watching the wheels

High and low

By Wayne Wood

There were four of us traveling together on Official Business. We were at Philadelphia International Airport waiting for our late afternoon flight back to Nashville. It had been kind of a long day, and we were looking forward to getting back home.
We learned from the agent at the gate that we would be more than an hour late leaving, so we took a vote and it was decided by a landslide that the Official Business part of the trip was over, and we could therefore patronize a bar adjacent to the gate. We each took a seat, ordered a drink, and talked about this and that to pass the time until the airline decided to take us home.
At some point we noticed some other customers at the bar: several U.S. soldiers in full uniform. A couple of them in particular seemed to be patronizing the bar at quite a clip. A little too much patronage, we thought, especially when one of them, a big guy with a shaved head, who had obviously had too much to drink, got in a brief altercation with the bartender. We all had the same thought: “I hope he’s not on our flight.”
He was.
The four of us who were traveling together had assigned seats apart from one another on the plane, but all of us were near the back, and lurching down the aisle came the big guy in the camouflage uniform who had had WAY too much to drink. There were, it turned out, eight soldiers on the plane, two women and six men. Most were fine traveling companions. Two of them were not.
It was not even immediately clear that any of us were going to be doing any traveling at all, because the two Army guys who had been most active in the bar—Shaved Head and another guy—began some pointless schoolyard argument and the next thing I knew the big drunk guy was trying to battle his way over a couple of other passengers to take a swing at his comrade-in-arms. A couple of flight attendants— one male and one female—and a couple of the other soldiers calmed the would-be pugilists down. The petite young woman who was apparently the ranking member of the Army folks told them both to sit down “so we can all get home.” She sounded bone-weary, which I would have been, too, if I’d had to spend much time keeping these guys in line.
Shaved Head began shouting and making animal-like noises. I could see his face and he was grinning like he was being clever, but his eyes had a vacant look to them. I doubted he would remember any of this the next day. We were still at the gate at the airport, and the pilot came back. He had gray hair and generally had the bearing of an old military man, and he talked quietly to the big guy. He told him that he needed to hold it together so we could all be on our way. A couple of the other soldiers also came back and helped emphasize the point.
After the pilot returned to the cockpit, he made an announcement over the speakers so that passengers not fortunate enough to witness all this would know what was going on. He referred to “some soldiers who just returned from Iraq” and said “they’re blowing off a little steam.” He added that we should be under way in a few minutes.
Then—I find this hard to believe—the guy causing the trouble took his bottle of water and started squirting it onto the walls, ceiling, and his fellow passengers—including my traveling companion, Diana, who had the misfortune to be seated directly in front of this fool.
I thought that would be it. The flight attendants had quietly pulled out a plastic restraint device, sort of like handcuffs, and were clearly planning to restrain Shaved Head. His fellow soldiers—the sober ones who were doing their uniforms proud—came back again. So did the pilot. I got the idea this was the last chance before the guy would be taken off the plane in cuffs.
Of course, I was also thinking that had this been me or any of the other passengers on the plane, we would have been hauled off in cuffs a long time ago.
This time the message seemed to have made it through the fog of alcohol. The drunken soldier calmed down some. The plane took off. There were a few outbursts, and, according to Diana, quite a bit of seat-kicking, but he was never as out of control as he was before. We were in the air about two hours, and it felt good when the wheels touched the ground in Nashville.
When we were getting off the plane, there was a family who had obviously gotten special permission to be at the gate. It was a young woman holding a toddler in her arms, along with a girl of three or four standing at her mother’s feet. There were red, white and blue balloons. The toddler gripped a little American flag in his fist. The little girl held a hand-lettered sign made of poster board: “Welcome Home Daddy. Our Hero.”
Maybe I should have waited to find out which of the Army guys they were there to greet. As I say, there were several soldiers on this flight who were credits to their uniforms. I sure hope that family was waiting for one of them.

(Wood is editor of House Organ, Director of Publications for VUMC, and author of Watching the Wheels: Cheap Irony, Righetous Indignation, and Semi-Enlighted Opinion, which is a collection of past columns.)


September 2006


Boot Camp
Nursing students conclude their training with
a month of intense patient care experience.
We follow several students through
the "Boot Camp".

On the road again
Jay Slaughter has come a long way back– thanks to VUMC rehabilitation services – from a terrible accident.
Discount Program

Because you work at Vanderbilt, people want to give you deals. Here's the latest list.
2006 Service Awards
Ceremonies throughout the month to honor years of dedication to Vanderbilt.

New health plans outlined;
cost information available online

Details of the new choices in health plans have been released by Vanderbilt’s Benefits Division of Human Resource Services. Cost information about each of the new plans is available online at A VUnet ID and password are required for access.
Additional information will be available in the Open Enrollment packet that will be mailed to employees’ homes on Sept. 26.
This fall’s Open Enrollment will require all benefits-eligible employees to complete an enrollment form for benefits beginning Jan. 1, 2007, HR officials said. The Vanderbilt benefits involved in Open Enrollment are health, dental, vision, short-term disability, accidental death and dismemberment and personal spending accounts.
“Our two important messages to all employees, are that all employees have to submit their form by the Oct. 16 deadline and that all employees must take a close look at the health plan options to make sure they choose the one that best fits their health care needs,” said Kevin Myatt, associate vice chancellor and chief human resources officer. “The three options offered for 2007 are all quite different from each other, unlike the options that have been in place since 2004. Now, faculty and staff will have real alternatives.”
The benefits office has created an employee checklist to prepare for Open Enrollment. Questions employees might ask themselves: Are you the type of health care user who likes the familiar copay/coinsurance arrangement, whereby you pay a set fee for a visit to the doctor and then pay a percentage of the cost of other services? And, if that is the case, are you a medium-to-high user of health care services and you want to have the broadest coverage possible? Or, are you a lower-user of health care and want the lowest monthly payment? Another aspect to consider is whether or not you are a user of health care who is ready for something different, an option where you feel confident in your ability to discuss with your doctor a recommended course of therapy or procedure and what that means with regard to cost.


Price has award named in his honor
by Wayne Wood
Edward Price Jr., who is honored at Service Awards this year for his 50 years of service to Vanderbilt, recently received another recognition: the award previously known as the Laboratory Science Award for Basic Research has been renamed the Edward E. Price Award for Basic Research.
“I was surprised and shocked by it,” Price says of the honor. “I was happy for my family. This is something we will cherish.”
In a letter to Steven Gabbe, M.D., dean of the School of Medicine, six leaders in VUMC’s research departments and divisions—Alan Cherrington, Ph.D., chair of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics; Tadashi Inagami, Ph.D., professor of Biochemistry; Alvin Powers, M.D., director of the Diabetes Research and Training Center; Doug Vaughan, M.D., chief of the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine; David Wasserman, Ph.D., director of the Mouse Metabolic Phenotyping Center; and Michael Waterman, Ph.D., chair of Biochemistry—proposed the change in the award’s name and justified it by citing Price’s contributions during his career.
“The reason we propose renaming this award in Ed’s name extends beyond his unique technical skills,” the letter says. “He is an individual of impeccable character [who] is respected and beloved by his colleagues…Ed is an important lifeline for many different investigators…His skills are internationally known…Ed is an unassuming, modest man. He is a man who values family, faith, and responsibility…[He] deserves to be honored because he is the ideal model of what a research assistant should be and his humanity is of a quality to which we should all aspire.”
Price says several of those who signed the letter accompanied Gabbe to tell him of the honor in his hospital room, where he was recovering from treatment for stomach cancer.
“When they read the letter I just about jumped out of the hospital bed,” he says.
When he began his career at Vanderbilt 50 years ago, opportunities were limited for African-Americans, he acknowledges, but he says the change in that regard is the most significant he has seen in his five decades of work.
“I have seen Vanderbilt make such big strides in race relations,” he says. “They have accepted me into the Vanderbilt family. When investigators come to me as ask for my advice on things, they make me feel good.”
The first Edward E. Price Award for Basic Research will be awarded later this year as part of the Medical Center’s Research Staff Awards.


Call for Entries

Send in your calendar entries and pet photos

This is the 25th year that House Organ has called on VUMC staff, students, volunteers and faculty to submit photographs to the House Organ Photography Contest, the winners of which will be featured, one per month, in the 2007 House Organ Calendar, to be included in the combined December/January issue.
We are also asking for pictures of your pets—dogs, cats, goats, sea anemones, or whatever other carbon-based organism with which you share your life. The pet pictures will be featured in the February 2007 issue in a “Pets of the Medical Center” feature.

Calendar Photography Contest: Open to all subject matter. Twelve winners will be selected on the basis of interest, technical proficiency and suitability, and printed in the House Organ Calendar.

Pet Photography Division: Photographs of pets of Medical Center staff, faculty and students are welcomed. Photographic skill matters less than pictures that show the personality of the pets. It’s OK for people to be in the pictures, too. At the discretion of the judges, pet pictures may be considered for the calendar.
Those who want to include some information about their pets, such as age, or the fact that she was picked up as a stray, or that he howls when a fire truck goes by, are encouraged to do so. At the very least, tell us the pet’s name and the names of others in the pictures.

General rules
(please read and follow carefully to avoid the disqualificaton of your entry):

Who may enter: The contest is open to Medical Center staff and faculty, volunteers, nursing students and medical students. People who work in News and Public Affairs and the Medical Art Group are not eligible. The photo must have been taken by the person entering it.

What type of photography is suitable? Anything—Studio portraits, still lifes, landscapes, art photographs, aerial photography, pictures of children, pictures of adults and pictures of pets have all won in the past.

What formats are acceptable? Color prints, black and white prints, color slides, black and white slides and digital images are all fine. Slides must be in a slide holder. Digital images may be entered on zip disks, CDs, or by e-mail, but must be saved as .jpg images, and must be at least 300 dpi. Send e-mail entries to Some color entries may be reproduced in black and white for publication.

What information should be included with each entry? Your name, department or school, an address and a phone number should be written on or attached to each entry. Again, with the pet photographs, include the name of the pet and the names of any people in the photograph with the pet.

When is the deadline? 5 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 13. No entries received afterward will be considered.
How do I enter? Two ways: Send or drop your entries by News and Public Affairs, CCC 3312 Medical Center North, 2390. Please specify House Organ photo contest on the envelope. Or: by e-mail, saved as .jpg images, and at least 300 dpi or 5 x 7 inches. Send e-mail entries to

Is there a limit to number of entries? Due to bandwidth (and office space) considerations, only 12 entries per person are allowed.

How will I get my pictures back? Two ways, depending on your preference—either through campus mail, or you can pick them up in the News and Public Affairs Office. If you prefer to pick your entries up, write a note saying so and include it with your pictures. Those left more than six weeks after the deadline will be mailed back anyway.

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