Once upon a lifetime ago, I used to write computer programmes for a living. All kinds of interesting stuff from video imaging through satellite communications to air traffic control training systems. All this gave me wide and reasonably deep knowledge of what computers were capable of achieving. The power they commanded and the great things they could do. There was only one small problem really… they were programmed by people just like me, complete with problems at home, sleepless nights with small children, over-indulging at parties, all those things that make being human worth it.
Ever since that small epiphany I’ve tried to ignore the fact that modern commercial aircraft “fly by wire“. They are such complex machines that it is no longer possible to fly them using pulleys and wires. They need computers… programmed by fallible humans. Every time I sit in an aeroplane seat I am putting my life in the hands of people who wrote code for a living. Just as I had. Having seen what’s behind the Kimono as it were, the greatness of these engineers somehow didn’t seem so magical. They were just as likely to have made errors as anyone else. If this were not the case, the firmware in these aeroplanes would still be v1.0. Though I have no inside knowledge, I would wager a small sum that no aircraft flying today has firmware that is not significantly more advanced in evolution than v1.0. Every increment the result of “Oops – that’s not supposed to happen. We’d better fix that!”
Several years on, I find myself the proud father of three offspring. The two eldest are at university out east. Number one child is studying “Life Sciences” at University of Waterloo, and is almost as proud as I am of her 87% average. She is hoping to become an optometrist, and scored in the 98th percentile in the entrance test for the post-graduate school. Not entirely sure where she acquired her smarts, but she’s definitely a lot better at studying than I ever was.
Anyway, one doesn’t get to score so highly in life sciences at one of Canada’s leading seats of learning without picking up a thing or two and having an enquiring mind to-boot. Imagine then the scene when she went to see the surgeon yesterday in preparation for today’s wisdom tooth removal procedure…
After the usual “blah blah” session to justify his additional fee over and above the surgery itself, he innocently asked if she had any questions. I had pre-warned her not to enquire too aggressively as he would have her anaesthetised and at his mercy for an extended period today. She may wake up with an unwanted tattoo for example! She wasn’t in there too long yesterday, so I guess he didn’t face the full inquisition. She seemed satisfied with his answers about lack of intubation, the difference between sedation and anaesthetic, and deigned to attend the actual surgery today, so I guess he passed muster.
Today, her sister and I dropped her off and went to enjoy a cup of Murchie’s Russian Caravan tea and order her pharmaceuticals whilst she went under the knife. Only half an hour later we returned and I was led into the room to collect her. She was fully conscious and her face was slightly reminiscent of Brando’s Godfather character. It quickly turned out that this was due to gauze wads in her cheeks to absorb any short term bleeding, and not due to any swollen flesh per se. I was then given a bewildering torrent of instructions and warnings about mouth-wash and alcohol (none – it prematurely dissolves the sutures), brushing (only after tomorrow), pain management (high dose 292: aspirin-based codeine analgesics, with a touch of caffeine to fend off drowsiness) and bruise management (apply cold for 48 hours – at a rate of 10 minutes on, 10 minutes off, then heat).
During this entire lecture (through which time I was not allowed to take notes or read what I was assured was a concise pre-typed version for later perusal) number one offspring sat awake and apparently alert. I occasionally made eye contact and even winked in reassurance. She occasionally prodded her lip then muttered something. She then spoke more clearly “Oh I can talk!” She then muttered what I took to be a reminder for me to ask about sneezing. Having read dire warnings of dislodging early blood clots over the now vacant wisdom tooth sites by using straws or over-zealously spitting toothpaste, she had conceived a situation (in her high powered brain) that had not been covered in the pre-reading literature. She had specifically asked me to remind her to ask about it, so I did it on her behalf since my no-gauzed mouth was somewhat more easily understood. What about sneezing? Might this also dislodge the clots? How was this to be avoided? The question, it seems, was not having its first airing, and a quick response that it was best to try and keep ones mouth open during the sneeze (is there any other way?) was duly delivered. After a discrete warning that she might seem “really drunk” for a few minutes longer, number two offspring was summoned, help was rendered to dress the patient in her cardigan and coat, and we were discretely ushered to a back exit (presumably so we would not distress any pre-operation visitors with the horrors to come.)
We then meandered like a post party exodus of shame towards the car and safely belted number one offspring into the seat. In a sudden panic she said we’d forgotten to ask about the sneezing dilemma. I assured her that we’d asked and that the answer was clear. Swearing blind that this must have occurred whilst she was asleep a second panic quickly ensued involved knowing who might have dressed her and when. Over the course of the afternoon, it was necessary to reassure her no less than four times that we knew the answer to the sneeze issue and that she had indeed been present when the answer was originally provided, that she had not teleported directly from the doctor’s chair to the living room of the house and that she was in fact still sans tattoo.
Somewhere along the way, she had apparently insisted on keeping her wisdom teeth “for the Tooth Fairy”, and seemed to think that a sum of $100 was a fair price. Now sensation is returning to her face and “normal service” is being resumed mentally she has naturally taken to reading the sheaves of paper that the pharmacy is obliged to impart alongside the three tubs of tablets that the witch doctor prescribed. In combination the antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and analgesics seem to offer an opportunity for pretty much every option of death imaginable by the author of the warnings. Plainly they were in possession of a very thick medical dictionary indeed!
The final torture for the household of the detail oriented offspring? The tablets require a schedule of 6 hours, inevitably requiring one dose to be sometime during the night. Whilst you or I, being more practical than literal, might say “bugger that – I’ll take one first thing, one last thing, and the other two when I remember – sometime during the day,” she has set her phone’s alarm so that she may wake and (as per instructions) have something to eat in the wee hours so she may take the fourth tablet on schedule “with food”.
Gods bless modern medicine…