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Personal essays

Preparation - Essay from Newsletter 123

Doing the work before it’s an emergency

Feeling my age

I more often feel my age in noting the milestones or achievements of others.

It felt natural when I got my driver’s license, graduated college, got married, and became a dad.

But when my daughter got her driver’s license, graduated high school, graduated college, got her first job, moved away from home - these were big deals and they made me feel time pass.

Sometimes I have an experience that reminds me I’m not young any more.

You might think it’s the noises I make when I get out of a chair or when I sit down - but no, I’ve been making those noises for years. Even in my thirties Kim referred to those as my “old Jewish man noises.”

I felt old a couple of weeks back when I spoke to a group of high school students. I showed them a picture of the first computer I ever wrote programs for. It filled an entire room. We typed our programs into a terminal that only used upper case letters and numbers and a few symbols and was connected to the computer via a telephone line.

I was the same age then as the students that I was talking to are now and yet everything about that experience was amazingly futuristic and only available to a small portion of the country - let alone world.


I was lucky to be at a high school in a small college town that allowed us access.

I showed the students a picture of a top level calculator from that time. One that was too expensive for any of us to own. You could multiply, divide, add, and subtract and perform trig functions on it.

In today’s dollars it cost the same as a top level iPhone.

This calculator was new - it was the future. If you could find such a calculator today, it would cost less than five dollars. It is laughably primitive.

The students in front of me didn’t know a world where the iPhone didn’t exist and was everywhere.

They can all write programs at the same time and test them on their individual computers and put the programs on their individual devices.

Our computer class shared a single machine. We did most of our programming with paper and pencil because time at the terminal was so precious.

I wonder if it’s difficult for so many of us to think about climate change and the earth we live on because we haven’t had to share.

We generally don’t have to think about constrained resources.

I’m surrounded by people driving by themselves in huge cars unworried about the day when we run out of gas.

That’s someone else’s problem.

The price of gas goes up and they complain about Biden and what’s wrong with our government but they generally don’t drive less and don’t seem to be motivated to look at more efficient cars. (I’m also waiting for the articles about the price of gas coming down and crediting - oh nevermind.)

My state charges electric vehicle owners more to register our cars because we aren’t paying a fuel tax. Forget that I’ve driven so little this year that even with a gas car I’d be paying way less than the hundreds they charge me - why aren’t they encouraging people to move away from gas?

Because that’s someone else’s problem.

They aren’t going to be reelected telling people to stop driving huge cars one by one to the store and leaving the engine running so the car isn’t too hot when they get back in it.

The preparation

Getting back to that age thing, I recently had a reminder that I’m getting old.

Yesterday I went for my second colonoscopy.

Without a family history of problems, you generally go for your first one in your fifties and then, if everything is clear, get another one ten years later.

I’m old enough that I’ve now been to my second one.

The preparation takes three days.

Without being graphic, the doctor needs to be able to take a look around so things need to be clear enough so they can take an unobstructed look.

Three days before, you have to stop eating fresh fruits and vegetables. In fact you need to stop eating fiber, seeds, and nuts.

All of these things that I usually eat for the health of the thing they’re checking out - stop eating them.

I had to go out and buy food that I don’t have around the house just to eat badly for two days.

“Two days, Daniel,” you ask, “didn’t you say three?”

I did. Day three is for clear liquids only. In particular, nothing with any red in it.

Maggie pointed out that vodka and gin are clear (she is such her mother’s daughter). I’ll admit that the instructions from the doctor didn’t mention alcohol or, for that matter, coffee.

The Clenpiq instructions did.

Before you ask, Clenpic is the part of the preparation that people dread.

I will say that it is much better than whatever I used last time.

I’m old enough to remember when this final cleanse was a lot more unpleasant.

Within a couple of hours after my second application of the Clenpiq I was fairly confident that the doctor would have an unobstructed view.

The procedure

The procedure itself must have taken less than ten minutes.

I arrived at the office and filled out papers.

I sat for ten minutes then filled out more papers.

I was taken back where I took off all my clothes and put on a backless gown.

“All of my clothes?” I asked.

All of them.

They put in an IV, took by blood pressure, and attached conductors I assume for a heart monitor during the procedure.

The anesthetist came in and introduced herself and had me fill out more papers.

The doctor came in and introduced himself and had me fill out more papers.

They wheeled me in the room, positioned me, and put me out.

The next thing I knew, it was a half hour later and the doctor came in to tell me that everything had been clear and that it would be another ten years until I would have to do the procedure again.

Three days of prep before I showed up. Forty-five minutes of prep once I was there. A ten minute procedure.

It made me think again of my high school computer classroom with one computer terminal that we all shared. We did a lot of preparation before it was our turn to use the terminal. Also we understood that when someone was using the terminal, no one else could.

I honestly don’t know how to bring these lessons into my life today but one of my goals is to try.

Try to see the actual “doing” as special enough that I spend more time preparing.

There was an article this morning that less than a decade ago the US had 20 million doses of smallpox vaccine frozen and ready to go. These doses would have been useful to fight the current spread of monkeypox but we let them expire and didn’t replace them. We now have only enough to give to a thousand people.

Once again we are starting to prepare for an emergency during the emergency and not ahead of time.

The heroic work during an emergency should, of course, be recognized. But we need to do more to reward and recognize the work that prevents emergencies.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 123. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

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