Wired. Tired.

What’s next?

I mentally review the status of hearth and home office.

Laundry? In. Garbage? Out. Slow cooker? On. Books? Current. Stale email? Deleted. Virtual desktop? Tidied. Physical desktop? Emerging. Shredder? Cooling.

What’s next?

Just off sixteen days straight on a deadline-driven project, my adrenal gland is still in Go, GO, GO!!! mode. God help me, if I can’t soon find another thing to sort, file, move, or throw into or out of something else, I may be reduced to cleaning. Must. Have. Activity.

I decide to get a jump on planning the next trip: anything to hold bathrooms and floors at bay. But somehow, the travel websites don’t hold my attention. Badly designed, likely — it’s just too damned hard to find anything. Maybe I’ll get a start on this week’s blog. But somehow, the words just don’t come. My adrenal gland may be in overactive mode but my central processing unit is sluggish, stupid, slow.

Wired and tired. Talk about ‘hitting the wall’: reaching the end of a proposal is like hitting a brick wall at full speed. Go hell-bent-for-leather and then stop, sudden-like.  Full speed is the only speed that will get you there in time, but then, from one heartbeat to the next, it’s done. As the body tries to slam on the brakes, it slumps to the ground and continues to twitch, just out of habit.

Wired and tired: as familiar as this state is from my work over the last twenty years, it goes further back than that.

Who’s your family doctor?

It’s the early 1980s and I am standing at the Emergency Room desk in a Saskatoon hospital at oh-four-hundred. A nurse has just taken Number One Son down the hall to a bed. The admitting clerk is asking me questions, filling in the paperwork, and I’m doing pretty well, I think. I know my name, my son’s name, and why we’re here: croup.

Croup is passing rare past the age of five. Number One Son is past ten, but there is no mistaking that wheezing noise, or that sucking in of the hollow just above the collarbone as the victim labours for breath. It’s croup, all right, and it needs to be seen to, right now, middle of the night or not. And so I have careened the mile or so to the hospital, abandoned the car in the Emergency driveway, and arrived, a little breathless myself, at the desk, kid in tow.

Faced with an agitated parent, the clerk considers her options and wisely rejects the one of challenging my diagnosis. She fills in the ‘Presenting complaint’ cell with ‘croup’ (and without comment), and carries on with her routine.

Who’s your family doctor?

And I stand there, stumped. For all that I know exactly what’s wrong with my kid, in that moment I do not know my doctor’s name.

He has privileges here, I offer, and pause. Bless her heart, she waits, silently.

It starts with an ‘H’. My brain is sneaking up on the elusive storage cell.

H_____!  I shout. Bingo!

Paperwork done and someone sent to wake the attending doctor, I pace the cubicle. Unable to sit quietly, I’m just sharp enough to hope that she is sharper than I am at this hour.

Wired and tired. Whether the result of self-inflicted overwork or a middle-of-the-night health emergency with a munchkin, it’s never my shining moment. Just as well, then, that in my personal emergencies there has always been someone else who was more on the hook than I was.  Just as well, too, that in my work there is usually time to recover before I have to perform at peak again.

Wired and tired: for me, in my work, it comes predictably at the end of a project cycle, but for other jobs it jumps up unpredictably out of their everyday routine. I can see them in my mind’s eye, at the end of long shifts. The nurse conducting a tricky procedure; the doctor evaluating a set of potentially life-threatening symptoms. The air traffic controller disentangling suddenly conflicting flight paths; the pilot responding to an in-flight mechanical failure.  The cop called to respond to a domestic dispute or bar room fight; the combat soldier on patrol. They need sure hands and quick good judgement: they have adrenaline. They need calm patience: they have irritable fatigue. Wired and tired.

What surprises me isn’t that it sometimes goes wrong: a botched procedure or misdiagnosis; a faulty instruction or unclear communication; a dial misread or the wrong action taken; an over-reaction to, or an underestimation of, an inherently dangerous situation. With the whole wealth of ways in which it can go wrong, what surprises me is how often it goes right.


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6 Responses to Wired. Tired.

  1. Alison says:

    Isabel – As it applies to our own lives, I’ve realized that I need “backup” for those times when I’m “wired and tired”. I normally can remember series of numbers with no problem – SIN #’s, phone numbers, passwords, etc. – they are all right there in my mind. But – give me an emergency, and I, like you, am lucky to know how to spell my last name (Uhr? Urh?)
    I now have a book where I write down all the essentials – I don’t carry it with me – but at least I know where to find it! As far as the “tricky procedures” that pilots, doctors, etc. do when they are tired? I think we owe a lot of the success of that to muscle memory – which tends to kick in when our brains are disengaged.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Alison – Muscle memory is an interesting phenomenon. I took tai chi for a few years (learning the whole sequence) and then quit for a few years and then went back. I didn’t remember it very well, so figured I’d better start in a beginners’ class. One night we got to a spot in the sequence and I said to the instructor, Does the next move start like this? Indeed it did. I had no conscious recall of the moves, but some part of my brain certainly ‘remembered’! I trust that the training of folks who have to perform under pressure includes things to train their subconscious reactions.

  2. Barry says:

    “what surprises me is how often it goes right”

  3. Jim taylor says:

    I’m obviously older than you. After a deadline met, I go into “crash” mode — can’t do anything, don’t feel anything, just bone weary…. I find the best solution is to do something totally different: go for a long walk with the dog, do some woodwork, or have several naps!

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Well, it changes with the age and stage, that’s for sure. My recovery period used to be significantly shorter than it is now – and maybe my next stage will be to lose the ‘wired’ bit and go straight to crash! But walking and woodworking sound roughly equivalent to doing laundry and tidying an office, so maybe you’re not as crashed as you think you are….

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