Colleen Conrad

In The News

By Colleen Conrad

I’m lucky to be a DINK (double income, no kids).

That means my kids are grown and out of the house, and I don’t have the same income and time constraints that I experienced when they were younger and living at home. That means I can enjoy some of the finer things in life, like a foot massage every once in a while and a pedicure every three to four weeks. There is nothing like soaking my feet and having them pampered.

Now this is going to sound strange, and it’s just my own opinion; feet are just plain ugly. If you pay attention to the feet around you, there’s not much in the way of pretty to observe about them. Some are chubby, some are skinny, and some have bunions. The heels of my feet are calloused and the area of skin gets even tougher in the summer from going barefoot.

Toes are really no better looking. They’re ugly and come in funny shapes. Some have hammertoes and some have stubby toes. No matter how hard anyone might try, slipping jewelry on toes or painting pretty colors on toenails doesn’t make toes attractive.

But why in the world am I even bringing this up? Because it’s been my experience that life is full of things that are not pretty. Emergency communication types work in a world full of ugly. We can’t get away from the ugly. We try to dress it up by laughing our way through, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that our world, no matter how hard we try, is full of ugly.

Salt Lake City, Utah, where I work, has dealt with several crazy things that have been downright ugly, and many so ugly that the city made national news.

There was the 17-year-old young man who walked into a shopping mall, carrying three guns and a backpack filled with ammunition. He opened fire, killing five people and injuring four before he was shot dead by police.

A story that continues to make news—first for its terrible nature and, now, for the resilience of its victim—was the self-proclaimed religious radical Brian David Mitchell, who kidnapped then 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart and held her against her will for several months.

It’s hard to find the words to express the hell of working in a 9-1-1 center at the time of such a high profile event. We could set our clocks by Larry King during the first weeks after Elizabeth was kidnapped; every time King talked about it on his TV show, our phone lines were overwhelmed with calls. We handled multiple calls from armchair detectives and psychics. A few psychics actually told us some accurate information that hadn’t been released to the public, but there was no way we could distinguish the credible psychics from the total whack jobs and sickos. Talk about ugly, one “psychic” said he could find our missing girl if we sent him an article of her clothing.

Life in the communication center returned to a steadier state of routine when Elizabeth was found, along with her abductor, in a city close to Salt Lake City. She had talked Mitchell into returning to Utah from California.

In our world of 9-1-1, however, another something ugly is bound to be waiting in the wings, and that’s the degree of normal we always face.

For Salt Lake City, a child again went missing, but this time the story didn’t end well. Her body was found in a neighbor’s home. Next, the body of a beautiful young woman was found wrapped in a bag at the garbage dump because her husband, who reported her missing, decided it would be better to kill her than face up to the multiple lies he had told her.

This is just my city. It’s not a large city. It’s generally quiet. But when I think about the violence here, and magnify that by the rest of the world, it’s easy to let ugly consume me. And the same probably goes for all of us.

How do we deal with the ugly? How do we escape?

I find that battling the ugly takes acknowledging the pretty that exists. The focus has to lie in the life outside our work. The pretty can be our families. The pretty can be our friendships. The pretty can be the ways we indulge ourselves. My feet and toes might never be pretty, but the foot massages and pedicures every few weeks sure help the ugly go away, at least for the moment.