Wednesday, September 1, 2010


Many years ago, I studied to become a midwife. Most of the teachers were old hippies and their teaching style was predictably loose and relaxed. One, however, in addition to being a midwife, was also a nurse. She took pride in her fierce, rigid pedagogy. She forced us to memorize definitions and procedures verbatim without caring whether we had understood at all.

"Understanding comes later," she would bark. "First get the facts."

I will never forget the day she taught us how to wash our hands. The previous class she had handed out a sheet of instructions. The first one read:

Approach the sink.

It went on like this, in what seemed like an extremely anal and obsessive attention to detail which was completely unnecessary given that we were all adults with basic common sense:

Scrub palm to palm
Right palm over left dorsum and left palm over right dorsum
Palm to palm fingers interlaced
Backs of fingers to opposing palms with fingers interlocked

And so on. Every detail. Nothing too trivial to be mentioned.

I was 24 years old at the time and I had great faith in my intelligence, my memory and that same old common sense I referred to earlier. I knew hands needed to be washed to avoid infection. I knew how to do it. I didn't need lessons. I certainly didn't need a checklist.

Now I am 52. My once sharp memory is frayed at the edges and increasingly unreliable. "Approaching the sink" to wash my hands, I am just as likely to remember that plant I've been meaning to water and to veer off in another direction entirely.

So now I like protocols. I like checklists and unalterable routines. When I walk into the house, I put my keys on the key rack mindlessly, without thought, because that's the only way it happens. If I change that crucial routine - open the door, approach key rack, hang keys - by even an inch, the keys end up in the laundry basket or the fridge.

After I broke my camera because I forgot to close the zipper on its case, allowing it to tumble out and crash onto the floor,  I realized that protocols not only save time and frustration, they also save life and limb.

Put milk to boil. Turn gas down to sim.

Get in the car. Put on seatbelt.

Help Moy Moy into bed, drag heavy chair up beside it to prevent her rolling out.

Protocols. I love them because they remind us that we are human and forgetful and well-intentioned but sometimes stupid.


Entropy said...

Wow !! Nice New Theme -- Refreshing change -

I wish you can change the font/Type

Jo Chopra McGowan said...

Ajay, I wish I could too! I foolishly went ahead and changed everything and now I hate it and can't find my way back.

The photo is too big, the title of the blog is too small, but my options seem so limited unless I am prepared tospend the next week learning HTML.

Any suggestions?

BTW, the one thing I DO like is the new font!