Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Thick-Headed Inarticulate Experts

My company’s headquarters are in New Jersey, a state that doesn’t have much of a reputation for sophistication or intellect. However, my company is in a highly technical, very complicated industry, and the good people of New Jersey have risen to the task – sort of.

There’s a certain class of person that I seem to run into over and over again in my day-to-day work; a person that I call the Thick-Headed Inarticulate Expert.

Often, these employees rose through the ranks of the company into management positions. They know their jobs intimately and thoroughly. But you can’t ask them a question about their work, because they don’t understand the question. If you somehow manage to penetrate the concrete encasing their brains, they can’t explain how things work in their department. They can do the work, they just can’t tell you how they do it.

    Me: “What’s an RSAA account?”

    Expert: “That’s an account we use.”

    Me: “What do you use it for?”

    Expert: “What do you mean?”

    Me: “I mean, how do you use the account?”

    Expert: (irritated): “We dump the excess from a 917 in there until the intra-days are cleaned up, except if the 917 is an aged claim and then it goes to AML.”

    Me: “Huh?”

    At this point, the Thick-Headed Inarticulate Expert becomes loud, repeating the same coded nonsense as though I’ll understand if he turns up the volume. If I try to reduce the problem to simple pieces, I often find out that the simple pieces include land mines.

    Me: “Let’s start over. What does ‘RSAA’ stand for?”

    Expert: “What do you mean?”

    Me: “The letters ‘R-S-A-A.’ What do they stand for?

    Expert: “I don’t know. ‘Registered’ something. MIKE! What’s ‘RSAA?’”

    Mike: “What do you mean?”

    Expert: “What do the letters spell?”

    Mike: “I don’t know. We just call it ‘RSAA.’ I think it means 'Registered' something.”

    Expert: “Call Jerry in Corporate Services. He’ll probably know. Are we done here?”

    Me: “No, I …”

    Expert: “Call Jerry. I’ve got a meeting. If you need more information we can talk next week.”

Friday, April 9, 2010

Replacing Body Parts

About a month ago, I noticed that one of my rear molars had become extremely sensitive to cold water. As the days went by, it became more and more sensitive, and biting down on anything remotely solid sent me through the roof. A visit to the dentist confirmed that the tooth was cracked. In addition, a cap on the adjacent molar had worked loose, and decay had set in underneath. I made an appointment to have the loose cap replaced, and a new one installed on the cracked molar.

My dentist has a TV on an articulated arm that can be moved right in front of the patient as a distraction. The dental assistant handed me a remote control and told me to find something I’d enjoy. So I scanned the channels and stopped on America’s Funniest Home Videos. Then, she reclined me in the chair in such a way that I could no longer see the TV, and she and the dentist worked on me for two and a half hours. During that time, I could see them turning away from my gaping mouth to watch and chuckle at the slapstick misadventures, while I could only listen to the cartoon sound effects used to mask the crunch of breaking bones.

One interesting technological development was the ability of the dentist to make his own caps. The dentist took a silicone impression of my tooth and then scanned the tooth with an optical measuring device. Then, he fed the measurements into a computer, and a small milling machine ground and polished a perfect, shiny replica of the tooth from a small block of porcelain in a matter of minutes.

Two weeks later, I went out to do some yard work. Yard work in Florida can be brutal, and I often have to stop due to one of the following: exhaustion, heat, biting insects, or uncontrollable bleeding caused by thorns or incompetent use of power tools. But that day, I had to stop for a different reason.

As I’ve mentioned before, I have old, arthritic knees. They started out as a minor annoyance in my mid-fifties, but now they control my every waking movement. On that day in the yard, my knees simply hurt too badly for me to continue working. I called my orthopedic doctor and scheduled an MRI.

On Monday, I was inserted into the MRI magnetic doughnut, and spent about an hour of my life assaulted by the loud pops, hums and air-horn noises of the device.


Today, my doctor gave me his analysis of the situation, and it’s not good news, but it’s not horrible news either.

The knee is composed of the upper thigh bone and the two lower leg bones, which meet at the knee joint. They're protected by the kneecap, and are separated by two cartilage pads - one on the inside of the knee, and one on the outside. These pads wear out eventually, but some people lose them earlier than others. I’m one of them.

Both of my knees have deteriorated to the point where I need surgery. However, I don’t need what’s called Total Knee Replacement, because only the inner pads have deteriorated to the point where I have bone-on-bone contact. The outer pads are fine.

What I need is a Partial Knee Replacement. It’s still serious surgery, but the recovery period is much shorter. Instead of spending two months gobbling pain medication and another four months of physical therapy, I’m looking at only two weeks of suffering and four more weeks of therapy. I’ve discussed it with my boss, and it’s looking like we’ll schedule it for July.

I just hope they don’t have a TV in the operating room.