) To gauge their response and to see if this was something that was going to cause problems for my son.

If this was something that was going to cause problems I would refuse to let him attend that preschool and I would find another that was more accommodating to his lifestyle.

I do believe in being modest about who you talk to about your firearms and I do believe in teaching your children to be modest about their firearms talk as well. I think it is important that children learn what is appropriate and not appropriate conversation in certain venues. However, in school, a place where they are encouraged to express themselves and where teachers are expected to get to know their students to better tailor their teaching to them, something as routine as a four-year-olds gun play is going to eventually come out. In which case, I'd rather it come out in a candid conversation between me and his teacher than through panicked, knee-jerk reactions to him constructing a gun out of legos.

At our home visit his teacher asked me if there was anything she needed to know about our son and his play. I openly explained that both my husband and I were firearms instructors. Guns are an every day part of our child's life and he talks about them and mimics play with them. I told her that he knows that talking about killing is inappropriate and can be corrected if that occurs. I expressed that in today's political/social climate guns can be a touchy subject and asked if that was a problem. She said no.

She thanked me for telling her. She asked if there were other things he would likely talk about like camping or fishing, favorite pets, and our conversation moved on to tornadoes. 

When I asked on my facebook page if anyone felt the need to discuss firearms with their child's teacher one commenter asked whether or not I felt it necessary to talk about the power tools in my home. While I agree that, to me, a firearm is no different than a power tool, it cannot be denied that the topic of Daddy's gun when brought up by a child in school is a whole lot more politically and socially charged than if that same child talked about his Daddy's power drill.

Some have expressed that it's not the teacher's business. Of course it's not the business of the teacher to know everything we own. But it is that teacher's business to get to know his or her student and to learn the interests and motivations of that child to help construct a learning program that works for that child. Knowing that a child has a great fascination and love for firearms would be on par with knowing that another child thinks he's Spiderman or loves bugs.

It's also the teacher's business to keep their children safe. Some teachers, driven by fear and the hyperbole regarding guns, believe the way to do that is to persecute and punish any child who talks about firearms.

Learning how to grip a handgun.
Having that kind of teacher for my son would be a recipe for disaster. He would be punished for the lifestyle his parents chose and for his loves and innocent play and that would be unacceptable to me. It would be a negative environment for him where he would not be able to learn and flourish. At worst it could negatively affect his opinion of me and his father because of our lifestyles. It would be irresponsible of me to put him in that environment. And the only way I would know what kind of atmosphere I would be subjecting him to would be to be open about it with his teacher.

As he ages and with every passing grade and with every new teacher (should we choose not to home school him or his sister) we will reevaluate any conversation we feel we might need to have with his teachers about firearms and their role in his life. If he moves on to enjoy other things then it's logical that talking about firearms and mimicking play with them will cease and there will be no need to bring it up once he understands that kind of thing is private. If, however, he chooses to compete in shooting sports, hunt or otherwise work with guns on a regular basis, I will be his advocate and do my best to insure his learning environments and teachers will not persecute him for those choices and interests.

I don't believe in being ashamed of being a gun owner and I don't believe in letting people who believe differently than me socially persecute my children to push their agenda and fear. Especially when I put them in a position of authority over my child.

The decision to make a proactive stance when it comes to my child's freedom to express his interests in firearms was the right decision for our family. It may not be for others and for a variety of reasons. And I respect that. Perhaps your family is not as passionate about firearms as ours is and your children do not have the same interests. Maybe you don't want your children to have interests in firearms and don't want them to talk about them or mimic play with them. Perhaps there is good reason for you to keep your firearm ownership a secret. Those are the decisions that you need to make for your own family and for your child's own education.

What about your family? Do you feel the need to take a proactive stance with your child's school regarding his (or her) interest in firearms?

Monday, August 12, 2013

Massad Ayoob on Zimmerman

I've not commented on the Zimmerman trial because I don't feel qualified to do so. I didn't watch the trial or research any of the evidence. So when people ask me about my thoughts on George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin I prefer to refer them to better men.

Massad Ayoob is an expert in the field of self defense and the criminal proceedings thereafter. He spoke with Zimmerman's attorneys and followed the trial. His legal knowledge and understanding combined with his closeness to the case give him far more authority to discuss the case than many of the people who have been giving opinions.

Read his series on the Zimmerman trial. I think you will find them well worth your time:

The Zimmerman Verdict, Part 1
Zimmerman Verdict, Part 2: "The Unarmed Teen"
Zimmerman Verdict, Part 3: "Who Started It?"
Zimmerman Verdict: The Stand Your Ground Element
Zimmerman Verdict, Part 5: The Gun Stuff
The Zimmerman Verdict, Part 6: "What if" Versus "What Is"
Zimmerman Verdict, Part 7: Why The Jury Didn't Learn About Trayvon Martin
Zimmerman Verdict, Part 8: The Quantity of Injury Argument
Zimmerman Verdict, Part 9: The Propaganda Factor
Zimmerman Verdict Part 10: The Semantics
Zimmerman Verdict Part 11: Rating the Lawyers (Defense)
Zimmerman Verdict Part 12: Rating the Lawyers (Prosecution)
Zimmerman Verdict Part 13: Angela Corey

The stand your ground one is particularly good.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Sights And Sounds of Trauma

I've never shot anyone. I've never seen anyone who has been shot. I've never witnessed, first hand, the sights and sounds of battle.

I know people who have and the consensus is unanimous: it's hell.

It's something very few people are prepared for. It's something that not many people attempt to prepare for.

This morning Greg Ellifritz posted an article about the Ross Township shooting in Pennsylvania. A reporter at the scene said that some of the people were off to the side throwing up. A comment to the blog expressed concern that one might find himself in a similar position if forced to deal with a mass shooting type of situation and having to face the sights and sounds of the carnage going on around them instead of responding or helping.

How do you prepare for that? How do you ensure you aren't the one curled in a ball and expelling your breakfast or passed out when you should be seeking cover or fighting or helping? Is there a way?

The commentator's concern resonated with me because I had the same concerns when I entered EMT school. I'm not a needle person. I fainted while my blood was being drawn in high school. I nearly passed out watching other people get shots. I was horribly afraid that I would get to the scene of an accident and pass out or throw up and not be able to preform my job, nevermind getting into a self defense situation where blood and stress were free flowing.

I was not a veteran, soldier or police officer. I was just an average civilian woman. But I was determined to find a way over my own aversion to trauma not only so that I could do my job as an EMT but so that I could also withstand the sights of trauma if ever in a self defense situation and forced to treat myself or those I care about effectively.

I started to do some searching on the subjects of getting over the fear of needles and getting over the shock of seeing blood and how emergency responders get over the sights, sounds and smells of horrific scenes.

Hypnosis and other suggestions aside, the two pieces of advice I found most helpful were:
1. Stay hydrated and well fed
2. Exposure therapy

The advice to stay hydrated and well fed kind of surprised me but it made sense as I started to learn about what goes on physiologically when you pass out or become ill from traumatic sights.

When presented with something traumatic your body goes into psychogenic shock which manifests itself physiologically. Your blood pressure plummets, pulse increases, skin becomes pale and clammy and light-headedness, dizziness and nausea can follow along with unconsciousness. There are many theories on what actually makes you pass out but, it's theorized that, your body shuts off your consciousness to get you prone in attempts to ease profusing your entire body (particularly your brain). Nausea is a by-product of psychogenic shock and often accompanies passing out though not everyone who vomits passes out and vis versa.

The more hydrated and energized your body is the better it can handle fluctuations in blood pressure, particularly quick decreases.

Also, the people at the scene of the Ross Township shooting were treating themselves well without knowing it. Vomiting usually makes people double over and forces blood to the head. When feeling the effects of psychogenic shock the best thing to do is get blood to your head. Lie down, get your head between your knees, scrunch up in a ball, do whatever you can to keep blood in your head so you don't pass out. Vomiting is helpful. If the vomit is coming, don't fight it.

But, of course, the goal is to not have any of those side effects to start with. Even if you know how to treat yourself if you feel like you're going to pass out or become sick you are in a bad position, especially if you are still in danger or, in the case of a responder, expected to do one's job.

In which case there is no better way to prepare yourself than by exposing yourself.

In EMT school, during the trauma section we were shown dozens of pictures of the most horrific accidents one can witness or respond to. Decapitations, crushed bodies, missing limbs, the most gruesome disfigurements, protruding eye-balls and burns. I forced myself to look. When everything inside of me didn't want to see what I was seeing.

We were encouraged to put aside the shock of the trauma and look for ways to treat. If it was an obvious traumatic death what would we do? If it was the loss of a limb what would we do? The key was to stay focused on what can be done. We were assured that every responder who works in the field long enough will vomit at least once in his/her career and maybe even pass out. It toughens him for the next, harder call.

While doing my clinical time in the ER the first time I heard someone was getting stitches I asked if I could go in and watch. I had to leave because I almost passed out. The second time someone came in for stitches I was able to stay through the entire procedure. The third time someone came in for stitches I was holding him down and the stitches were being preformed right under my nose. I was watching the subcutaneous tissue being washed and pulled together and then needled and sewn. I didn't so much as blink. Helping start IVs used to terrify me. I now hold arms and comfort patients while the needle goes in.

I went from getting woozy at the sight of blood to walking into a room covered in blood spray and holding a vomit bag for a boy who was vomiting large amounts of blood and not having a moment of hesitation or feeling the slightest bit unstable. Disfigurement was always a really hard one for me so I forced myself to be involved when the orthopedic surgeon was setting bones.

I have yet to go to a scene that requires me to actually put my hands into blood or bodily fluids (though I have held many a vomit bag and treated moderate cuts and bleeding injuries) or deal with traumatic death but I feel much more confident in my ability to stomach the sights and sounds of trauma than I did a year ago. Even thinking about some traumas used to make me feel sick. Now my thought is on how to best treat them.

It's not easy to get exposed to trauma these days. Unless you work in medical fields or as a police officer or are deployed to combat you will likely never see a major trauma. What's worse is that if you try to expose yourself without being in these fields you are considered weird or gross. This is what compounds the problem. Having never witnessed trauma, if/when we come across it, it is a complete psychogenic shock. Hunters, farm hands who assist in birth or slaughter of their animals, people who work in slaughter houses, all have at least some exposure to the blood and smells. Pictures help but, as macabre as it sounds, nothing completely prepares you for the blood and body fluids of a human like the blood and body fluids of a human.

That being said, even the most experienced and hardened individual can be overwhelmed and everyone has their limit. For some it's children. The sight of a wounded child is too much for many people to stomach. I've read stories from even the most battle-hardened veterans who still cannot get over the smell of burning bodies or the sight of brain matter. For some it is excrement or vomit or intestinal organs. For some, the worse trauma in the world to witness is childbirth. The worst part is that you won't know what effects you most until you see it. I do not look forward to finding my new limit.

Be aware that self defense that progresses to a physical fight will never be pretty. Disfigurement, body fluid, blood, broken bones, screaming are likely going to happen. Be aware that it might even be your blood, bodily fluids and disfigurement that you are going to have to deal with. Knowing is half the battle. At least you won't be completely shocked if it happens. But think about what/if you are prepared to handle it.

Once again, I'm no combat veteran. I don't have a long list of traumatic experiences that I've endured that have toughened me to the point where I know beyond any doubt that I can withstand every trauma out there. I was (and am) a very vulnerable and sensitive individual and I had/have to actively seek out ways to desensitize myself to trauma.

If you can't expose yourself to trauma (or even if you can) at least follow these steps:

Have a plan. And the first step of that plan should be to think about how you are going to get to safety or make your area safe. The use of cover, getting to a safe exit, ending the conflict, etc, should be your first priority.

Think about certain scenarios and how you are going to deal with them. If it's an active shooter and someone beside you gets wounded what are you going to do? If you are at home and your child is injured what are you going to do? If you are in a car accident and find yourself bleeding what are you going to do? If you are robbed at gunpoint and suddenly shot what are you going to do? The lack of a plan sets you up for psychogenic shock because you are overwhelmed and your mind wants to check out of the trauma. If you are injured yourself and if you are bleeding any delay might surpass psychogenic shock and you might be dealing with hypovolemic shock. A combination of psychogenic and hypovolemic shock could very quickly turn deadly.

Know how to treat. Setting your mind in motion as to the steps to take to treat a traumatic injury can distract you from the traumatic injury enough to not be so affected by it.

Once it's adequately treated, cover it. Not only will you protect the wound but you will also protect your psyche from having to stare at it or get distracted by it.

The biggest indicators that you are about to lose consciousness are tunnel vision, light-headedness, dizziness and nausea or a queasy feeling. You might even feel hot or flushed and find yourself sweating. Don't try to fight through these feeling. Get blood to your head. Get your head lower than your heart. The last thing you want to do is lose consciousness in a self defense environment.

Get help on the way and stay busy getting out, seeking cover, treating, escaping. Learn the steps of patient reassessment so that you can keep your mind active.

Talk to yourself. Freezing at the sight of trauma is pretty common. Even if you know what to do, getting yourself to actually do it can be the hardest part. A common tactic I have seen employed by experienced medics is talking to themselves, running themselves through the treatment steps or their plan of action.

How do you think you would respond to sights and sounds of trauma?

Monday, August 5, 2013

Fight Like A Girl And Other Lessons From A Stabbing

Angela Champagne-From
A few weeks ago I saw this story on my Facebook feed. A woman, Angela Champagne-From, was assaulted in a Minneapolis parking garage. A man put a knife to her neck and told her to get in a car with him. She had no way of knowing he was a serial sexual predator. She chose to fight him. She used techniques she learned in a self defense class to defend herself and got stabbed in the process. Her attacker was later caught and she has since made it her mission to encourage more women to fight back.

The story is an amazing one and I encourage you to read it. But the lessons are so vast I couldn't help but reiterate them in this blog post. I was so inspired to learn all I could from her story I sought out further information and news reports that led me to her contact information. Angela agreed to talk to me and I had an hour and a half long phone conversation regarding the incident, her mindset, self defense and the like. She is an amazing woman and I hope one day to shake her hand and tell her in person how much I admire her spirit.

I am, in no way, condemning any of Angela's actions. She knows this and I want you to know it, too. She did what she could and she survived. She also uses her experience to empower others. She is a strong woman! But that doesn't mean we can't learn more from her experience to help prepare ourselves.

As I read her story and spoke with her the lessons kept rearing their heads and I found myself grouping them into categories. Though the incident itself was fluid it was not hard at all to breakdown into what could be considered the categories of any self defense situation.

The Mindset
Mindset is a huge bite to chew in a short blog post. A fighting mindset encompasses a variety of things including the awareness that bad things happen and can happen to you, the seeking of defensive training, the willingness to use that training in the time of need against your fellow man and the fortitude to continue training, preparing even through the lull of everyday life and variations therein.

When it comes to self defense most people fall into one of a few categories:
Unaware and unprepared.
Aware and unprepared.
Aware and marginally prepared.
Aware and prepared.

The problem with being aware and marginally prepared is that a lot of people don't know how much they don't know. They will take a self defense class, carry a defensive tool and believe themselves prepared. While they are better prepared than someone who has neither of those things there may be things lacking from their training. Most people will never need the defensive training they take and many are okay with that. Taking additional training becomes a balance between risk, reward, finances and time. But in the time of need the training they are lacking can become evident.

When I spoke to Angela on the phone I asked her about the details of the self defense class she took and why she took it. She kind of laughed. It was a high school class that spanned over the course of a semester and she thought it would be an easy A. She didn't take any further self defense classes after high school but was aware that bad things happened. It wasn't something she worried about but she knew it could happen.

That self defense class, though taken casually, had a huge impact on Angela's mindset. She said had she been attacked as a teen she wasn't sure she would have the fortitude to fight back but after graduating from high school (and subsequently that self defense class) she developed stronger boundaries and was more sure of herself. She had more confidence and more will to stand up for herself.

The inside of Angela's car.
That mindset did not protect her from being attacked. It only helped her make the decision to fight once the attack happened.

Even with that fighting mindset she was taken by surprise. Rushing from work to school she was emailing her boyfriend when she walked into the parking garage. She threw her bags in her car and was about to get in herself when she felt something at her neck. Thinking it was a joke she reached up and grabbed at the item and cut her hand on the knife. At that moment she knew it was no joke and immediately began to kick and scream and fight. Her attacker then stabbed her in the abdomen.

Jeff Cooper's color codes of awareness are as follows:
White: Unaware and unprepared.
Yellow: Aware and alert for potential danger.
Orange: Alerted to a specific, potential threat.
Red: Threat identified.
Black or Triggers: A fight is imminent unless circumstances change.

No matter what self defense blog you read or website you go on you will be bombarded with the reminder to live your life in condition yellow. To be alert and aware and to keep your head on a swivel. People are so passionate about condition yellow that I've even seen bracelets marketed to women with beads to remind them to be in condition yellow.

It's said that one can operate in condition yellow as long as he or she is conscious. I believe that to be more of a goal than an actual accomplishment. I don't care how aware you think you are, if you are honest with yourself you will admit that you slip into condition white from time to time. Whether it's an unexpected phone call, trying to remember when your kids next pediatrician appointment is or looking at the legs of the hot chick who just walked by you will occasionally find yourself slipping into condition white. Maybe you've gotten so comfortable in your routine that you live in condition white.

I will not criticize anyone who gets taken by surprise in an attack. Angela shared with me that she was sent a note telling her that if she hadn't been on her phone she probably wouldn't have gotten attacked. First, that couldn't be known. And that kind of blame shifting irritates me to no end. Checking your email does not mean you deserve a knife in your belly. Yes, you should be aware and alert but if you aren't and are caught by surprise that does not make you culpable.

That being said, of course one should try to remain aware or in that condition yellow. Look up and around. Be aware of who is near you and what is going on. And don't be in denial.

Angela had a brief moment of denial that what was happening was real.

A few weeks ago, Greg Ellifritz posted an article by Marc MacYoung titled Best Way to Get Attacked. One of the points was "Don't Deny It's Happening."
Violence is a rarity. Many people can go their entire lives without ever having been involved in a physical fight. ...
People from lifestyles where violence is common immediately recognize when it is happening and react accordingly. All other priorities fall away.
Whereas people for whom violence 'doesn't happen' or they haven't been in a physical conflict since they were kids, there is huge denial factor.
She was initially surprised by the attack but she soon recognized it for what it was and then adjusted accordingly. She set her boundaries by determining she was not going to get into a car with him and she acted on the training she had received. She had a mindset to fight. And fight she did.

The Pre-Attack
There are no details of the pre-attack in the article posted. When I spoke to Angela and asked her if she was aware of her attacker before the knife she said that she may or may not have seen him but if she did he did not register as a threat and she doesn't remember alerting to him.

Her first real indication that there was any threat was him putting the knife to her throat.

Because she did not see him we have no knowledge of pre-fight indicators in her case.

We don't know how he approached her or what his demeanor was like. We know that a man with a knife can often cover a quite a bit of space before an average individual with a gun can draw and fire and so we can't get too high and mighty about him being able to close distance and get a knife to her throat. However, we can't help but wonder what went on between her entering that parking garage and a knife being pressed to her throat.

If she had seen him approaching could she have been made aware an attack was imminent through pre-fight indicators? Would he have asked a question? Would her guard have been down because he was dressed nicely and it was the middle of the day? Would she have gotten a gut feeling that something was off? Would she have seen something in his hand? Perhaps his hands would have been hidden? What, if any, pre-fight indicators would he have been displaying?

Of course we can only speculate in this case because we don't know but we can be aware that pre-fight indicators exist and we should be aware of them. We should listen to our gut and watch for hands and weapons and not let our guard down for a nice suit.

Again, this isn't to shift blame onto Angela, but to learn from her experience.

There are not as many resources on pre-fight or pre-attack indicators as you'd think. Because I don't have a lot of experience with pre-fight/attack indicators, I did some searching and this is one article I found: Police One: Pre Attack Indicators: Conscious Recognition of Telegraphed Cues 

I plan to do more research into pre-fight/attack indicators in the future.

The Attack
Angela's attacker put a knife to her throat and said, "We're going for a ride."

The wound to Angela's hand.
Angela made a bold decision. With a knife to her throat she chose to fight. She wasn't some sort of martial arts master. She took a self defense class and she chose to use what she had learned. She set a boundary that she wasn't going to cross and she fought. It was that simple.

It did not, however, mean that she was going to get out unscathed.

I'd like to point out that many people have different opinions on what it means to be victorious or to win in self defense. Some think that you only win if you walk away unscathed with a dead bad guy at your feet. I believe that kind of mindset sets one up for failure--if not personally than legally.

I prefer to follow the examples of Rory Miller who said,
"It is better to avoid than to run; better to run than to de-escalate; better to de-escalate than to fight; better to fight than to die. The very essence of self-defense is a thin list of things that might get you out alive when you are already screwed."
Self defense is a lose/lose situation. Even if you win, you've lost. You have been attacked or victimized in some way. All of your attempts at avoidance, evasion and deescalation have failed. You've already lost your battle to some level and now the goal is to lose less and survive. Maybe you'll lose your wallet, some blood or a little pride. Accept that loss so that you do not get hung up on it.

People who get hung up on that loss die over their car or the twenty dollars in their wallets or their pride over something someone said about their girlfriend or mother. Maybe they die cowering in the back of a van because they were afraid they'd get hurt if they fought and it was better to just "go along" with it than possibly lose a little in a hand-to-hand fight. Yes, there may be a time to feign compliance but those are decisions you have to make in the moment. Don't get hung up on what you might lose lest you lose your life.

And, no, that doesn't mean you should think getting hurt or losing is no big deal. I have often heard people say, "Expect to get cut" (or hurt) in a fight. Yes, have a realistic viewpoint of what a fight for your life might be but don't accept it to the point where you don't work to defend against it or think it no big thing. Acknowledge that it can happen, defend against it as best you can, but don't stop fighting because you weren't able to prevent it.

Angela reached up and grabbed the knife at her throat and immediately cut her thumb. She could have defeated herself and given up at that moment and thought, "I'm cut. It's over. I lost." She didn't. She accepted that she lost a little but was determined to accept that loss in favor of saving her own life.

She fought!

The article says, "she stomped his feet, clawed at his face, bit his hand and jabbed at his crotch, kicking and screaming."

In the end she gained her life and her attacker walked away with the words, "You're lucky you're a fighter!"

What an amazing testament to her, her mindset and her effort! She didn't kill him. She didn't beat him. She did not overpower him and keep him from hurting her. While she inflicted at least some injuries to him there is no indication that they were anything severe or life-threatening. But she kept him from taking her and from killing her. She lost the battle but won the war for her life! That is self defense at its finest!

I asked her if at any time she felt that compliance was the better option. She said no. She told me that despite the injury her actions ultimately led to his capture and conviction and stopped him from attacking anyone else. Yes, she was injured but she stopped him and therefore it was worth it.

The Defensive Weapon
It bears mentioning that Angela had a self defense tool. She had pepper spray. She said that it was in the zipper pouch in her purse and she tried to get to it during the fight.

A self defense tool is only as good as your access to it and its state of readiness. If we know this we don't always practice it. Sometimes we think just having the tool means we will be able to use it in a time of need. We are often unaware that getting to a defensive tool can sometimes be the hardest part of a fight.

I don't care how many times you've practiced grabbing that little canister of spray out of your purse while you are comfortably standing in your living room or how many times you practiced getting that gun out of your bag or racking a round into an empty chamber.

When you're rolling around with a knife buried in your belly the situation changes quite a bit. The ability to use your self defense tool will directly relate to how accessible it is (i.e. on your body in an accessible location) and its state of readiness (loaded and ready to fire). If you cannot, for whatever reason (attire, personal preference, vocation, local legalities) have a weapon accessible and ready than you must accept the fact that you may not be able to use it and must plan accordingly.

I don't know how long she fought to get into her bag for her pepper spray. The fight lasted about three minutes from start to finish. That's a very long time in a fight. At some point it became clear to her that her pepper spray was not a viable option. I'm sure if the situation changed so that she could have used her pepper spray she would have used it.

Many people use the excuse of "well, I carry a gun (knife, pepper spray, taser, etc) everywhere I go" as an excuse as to why they will not take hand-to-hand training or train with other defensive systems. There may very well be a time when that tool is not available.

Angela had some hand-to-hand training. She used what she had and it may have saved her life. If you carry a self defense tool, have it accessible and have it ready to use but also be prepared for the possibility that that tool may not be available, or functioning.

If you choose to carry a defensive tool, get training with it. Run some scenarios with a trainer and a willing partner. Be realistic about its access and state of readiness and have a backup for it it's not available.

The Call
What stirred me to search out more information on Angela's story was the 911 tape. I wanted to hear it.

I found it in a radio interview with Angela and was shocked and enraged at what I heard.

Angela pleads for help and the dispatcher asks her where she is located. Angela tells the dispatcher and the dispatcher says, "I don't know where that is."

At that moment Angela ran. She was already starting to get a little delirious with blood loss but felt she needed to find help and that staying where she was would mean her death.

The toll booth at the bottom of the parking ramp
where Angela collapsed

She was attacked on the fourth level of a parking garage. Throughout the call you can hear Angela running down the ramp and giving the dispatcher her location and pleading for help. The dispatcher keeps saying she doesn't know where that is and doesn't know where to send help. At the end of the call you hear Angela speaking to someone else. She'd reached the bottom of the parking ramp and was speaking to the person in the toll booth. The dispatcher says, "I'm disconnecting now," and disconnects the call.

It was later discovered that a separate 911 call from someone else at the scene was what actually got responders moving. Even so she found out later that the ambulance drove right past her and had to double back. Had she stayed where she was and relied solely on her 911 call she probably would have died.

Be aware that while we have an amazing system of response it is not infallible. In this area the difference between saying 3rd avenue and 3rd street could be the difference between the north side of town and the south. Even if your phone is equipped with GPS the call center you are calling into may not have the capability of accessing that information.

Even if dispatched to the correct location road blocks, construction, street set up and so much more can complicate responders reaching you in a timely fashion.

Take stock of where you are and be prepared to have an address be the first thing you say when connected with 911 operators. At least you got that out there. Whether or not the responders know what to do with that information is entirely on them.

Which brings me to my next point.

The Injury
Angela's 10" deep stab wound and scar
from surgery.
Angela was lucky to survive that attack. Through the course of the fight she was cut in the hand and stabbed in the abdomen. She lost so much blood at the scene that a homicide unit was called to take pictures. She lost half of her blood volume. Most of it pooled in her abdomen due to internal bleeding. It is amazing that she survived.

The attack ended at 4:03 in the afternoon (according to time stamps on surveillance footage). She was rolled into the emergency room at 4:28.

Many people who are interested in self defense do not carry medical supplies. They operate under the assumption that in the unlikely event they will get attacked they will not only survive but if they suffer injuries the injuries will not be sufficient to kill them. Most people who run scenarios through their heads never postulate that they may be injured and if presented with a scenario that begins with an injury they often have no response or admit not having a good option.

A deep abdominal puncture wound like Angela's would be hard to treat outside of the hospital. You can't just put on a tourniquet and wait for paramedics. Applying a dressing on the top of the wound might be sufficient to keep some of the blood inside the body but the internal bleeding would continue. I searched high and low for advice on how to treat such a deep abdominal puncture wound and while one trauma doctor said he would not hesitate to try to pack the wound with something like QuikClot combat gauze, without being able to see the injured blood vessel it would likely not be as effective. Others I talked to reaffirmed his statement.

She needed surgery or she would have died. As it was it is a miracle she survived. But not all wounds are as severe as hers. And even if they are severe, many otherwise fatal wounds can be sufficiently treated outside of the hospital temporarily.

Do you have the skills and supplies to treat such wounds?

If not, why not?

If your interests really are in saving your own life, learn how to save a life. Get medical training and carry the equipment with you. You may not be able to treat everything but what you may be able to treat may save your life or the life of someone you love.

I asked Angela if she was aware of how severe her injury was. She said no. She said she knew she'd been stabbed only because she felt a warm sensation in her abdomen but did not know the extent of the injury and there was no pain. She was able to function and fight even while losing so much blood. While that should encourage us to fight even when injured be aware that the same is true of your attacker.

It's often said that stab wounds don't hurt. They feel like punches and many times people do not know they've been stabbed until they see blood. The pain does not come until later and even with severe injuries the ability to fight is not necessarily hindered. If you use a knife for self defense know how to target areas that will incapacitate not just cause pain or bleed. Get defensive knife training.

Yes, fitness.

Take a look around at the fitness levels of people around you. Maybe even take a look in the mirror. We Americans are chronically out of shape and overweight. Middle-age and big-bellied has almost become the cliche image of gun totters. Many even cite the fact that they carry a gun as an excuse as to why they don't get in shape.

Angela fought for roughly three minutes (an eternity in a fight). She was stabbed and while bleeding internally she ran down four flights of a parking garage to help.

Many Americans would not have the physical stamina to make it through half of that.

I didn't have to ask Angela about her fitness level. She brought it up all on her own. She told me she was a runner and took her fitness seriously. She told me that she strongly believes her level of fitness helped her fight, survive and recover from her injury.

Take your fitness seriously. Stop making excuses. If you have a previous injury or ailment, acknowledge it but do what you can to improve the fighting condition of your body. Get out there and strength train, endurance train, it may very well be the difference between life and death.

The Conclusion
Angela's story is an amazing example to those of us in the self defense community. Her strength and determination to fight are inspiring. Take inspiration from her but also learn from her.

Be aware. Be aware of your surroundings and those around you. Be aware of pre-fight indicators.

If you carry a defensive tool train with it. Have it accessible, ready to use and in good working order.

If your defensive tool is not available or not functioning be prepared to fight without it.

Be prepared to give an exact location to responders but don't rely solely on that to save you. Run, move, treat, seek alternative sources of help at the scene.

Have the skills and tools to treat injuries to yourself and others.

Be fit enough to fight. 


Fight and survive!

A special thanks to Angela for her willingness to speak with me and share her story and pictures with me. Thank you for the inspiration!

Angela's mission is to inspire women to fight. Check out her Facebook page at Angela's Story: Fight Like a Girl.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Can You Afford More Training?

No one in the gun community talks about finances very much. Finances are very personal but one of the first things that gets brought up when talking about additional training, purchasing gear, ammo, practice and the like is the cost.

"I can't afford it," is the response of many. Especially when it comes to additional training.

It's not cheap. That's for sure. Especially if you need to travel to get that training. Double if you have more than one person in your home seeking quality instruction.

I've had people specifically ask me how we afford to go to the trainings we do and when I sat down at my computer last night to figure out the finances of another class I'm taking this fall I decided it would be a good time to talk a little about the financial side of it.

I'm no Dave Ramsey but I think I handle our finances well enough to keep us from getting nasty phone calls from bill collectors and to work us towards our personal and financial goals.

If I could sum up the financial side our firearms training into one word it would be budgeting. And budgeting far in advance.

We have a specific account we call our gun fund. If we aren't budgeting for anything specific we try to put enough into that account every month to cover 500 rounds of 9mm ammo. These days that's  about $150. No, we can't always make that. Sometimes we have to forgo putting any money into our gun fund due to unexpected expenses or emergencies and when the gun fund runs on empty we don't get to shoot. It's that simple.

Towards the fall of each year we start to pick the trainings we want to attend for the following year. We write them all down on a piece of paper, research how much they cost (class fee and ammo requirements) and then we prioritize what training we think we need to meet our shooting goals.

Our needs and training priorities are going to be different than yours but pick a goal and the classes that will help you toward that end. If you're not sure what classes will help you start asking around. You'll find a lot of people very willing to help you find the quality training you are seeking.

The next step is to see how many of those trainings we can afford in a single year. Usually that is no more than two. Especially if we have to travel.

Here's the average breakdown:

Class fee: 
Most intermediate to advanced classes cost between $300 and $500 a person (give or take). Some are much more than that and some are charged per day. I try to budget for each class specifically but if you're going to write up a mock budget I'd start with at least $400 allocated for class fee.

Obviously, if it's a gun class you're going to have to bring ammo. Thankfully, for knife classes or medical classes, etc, you won't have this added financial burden but for gun classes you're going to have to purchase ammo. Some gun schools will have ammo that you can buy at a much cheaper price from the school itself and then you don't have to pay shipping. However, with the ammo shortage of late that's becoming more rare. Call the school you are interested in and ask. A lot of schools do not allow reloaded ammo so do your research. Ammo prices vary depending on caliber. A 1,000 round case of 9mm will run you about $320 (sometimes more in this time of ammo crisis). For other calibers it can be much more. Most classes require somewhere between 600 and 1,000 rounds. You usually won't shoot that much but it's better to have more on hand than not enough. And whatever you have left over you can save or use for practice or another class.

Lodging is a big expense. Shop your travel websites like and travelocity. Call the school and surrounding hotels and see if they have any discounts for students of that school. Obviously, the longer the class the more nights you are going to have to stay and the more expensive it's going to be. At $80 a night for three days it's $240. Make sure they have a continental breakfast!

These days it can be cheaper and more practical on your time to fly but when you add in rental it might just barely even out. Whether you choose to fly or drive budget accordingly. Shop for plan tickets as far in advance as possible as it tends to be cheaper the further out you book (unless you are booking for a time around any holidays). Again, shop your travel sites and look for bundling discounts like a flight, hotel and car rental. Do some quick math and figure out your MPG and how many tanks of gas you will need if you drive. Budget accordingly. We usually drive and I budget around $250 for gas.

You're going to have to eat. Depending on the number of people in your party, how much you eat and your pallet you can get away with a $40 budget or have to go with a $200 budget. Say it with me, "Subway is my friend!" A cooler packed with goodies from home is also an economical way to go.

Always budget for miscellaneous expenses. Whether it's the rain gear you forgot or a pair of underwear or some socks or a razor, there hasn't been a single class I've taken where I've actually remember every single item I should have brought. Maybe you found out that this class requires three extra magazines and you only have one or it requires a specific type of holster that you don't own. Maybe you're taking a FoF class and want to purchase an airsoft gun. I throw $100 into the budget just for misc expenses.

If you've been following along with a calculator you know that all rounds up to about $1,400 per class for one person. If there are two of you add the cost of another class fee and a little more for food and lodging and a plane ticket if you're flying. To be on the safe side I usually budget around $1,600 for one person for one class. $1,800 if it's going to be the both of us. No, it's not cheap.

Where can you cut corners?
  • Find training schools near home where you don't have to get a hotel or fly. 
  • Bring your own food. 
  • Take a class that doesn't require ammo. 
  • Make friends with someone near the school who will allow you to crash at their place for the duration of class. 
  • Ask if it's possible for you to take only one or two days of a multiple day class (not to skip vital days, but perhaps to split the training up into more affordable and timely chunks (day 1 and 2 in one trip, day 3 and 4 the next, etc)).
  • Be extra vigilant about making sure you have everything you need for the class and then some. 
  • Go in a group so that you can share travel expenses and perhaps get a group discount from the school. 
  • Call the school you're interested in and see if they have any traveling instructors who are going to be in your area. Keep an ear open at your local ranges and clubs for trainings that might be coming through. 
  • Get some friends together, look for a facility near you and consider hosting a training group. Many of the big name schools will travel and often times the host gets to take the class for free! Win/Win!
Maybe this upcoming April you can allocate a chunk of your tax return to getting some sound instruction!

If you budget a year in advance, a $1,400 class will require you to put aside about $117 a month. If you budget two years in advance it's cut to about $59 a month. Since we try to put about $150 into our gun fund every month anyway, that covers the expenses of a gun class for one person with a little wiggle room. Everything I make usually goes toward more ammo as that is the biggest monthly expense we have in regards to our training, practice and matches.

Yes, we've sold guns to afford classes. We've sold accessories to fund ammo. We've put ourselves on some pretty strict financial rations so that we could keep our budgeting goals for upcoming classes. There have been times we've gotten a little financial boost and been able to pad the gun fund a bit. There have been times of economical drought where no money has gone into the gun fund for months. We've had to steal from the gun fund a time or two to pay bills. What's most important to us is that our bills get paid and our children have what they need. But our training is a priority to us. We know it has to be if we are going to keep our skills sharp and keep advancing. We can't do everything we want to do but we can plan ahead and budget for what we can do.

In the end it allows us to take some very awesome classes and get some amazing training.

These are hard times and some people have had to make some serious sacrifices. Some are not even able to live on what they are making and to them I have no advice. I know some people have had to sell their carry guns just to put food on the table. Adding the expenses of additional training is just not possible for them. I understand that. We've been there. It's an awful place to be. But for those who may find an extra $40 a month to see a movie or indulge in another hobby. Try setting some of that aside for some quality training. You'll be happy you did.