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Subject:  OT: Jim Died at Work Yesterday Date:  11/15/2002  11:20 PM
Author:  imcharliehm Number:  5228 of 36398

Jim died several times, in fact, but the medics gave him CPR again, reviving a pulse and restoring breathing, while they waited for the gantry crane to lower a stretcher into the ship's cargo hold, so their patient could be transported to the ambulance waiting pierside. He lost a pulse and wasn't breathing again as the ambulance pulled away, but we hoped they could work their magic again. Later we heard that he was in surgery as doctors attempted to relieved the blood pressure on his brain –- the reason he had collapsed as he climbed the ladder down to his work site . Still later we heard that his chances were 1 in 3 of making it, which we knew were slim odds, but felt hopeful. “He was already dead when the ambulance carried him to the hospital”, we said. “So 1 in 3 might be good enough.” In the morning, there was just a note on the chalk board: “Jim. 11-14-02. We love you.” and we knew he didn't make it.

I didn't know Jim well. He was a boiler maker/welder/fitter, and I'm an outside machinist/marine mechanic, and unionized crafts are separate tribes rather than a single team. Though the dozen or so that make up a shipyard share a work site and depend on each other's skills to complete a project, each has their own locker rooms, their own lunch rooms, their own unions and business agents, and friendships form along craft lines. But from long years of seeing each other around, each craft knew who the good hands in other crafts were, and Jim was one of the best.

Conrad describes another Jim this way:
He was an inch, perhaps two, under six feet, powerfully built, and he advanced straight at you with a slight stoop of the shoulders, head forward, and a fixed from-under stare which made you think of a charging bull. His voice was deep, loud, and his manner displayed a kind of dogged self-assertion which had nothing aggressive in it. It seemed a necessity, and it was directed apparently as much at himself as at anybody else.

But that was Jim, the Water Clerk, not Jim, the Boiler Maker, who was bigger, taller, a bear of a man, with a bucket of tools in one hand, a bag of welding gear slung over a shoulder, and easy grim and slouching approach that belied any gruffness. He was giant teddy bear of whom everyone would say: “The nicest guy you'd ever want to meet.” He worked with the deceptive efficiency of effort and effect that comes from long years in the trade, so that everything he did looked like slow motion, which is the pace that suited him. But I never saw him back away from a tough or unpleasant job. He'd just do it, make a joke, and lumber on.

He was 53, way to young to be dying, but not too old to have high blood pressure that he had stopped taking his medicine for when his doctor moved away. Whether that was the reason he collapsed, as he climbed down the ladder into the cargo hold of the dredge, I can't say for sure, but I'd like to think so, but that would lead to a mystery: Why could he repair ships, but wouldn't repair himself? Why would he make the effort to do the best work he could to shape lifeless iron into the parts of a working ship, when he wouldn't take care of the working parts of the living man he was?

I can't answer that. Who can? But I can grieve, and the waterfront is a smaller place without him.

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