When All Else Fails: Read the Manual, It May Save Your Life

September 10, 2013  - By


It was a dark and stormy night. The winds gusting to over 70 miles per hour drove the snow horizontally, straight into Lynn’s headlights, making it almost impossible to see the road. The outside temperature was -20 degrees Fahrenheit and the roads were treacherous. Lynn wondered for about the hundredth time what he was doing in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in the middle of a blizzard.

Certainly the day had started innocently enough with several key meetings in Washington, D.C, where Lynn had been for the entire week, and he could not wait to get home. After the last meeting, he made a dash to Reagan National Airport with visions of a quick three-hour flight to Denver and then a short trip south and home to the Rocky Mountains. That’s when things first went sour.

Any seasoned traveler who routinely passes through the D.C. area knows that Reagan National is by far the most convenient airport, but the international Dulles airport is by far the most dependable. Unfortunately, Reagan shuts down for hours with the first raindrop or snowflake, and as luck would have it, a major winter storm slammed into Reagan about the time Lynn arrived, and the flight to Denver was delayed, incrementally of course, for over six hours.  The only upside was half the passengers gave up after a couple of hours of repeated 30-minute delays and decided that traveling on Saturday morning was the preferred option.

But not Lynn — oh, no — having spent a great deal of time in airplane cockpits he managed to finagle a conversation with the stranded flight crew, and discovered that the aircraft in question “had” to be in Denver (DEN) before 0500 the next morning for a flight to Seattle, and then on to Anchorage later Saturday morning, so no matter what, the aircraft would eventually get to DEN. So he waited. Sure enough, the 6 p.m. Friday flight finally departed Reagan at 1:15 Saturday morning and arrived in DEN at 2:15 Mountain Standard time.

By the time he woke up the car park personnel and convinced them, with an extra $20 bill, to brave the weather and transport him to the parking lot in Outer Mongolia, where his trusty Audi awaited, it was just after 3:00 a.m. Thus he began his journey south, in a raging blizzard. But he wasn’t concerned because wasn’t his new Audi Q7 Quattro the best four-wheel drive in the world, bar none? At least, that’s what the brochure at the dealership claimed, and Lynn had every confidence his trusty steed would find the barn. What he had not — and indeed could not — have predicted was the incredible knifing pain that struck at about 4:30 a.m. as he was just coming into North Colorado Springs. The sudden excruciating pain seared through Lynn’s leg, and he seriously thought for a moment that he might black out. Indeed, the sudden pain immediately brought back memories of a wound he had suffered in a godforsaken part of the world to the same leg many years before, but unless there was an invisible Viet Cong gunman in his passenger seat, this pain was from another source and it was, if possible, getting worse not better.

So what do you do at 0430 on a Saturday morning in the middle of a blizzard, on a deserted highway, when you are in excruciating pain? Lynn’s first thought was to dial 911, and that was certainly a possibility, but how and when would someone locate him? Mile markers were obscured with snow and the odds were not good. Plus, if the source of the pain was a blood clot brought on by hours and hours of inactivity exacerbated by three hours of sitting in an uncomfortable airplane seat — then he might not have much time. Lynn had heard the occasional apocryphal story of blood clots on airline flights, and the outcome was not always a good one. Supposedly, once a blood clot breaks loose and reaches your heart, lungs or brain, you are pretty much toast. Great, Lynn thought, here I am in pain, slightly panicked by my own imaginings and still in the middle of a blizzard on a lonely highway in the Rockies at 0-dark-thirty with not a clue what to do.

Then it came to him: GPS! He pushed the destination button on the Audi’s built-in GPS unit and dialed down to the “Emergency Locations” tab on the display, pushed the button again, and was immediately rewarded with the choice of the nearest:

  1. Hospital
  2. Emergency Room
  3. Service Station
  4. Fire Station
  5. Police Station

Lynn frantically pushed number one. A female voice boomed forth and notified him that the nearest hospital was only three miles away, and he should take the next exit, which was just becoming visible through the blizzard. Lynn took that exit and within five minutes was in the emergency room of Memorial Hospital North. And since the GPS also gave him the phone number of the emergency room at the hospital and asked if he wanted to dial it, he did. He told the nurse who answered about his sudden leg pain and that he was only minutes out. Lynn was met in the emergency room parking area and placed in a wheel chair. An orderly took his car and parked it, and within about five minutes the excellent medical staff confirmed his worst fears and determined that he did indeed have a blood clot. Massive blood thinners were introduced into his system, and they obviously worked, as he is here today telling his dramatic life and death story to anyone at the Audi dealership who will listen. But it actually becomes a bit more melodramatic; the doctor on call was a cardiac specialist, pulling his emergency room rotation, and he informed Lynn that another ten minutes and it would probably have been too late. Indeed when the medical technicians first imaged the blood clot, it was already on the move, and they just managed to dissolve it before it reached something vital.

The cardiac doc said the only other alternative would have been emergency surgery, which there was not time for, or threading a catheter through a major artery and hoping to find and grab or dissolve the clot before it did any major damage. Obviously, someone on high was looking after Lynn that night. But it also occurred to him as he lay in the emergency room and later in the ICU for follow-up treatment that most likely his GPS and his knowledge of its additional functions had saved his life. According to the doctor, it had certainly saved him from the consequences of a major stroke. All because he had taken the Audi dealer’s advice and spent a few minutes from time to time with the Audi Users Manual, learning about the integrated navigation system and exactly what it was capable of accomplishing when used properly.

Like many advanced automobiles today, the navigation system in the Audi incorporates GPS and wheel sensors with the mapping system, POI (points of interest) database, Internet, Google Maps, 3D maps, Google Streets, radio for traffic and weather updates, and of course the telephone for automatic calls to restaurants to reserve a table or, as in Lynn’s case, to a hospital emergency room for life-saving information.

Fast Forward to Today

This story was brought to mind this Labor Day weekend by events that transpired as my wife and I journeyed south of Colorado to her adopted hometown in the southern part of New Mexico. Like Lynn, we were also in an Audi Q7, in my opinion one of the most comfortable cruising venues you can purchase today, when we came upon a familiar and much-needed service station in the middle of “nowhere” New Mexico, only to discover that while the bio break was possible, fueling the Audi was another matter entirely. It seems the modern-day pumping apparatus requires an Internet connection to validate credit cards, and that system was “temporarily” unavailable. And who carries around several hundred dollars in cash for gasoline purchases today, just in case? For those of you who know what “temporarily” means in New Mexico, you will understand why I immediately began to worry. Even if the pumps had started working at that moment in time, we would have been there for several hours just waiting our turn, and who knew how much gas was in the tanks at the service station and when the intermittent Internet connection might go down again? Our options were to backtrack 100+ miles, or press on and hope for another service station or drive at the most economical speed — for best miles per gallon — which my Audi info system dutifully informed me was 52 miles per hour, and just pray that the fuel quantity sensors were correct and we might just make it to our destination.

However, in a flash of intuition I remembered Lynn’s dealership story. I pushed the “Emergency Services” button and selected the option for the “nearest service station.” Amazingly the system did not select the “out-of-service” station we had just departed, but another one 32 miles closer to our final destination that neither my wife nor I could ever remember seeing before in a tiny village of no more than 100 people. Faith springs eternal, and we were on our way. Sure enough, in about 25 minutes we were fueling the thirsty Audi at a brand-new Phillips station that I swear had not been there during any of our previous sojourns through the blink-and-you-miss-it village. Now, it may not have been a matter of life and death, but who wants to run out of gas in the middle of New Mexico on a 100+-degree day in an area with little if any cellular service? Certainly not yours truly.

My purpose in relating these two vignettes, as humbling as they may be, is directed primarily at the macho types reading this article. Sure, you know who you are, the type that proudly boasts you have never read an instruction manual in your life. The kind of guy or gal that refuses to ask for directions. Well I am here to tell you that when it comes to your GPS — indeed, your hopefully integrated automotive navigation system — get out the book and read it and become intimately familiar with your PNT system, whatever type it may be. It could just save your life.

And before you start that old yarn about, “If I have to read the manual, then it is not user friendly and I won’t use it,” consider the consequences of, friendly or not, being unable to use the system in a real emergency. Even the portable Garmin units that most of us cut our teeth on are integrated to an incredible extent today. It may only seem to plug into your cigarette lighter or, to be more politically correct, your auxiliary power port, but in truth the Garmin and many other portable PNT devices may well be connecting to your mobile phone and your radio for traffic and weather updates. Plus, most of the higher end Garmin units today have an incredibly detailed database with phone numbers and hours of operations for many businesses and, yes, they also have the “Emergency Locations” tab and will guide you to the nearest hospital, give you the phone number for the emergency room, possibly even dial the number, act as a speaker phone and even direct you to the next service station. There’s even a Garmin unit today that will project a heads-up display on your windscreen or windshield.

And unlike your wife or significant other, your GPS will do so without saying, “You were supposed to turn left back there” or “I told you so!”

Webinar: The Connected Vehicle

All major international car-makers are installing telematics units, sending a signal that wireless information and connectivity is here to stay in the vehicle, and location will be a big part of the growth. To learn more about the rapid changes in the connected vehicle field, tune in to our September 19 webinar, hosted by Wireless LBS editor Janice Partyka. Registration is free.

What Is Don Reading?

This month I will quickly review two books that I hope you will find interesting.

Sniper Elite CoverSniper Elite: One Way Trip
A novel by Scott McEwen with Thomas Koloniar

Obviously, this very technically correct book is about snipers, and that means it includes data on Seal Teams and Delta Force. But more importantly, this novel puts forth a warrior’s perspective of women in combat, and the actions taken by their fellow comrades in arms to keep them safe and rescue them if necessary. Indeed, the whole story revolves around Seal Team Six and Delta Force fighters that are deployed to free a captured female helicopter pilot from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (SOAR) — in other words, one of their own — who is being held, interrogated and brutalized by Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan. Throw in D.C. political intrigue and a president running for re-election who has his own opinions about women in combat and you have a real page-turner.

GPS capabilities and units are mentioned throughout the book, and referred to when it is absolutely critical that warriors know exactly where they and their targets are located. It is clear that entire missions would be lost without the capabilities that GPS enables.

It is a gripping read that grabs you from the first page, and again, it is tough to put down. It is even good enough that you might want to read it more than once. And yes, if this sounds familiar, both McEwen and Koliniar wrote the #1 New York Times bestseller American Sniper, which I also highly recommend.

Ike's Spies CoverIke’s Spies: Eisenhower and the Espionage Establishment
An historical biography by Dr. Stephen E. Ambrose with an introduction by Douglas Brinkley

The historians among you should recognize Dr. Stephen Ambrose’s name and associate him with perhaps the most prolific chronicler of our day concerning the life and times of President (General) Dwight David Eisenhower.

Dr. Ambrose, a renowned historian, authored more than 30 books in his lifetime and more than half of them concerned Dwight David Eisenhower during some key period of his life.

The film rights to two of his more famous books were purchased by Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, who used Citizen Soldiers and Band of Brothers to make the 13-hour HBO mini-series Band of Brothers.

Cover: Band of BrothersDr. Ambrose once described his writing style: “As I sit at my computer, or stand at the podium, I think of myself as sitting around the campfire after a day on the trail, telling stories that I hope will have the members of the audience, or the readers, leaning forward just a bit, wanting to know what happens next.” And this is just the style that makes this history a page-turner. Even though you may know the outcome of the historical event, it is the insider’s view that makes this book such a fine read.

Until next time, happy navigating, and read a good book — but first get out your GPS device owner’s manual or look it up on your iPad or computer for video tutorials, and peruse them for awhile. It could save your life one day.


This article is tagged with and posted in Defense, Opinions

About the Author: Don Jewell

Don Jewell served 30 years in the United States Air Force, as an aviator and a space subject-matter expert. Don’s involvement with GPS and other critical space systems began with their inception, either as a test system evaluator or user. He served two command assignments at Schriever AFB, the home of GPS, and retired as Deputy Chief Scientist for Air Force Space Command. Don also served as a Politico Military Affairs Officer during the Reagan administration, working with 32 foreign embassies and serving as a Foreign Disclosure Officer making critical export control decisions concerning sophisticated military hardware and software. After retiring from the USAF, Don served seven years as the senior space marketer and subject-matter expert for two of the largest government contractors dealing in space software and hardware. Don currently serves on two independent GPS review teams he helped found, and on three independent assessment teams at the Institute for Defense Analyses, dealing with critical issues for the U.S. government. Don has served on numerous Air Force and Defense Scientific Advisory Boards. He writes and speaks extensively on technical issues concerning the U.S. government. Don earned his Bachelor’s degree and MBA; the Ph.D. is in progress.