Down East 2013 ©
If you go to the hospital with an earache, and wait, and wait some more, and then somebody comes in with an ax in the back of his head and he is invited to skip ahead of you in line, are you rightfully indignant?
I hope not.
You could say, “Hey, I was here first. I’ve been waiting for quite some time. I deserve to have my discomfort taken seriously. Who the hell does that fellow think he is?”
You might even take this further, with some rant about how you are a busy man and your time is valuable. If you should be there with your child, you could demand loudly that somebody treat your little progeny immediately if not sooner because, hey, everyone knows that a good parent is one who insists on the best for their child, and like a mother tiger, is an unstoppable force on behalf of the little darling. Perhaps you’d have something to say about how these local hospitals aren’t as efficient as back where you used to live, or about how some of these other people’s injuries don’t look all that painful to you.
You could say any of that, but you’d be a jerk if you did. The doctors would likely ignore you, and the EMTs would roll their eyes, and the other people waiting their turn, with their own pains and worries, would wonder which other state you might be from.
Some of the worst offenders in this setting are physicians, who think they know that they are sicker than any of these other poor slobs. Or just more important.
The other mere human beings, waiting patiently or impatiently, would be justified in being suspicious of your upbringing. Ethically, it is generally agreed throughout civilization that the more serious, more dangerous conditions get taken first, and that “first come, first served” is a luxury only affordable when nothing too drastic is going on.
The process is very much the same when there are too few repairmen in the area. It’s called triage.
If you need your TV antenna adjusted, and somebody else is seeing blue sparks, guess who gets the electrician first? It does not matter who called first. Somehow, not everybody seems to understand this.
If you are standing knee-deep in water in your cellar, your needs come ahead of the homeowner with the dripping sink faucet. That isn’t negotiable. It isn’t subjective. It isn’t a matter of opinion. Yet some people still cannot see beyond their own troubles.
On Matinicus and all over Maine, we find ourselves just a tad short-handed from time to time, tradesman-wise, and those who serve the public with wrenches and ladders and PVC cement and digital multi-meters are more than occasionally called on an emergency basis. The retired fellow with the scratchy telephone or the cottage owner who wants a different color light switch because she just painted the bedroom will have to wait.
They won’t like it.
There also seems to be a statistically reliable pattern, a sort of undeniable mathematical function where the gravity of the mechanical problem is inversely proportional to the aggressiveness of the complainant. Somebody with no water at all coming from the tap will often leave a message like, “Would you have him call me when he gets a chance, we’re having some trouble down here,” while some other dude who just wants a new stereo hooked up aboard the boat or is having trouble with his new 40-inch wide-screen will screech into the yard at top speed and demand attention as if his mother had just fallen off a cliff.
Those who whine because the small annoyance of their somehow malfunctioning physical plant was not addressed in a timely manner by the appropriate technician need only recall how it worked when it was their own well pump that died, or their own service drop that was torn off by a tree branch in a November gale. They got jumped to the top of the list (as if there was time to sit around and make lists). No matter who else had planned to have their dishwasher installed that day or whatever, it would wait, because something far more serious was happening.
Just like with the smarter-than-thou doctor in the emergency department scenario, there are occasionally issues with the smart guys who do the mechanical job themselves, but “only need a few parts.” They mean right now. As in, drop what you’re doing and go find me this fitting, NOW. Come down from that telephone pole or up out of that cellar right now. Drop that other person’s work and go scrounge up a little widget for me because I forgot to buy all the right parts. Right now.
(Of course, they only expect to be charged the dollar thirty-five for the little fitting, too.)
So, to those who may need such a cheat sheet, herewith, a rough outline of how it works in life. Take this as a metaphor if you like. You can read a lot into this if you try hard enough. These observations probably work as well for medicine, politics, and love as they do for the building trades:
A fire or a sinking boat comes before anything else.
A power failure comes before anything else except something where people might get hurt.
A complete failure (of somebody’s water, power, phone, refrigerator, etc.) comes before a minor malfunction.
Marine electronics for a commercial fisherman, propane for the bakery, the Internet for the school , or anything else involved with how somebody makes their living comes before improvements to vacation homes, the installation of luxuries, or purely aesthetic repairs.
Usually, any ordinary appliance more than ten years old will not be worth fixing because the parts will be impossible to find or cost too much. Yelling does not alter those realities.
The needs of the power company come before the needs of private individuals unless there is some danger of fire or injury or pipes freezing up in the winter. The phone company comes ahead of everything that realistically can wait. That judgment will be made by the phone man, not by the guy who wants a new style of light fixture in his third upstairs bathroom.
If the phones all over town are out, the fault probably isn’t here anyway.
Cheap stuff wasn’t built to be repairable.
If it’s a clawfoot tub, it’s hard to say when the fix-it guy will get to it.
Eva Murray spends a lot of time considering how to handle “medicine, politics and love,” and repairs, on Matinicus Island.