Simple joys and simple showers

Randy Riley - Contributing columnist

These weekly essays generally have to do with a brief, simple examination of a slice of life.

Nearly a decade ago, shortly after becoming mayor, I was upset about some local political issue. As a result, I wrote to the editor of the Wilmington News Journal explaining my views on the governmental separation of powers.

I explained the importance of having checks and balances in all levels of government. To achieve that, we need independence and cooperation between the three branches of government: legislative, judicial, and administrative.

After Lora Abernathy, then editor of the Wilmington News Journal, read the letter, she asked me to consider writing a weekly column for the News Journal. I thought about it and told her I thought it was a compliment, but I did not want to write about political issues every week. I loved her response, “No. That’s not what I want.” She said, “Write about whatever you want. Write about life. Write about your dog.”

Since then, I have written about many different thing – including my dog.

Today, I will use a line from an old Monty Python sketch, “… and now for something completely different.”

Let’s talk about showers.

Seventeen years ago, I was a member of a federal Disaster Medical Assistance Team (DMAT) comprised of doctors and nurses, physician assistants and emergency medical technicians, logistics, communications, and security. But to be accepted by the federal government as a fully operational team, they needed a respiratory therapist.

Shortly after 9/11, I was asked to join the Dayton team: we were DMAT OH5.

My first major deployment was to Biloxi, Mississippi in 2005. Following Hurricane Katrina, the entire city was practically leveled. The 21-foot-high tidal surge stopped just at the door of the emergency room. Their ER was out of commission for over a week.

Our team, split into two 12-hour shifts, operating in a parking lot and working out of large tents, provided all the emergency care for the city.

It was hot. It was humid. It was miserable. Fresh water had to be trucked in and rationed. We joked about how we reeked. We were happy that we were all equally foul-smelling.

We did have access to ice for patient care, and as the ice melted, we would use that water to rinse off. We were outside so we could not wash off completely. Some body areas that really needed a good scrubbing had to be left covered. You know what I mean.

The security of our medical compound was provided by agents from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). They took good care of us. They were very helpful as we worked day and night in the heat and humidity of August in southern Mississippi.

After a week, one of the agents asked our commander if he thought we would like to take showers. The answer was enthusiastic and positive.

The next day, during our off shift, we loaded into ICE vans and headed to the Biloxi High School. The school was being used as a drop-off point for donated supplies from around the country. Their hallways were filled with boxed and canned goods.

At that time, we didn’t care about food. We wanted showers.

The school staff directed us to the locker rooms just off the basketball courts. I was directed to the coach’s locker room. That was nice. There was more privacy in there, but no hot water. I took the longest, most enjoyable, icy cold shower in history.

Then a minor miracle occurred. The hot water started to flow. Then, I took the longest, most enjoyable, hot shower in history. It felt great!

As we left, we were invited to help ourselves to anything we might find stored in their hallway. I helped myself to a sleeve of crackers and a few cans of sardines in mustard sauce. (It’s an acquired taste.)

My other most memorable shower was on a boat in the Amazon. Again, working all day in the heat and humidity of equatorial Brazil, sweat poured from body parts that rarely ever sweated. We had a small changing room, but our bodies were always so sweaty that we had to roll clothing on and off.

The showers were built in such a way that they didn’t need drains. The dirty water would just flow back into the river through a gap in the lower wall.

The shower was a combination restroom, changing room and shower. You could literally sit on the toilet, do your business, brush your teeth, and shower all at the same time (not that anyone ever went for the trifecta).

The boat crew tried to provide water from the middle of the river where it was supposedly cleaner, but it always had a faint greenish color. Before I could dry off, I would start sweating again.

So, we had to roll clean clothes back on over sweaty, wet bodies and start all over again.

Right now, I think I am going to go upstairs and take a nice, warm, long, leisurely shower.

Not that I need one … it just seems like a good idea.

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

Randy Riley

Contributing columnist