Many of us who work in hospitals and in other caring professions share a common side effect of our jobs — an impatience with the trivial decisions of life.
After seeing people on ventilators, child abuse victims and cancer patients, many health care workers find that there is no room for the minitraumas such as painting our houses and matching outfits, the sort of thing that tend to fill up our lives like packing peanuts.
Nevertheless, mundane tasks and decisions are a necessary part of living. Take for instance when our washing machine broke down just before Easter.
You may have read my column a couple of years ago describing how my son’s cornsnake became mincemeat in the transmission of our washing machine. I had to slide the machine downstairs and tear it apart while my wife conducted the biohazard cleanup.
Since my little repair work, it’s never run the same. It rumbles and shakes and wobbles.
While I credit the noises to the snake’s poltergeist, my wife believes the noises have more to do with my poor mechanical ability.
So, since she didn’t think Ghostbusters was an option, we called Sears.
“What seems to be the matter with the machine?” asked the pleasant, but scripted, voice of customer service.
My first thought was to blurt, “Snake gizzards, lady. That’s the problem!”
But that approach seemed the least likely way to obtain the coveted “first available appointment.” And besides, with Holy Week approaching, I had to consider the old adage, “Cleanliness is the next best thing to Godliness.”
So I said, “I think it’s the drum.”
“Pardon?” she asked.
“The drum. It’s making a bunch of noise.” That was an understatement. To paraphrase another adage, this machine was marching to the drum of a different beat.
With that description, she agreed a service technician’s visit was needed and began explaining the payment program. I could pay $65 plus parts, or I could elect to pay a flat $175 for an annual one-payment-fixes-all plan.
Well, I’ve never been much for service plans. They seem more like a wager than a warranty.
I opted for the $65 plus parts plan.
Then she put the real question to me.
Was I willing to take my chances with the $65 plan?
Take my chances? Did this woman actually think this was some kind of risky proposition? I wanted to say: “Let’s define ‘taking chances.’ There is no ‘chance’ in a washing machine repair, but let me tell you about some people I met today that know something about ‘taking chances.’
“The WWII veteran I saw die today took chances. He was a man who was asked the same question 32 times: ‘Will you fly this mission?’ And every time he said yes!
“During the same day, I saw parents ‘take their chances’ when they let a surgeon reach into the left atrium of their baby’s heart and hope to fix it.”
We have some funny ways of looking at risk. We want to insure it, prevent it, cure it, procure it, readjust it, reposition it, balance it and deny it.
All of these things become a way of insulating ourselves from the thing we perceive as the biggest risk of all: dying.
Risk management can often consume our daily lives in such a way that we no longer have a life. We’re often left with something looking like life, but only in as much as a film negative represents a photo.
Risk is a part of living, but hmmm . . . Take my chances with a washing machine? I think I could risk that.