Saturday, March 16, 2013

Burning up on Reentry – Parkinson’s Style

10 years ago, February 1, 2003, seven lives were lost as the Space Shuttle Columbia reentered the Earth’s atmosphere.  Popular misinformation would have us believe that super heating of a returning space capsule is caused by friction due to its supersonic speed.  In fact, most of the heat (24,000°F) is caused by the supersonic (24 times the speed of sound) object “snowplowing” and compressing the atmosphere.  The compressed gases in turn cause radiant heat, which if not dissipated by “heat shields” creates a high-tech incinerator. 
For people with Parkinson’s, or at least for me, it always feels like there is a significant potential to “burn up on reentry” when returning to work after a restful vacation.  Don’t get me wrong, I love being a lawyer, especially being able to practice with such a great team of professionals.  But having PD creates more than just physical challenges for me.  The experts suggest that people with Parkinson’s should avoid high stress activity and engage in a consistent, well-planned exercise program.  Obviously, I fail at both.  Stress and the consequent adrenaline rush are hallmarks of the legal profession, or at least my practice.  And exercise…well… let’s just say it’s more and more difficult to make time to battle the daily fatigue to even fit in a walk around the block.

During the final few days of my most recent vacation, I found myself increasingly anxious, irritable and generally out of sorts when anticipating the return to work.  In years gone by I would have been eager to get back into the fray after a good vacation.  But now PD seems to have damaged the “heat shields”.  My lifelong resistance to stress seems to have been compromised.

In thinking about this experience of reentry anxiety, I found myself searching for ways to grapple with it.  Lessons from Space Shuttle Columbia disaster provided some answers. 
First, like the Columbia catastrophe, it was during the launch when it started to go wrong.  It was a relatively small piece of insulation that came loose and ultimately damaged the craft’s ability to return home safely.  The analogy is obvious.  The messier I leave my desk and the more unprepared I am for departure on vacation, the greater potential for disasters to await me on my return.  As anxious as I am to get away, I need to think about the reentry before I “launch”.

Second, after I have left on vacation, I need to know about serious problems that develop.  In the Columbia situation, the “ground crew” was aware of the damage caused by the insulation debris, just not its severity.  For a variety of reasons, all well-intentioned, steps were not taken to address the potential consequences for reentry.  This is where my capable team is superb, recognizing that even seemingly little problems can become massive issues by the time my return unless dealt with.  
Third, it is better to address problems identified by the “ground crew” well in advance of reentry.  I’m certain that the Columbia support team at Kennedy Space Center did not want to alarm the crew of the space shuttle.  But there were some things that might have been done in space to address the reentry threat, such as the spacewalk to repair the panel damage.  I find I am more comfortable anticipating the known problems to be encountered on reentry rather than discovering them like some brightly colored surprise package on my desk. 
Lastly, even before the Columbia catastrophe, the space shuttles had developed means of reducing the danger of” burning up on reentry” by carefully choosing the trajectory they used in reentering the atmosphere.  Rather than a ballistic approach (something like a high diver hitting the water), the space shuttles uses controlled reentry by skipping along or surfing the upper atmosphere, thereby slowing down and reducing the super heating effect.  Returning from vacation isn’t just a matter of exchanging a pair of swim trunks for a suit and tie.  For me, planning a slower, “controlled reentry” is far safer and saner.  
Parkinson’s disease may continue to use anxiety, loss of confidence and insomnia and try to spoil my last few days of vacation.  But I’m learning ways to fight back and avoid” burning up on reentry”.

1 comment:

  1. Hello again Bob. Externalising PD is a good way to go. PD causes anxiety, loss of confidence, insomnia is a far better start than 'I am anxious. I am underconfident. I can't sleep.' PD doesn't deserve any claim on your identity.

    I'm going out in the freezing cold now and I'll be walking up all the hills I can find. My way with exercise at the moment is to do disorganised exercise more often, It works for me.