Sunday, April 1, 2012


Even as I write these words, I feel as if my head will split and the contents will pour out. Not exactly a migraine, but more the kind of headache that comes from concentrating too much. The neck muscles contract and the shoulders tense forming a ray of lightning that shoots up the nape and explodes just above the forehead. I am tired.

The contractor said that he couldn't quite figure out how to assemble the vanity. So my brother and I studied the mounted shell, and tried to make sense of the diagram heavy instructions. Eventually we had to wing it. After multiple failed attempts, we realized the scaffolding for the drawers was uneven. After correcting, we still struggled to angle at just the right degree till we heard the fabulous clicking sound.

We quickly realized that the back of the bottom drawer would have to be rejiggered to make space for the the sinks hardware that was jutting out of the wall. A half an hour later, my brother made the measured cuts with a hand saw and reinforced the slats with a piece of leftover scrap.

The victory dance, when the drawers were appropriately mounted, was short lived. I joined my wife in the basement and sprayed the surface mold with vinegar for awhile. Then I climbed carefully on top of garbage left over in the garage to re program the door opener.

A few more glitches were then worked out with the contractor. My wife devised a brilliant plan to shortcut a lighting problem. And finally it was time to hang up the overalls for the day.

After a quick dinner and putting the kids to sleep, I've collapsed on the couch. I'm exhausted.


My inexperience with home improvement is basically a fluency issue. I grew up in a female centered household where the majority of repairs were farmed out. By the time my mom remarried, I had lost interest in such things. As my step father toiled around the house devising fixes, my mind wandered, I did homework, or watched TV.

Years ago when I became a homeowner, I realized that my lack of literacy was a deficit that needed to be corrected. But trying to decipher a foreign language can be difficult. I find that it takes great amounts of time and brain power. I can get the job done, but it usually drives the gas tank down to empty.


On days like these, as my writing waxes philosophical, I really feel for my patients. They lie in hospital beds or await worriedly in their own homes. Each day can bring a dizzying flurry of data that can be impossible to interpret. They are harangued by various physicians, specialists, and nurses. The problems are complex and can change at the drop of a dime. And the consequences are sometimes deadly.

Unlike the problem solving involved in my remodeling follies, medicine is often unknowable. The systems are infinite and intricate. The headache I feel pails in comparison to what patients and families face every day.

I will sleep well tonight. My lack of fluency may slow me down, but I will live to fight another day.

I can only hope the same is true for my patients.

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