Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The importance of every knot

Yesterday I encountered another quiet hero.

At one time, the people who draw blood for a living didn't matter to me, but things change. I have small, slippery veins, and one arm you can't stick. Over years of getting blood draws perhaps an average of once a month, the best vein has gotten scarred, making it harder. Someone who isn't skilled or isn't thinking can make a real mess of repeated tries, and further scar the vein. I've run into many a person like that over the years. And so I have become devoted to the lab at Riverside Hospital's Thomas Lane facility. No matter who I get, they do it right. No talking to someone else about what they had for dinner while sticking me. No sweating and cursing under their breath because my veins are difficult.

What a job it is. At the rate they go, they must easily do 100 draws a day. Every single one demands attention to such details as, how many vials? Is the person in the chair the same person the lab order says? Exactly this vein. You can't get all this right while feeling sorry for yourself that you have to be on your feet all day, and the boss makes more money than you, and you're not going to get anything for Valentine's Day. You have to put your story aside, just like Captain Sully, and focus on the job. Instant enlightenment!

I thought of this yesterday looking at a slide show of preparations for the space shuttle launch. I was awestruck realizing the infinite number of details that all had to be right. Every single detail. Get one bolt wrong and it could shake loose and throw the whole thing. How in the world do they make that happen when I lose socks in the washer? There must be a group culture of personal responsibility for the whole thing. Individuals must have a sense that their little piece of the work is vital.

Actually, our little piece of the work is. And I really don't mean the high-visibility, high-ego tasks; Bill Gates knows his work to end malaria is important; everyone knows it, and we are in danger of lionizing him. I mean the essential significance of everyone involved. If you imagine mosquito nets being handmade, you can see the importance of every knot. If you think about the actualization of the project, the destination of the net, the mother in the malaria belt who draws that net around her child, the success of the whole thing is right there in her hands.

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