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Competence in the Age of Hype

The author recently required the services of the Sound Shore Medical Center's Ambulatory Surgery Center. The frequent critic of services in every corner of our modern day society wound up getting a surprise.

She was no spring chicken, an acknowledgement I make with the full understanding that such a disclosure may offend the person to whom this column is intended to praise. 

But such a revelation is as essential to the point as is the cliche that wine is at its best aged, or that diamonds have been under pressure for quite some time.  The offense, if indeed any is taken, will be mitigated by the relative anonymity that the she in this case is actually one of several in the Ambulatory Surgery Center at .

This age thing is a tricky business that could well land me back under the knife, or orthoscope, if I am not careful. After all, I am no youngster myself, and the über competent nurses I am about to discuss are much younger than I, and they are by no means old. But they are middle aged, and they are good, and there in lies the rub.

In this time of 20-something billionaires and short attention spans—not to mention celebrity based on hype and name recognition—competence, experience and knowledge have become almost quaint. 

Why be a real journalist when you can put forth sensational blogs and make more money knowing and caring less? Why study theater or go to the Actors Studio to learn the craft when you can make more money in show business having sex on a video and then moving into your own reality TV series? Why should a political leader explain the nuances of truth when an ill-informed public responds to sound bites and emotional appeals based on God or some other deeply held conviction not related to the issue?

Call a company get a computer voice. Walk in a drug store and get a kid with an iPod in his or her ear and an attitude that says, "Why are you bothering me?" Ask for help in a department store and no one in the red shirt or green apron will make eye contact with you. 

Your PC is slow, your broker will buy or sell you anything and you have had untold birthdays on line at the post office, a celebration lessened by the meter that ran out on North Avenue. 

By now you have my drift. We live in a country where most people suck at what they do and don't care.

So in walks your humble servant to the focused and clear voice of one of these "shes" I mentioned. Her warmth was evident, but overshadowed by the need for her to be direct about why I was there, what kind of surgery I was having and who was my doctor. 

When I told her that I was there for knee surgery, it was the first of several times that every one of these professionals asked me which one, culminating in marking it—the offending joint—with a thick black pen. I was then escorted to a changing room where my valuables were secured and I was instructed to change into the obligatory gown, booties and head covering.

Next, yet another of these sharp competent women brought me to my bed. She hooked up my IV, went over everything I wrote on the forms, exactly what I ate and did over the last 24 hours, and asked several other questions about drug interactions and allergies and who was picking me up. 

She also let me know the order in which things would occur and when they would occur. She was confident and commanding in a way that made me so relaxed I read a magazine until she came by again. I had to ask her how long she was doing this. It was about 25 years. 

Another of these constables of competence came over to tell me what would happen when I came back to recovery and double checked my daughter's contact information. She wished me well, and left the stage as the anesthesiologist walked in. 

More good questions, one to which I replied, "Yes, I have an issue with nausea."   

"Good to know," said the doctor, as he gave me a vial of a fluid he said would keep that in check. He added that I would soon begin to feel something cold in my IV. It felt like someone had dripped water onto the top of my hand as ...

"Mr. Marrone, everything went well, would you like a sip of water." The voice, once again, came from one of those disarmingly confident women who ran the place.  They later wisked me to a second recovery area, let me sleep it off and called my daughter. 

Next to visit me was my surgeon, Yasmin Dhar, a bright, relatively young, former pro baskeball player who understands athletes, even old ones, and who knows how to fix their bodies. 

Before and after, she always made time to talk, time to explain what was going on and was as good a sport as there is, having to endure my nickname for her. She is now Dr. Chainsaw.

Look, I did not have brain surgery and was in no kind of danger. My operation is really not the point. 

This is a story about competence, experience and education in an age when they are often minimized by presidential candidiates or overlooked by the public.  

Thanks, ladies. Now if I could just wash this marker off of my leg.

Robert McCaffrey April 13, 2011 at 12:29 PM
Wow! You found a parking space by the Post Office? That's great. No really, Hope you get up and moving soon. I have been through the Abulatory Surgery several times and yes they are a great crew of doctors and especially the nurses. They do a great job and do deserve a "Job well done". Get Well Soon!
Bob Marrone April 13, 2011 at 09:30 PM
Thanks Bob. Threw away the cane today. It should be intersting when the woman read it and try and blow out the other knee :). They are really that good.

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