New Spin: The Small Square

The captain informed us of weather problems in Paris. Thunderstorms. The collective rumblings from our fellow passengers required no translation. We rested on the ground in Nice, France, for an hour until given clearance to fly. Our already tight layover squeezed tighter. This was the only hiccup in an otherwise uncomplicated and pleasurable trip where I used both my bad French language speaking skills and limited Spanish language skills. “Oui,” I can be polite and order beer in three languages. “Mas cerveza por favor.” Though we exited last from the plane in Paris, my wife and I agreed to attempt to make our connection to Atlanta.

When I was in high school, Hertz rental car company paid OJ Simpson to run through airports advertising their rental cars. It was a successful advertising campaign, and for many years thoughts of Simpson entered your mind any time you witnessed someone dashing to catch a flight. And, of course, the folks at Hertz hoped you thought of them as well. Now, other things come to mind when pondering Simpson. I wanted to make our connection, however, running and leaping through Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport was not part of the plan.

After a brief misdirection we reached M59 and watched the aircraft pull back from the gate. Like watching the garbage truck roll down the street as you haul two weeks of stinky trash to the curb. “Wait, wait. Don’t go.” We might have made it, had a person with a badge on a lanyard not escorted twenty people on a fast track through passport control ahead of an equal number in just as much of a hurry. The gate agents directed us to the desk across from M41 with a promise of rebooking.

There we witnessed the 35-hour work week in action. The line moved quickly at first, however, the number of agents dropped precipitously as the five o’clock hour neared. Then they advised the desk was closing. They directed us to another terminal. We might have made it through the original line had they not been servicing people in the double diamond platinum elite priority line first.

Missing an occasional flight is part of traveling. It’s baked in, now more than ever. What most people bristle at is line jumping. Waiting in line at the bank, the movies, the DMV, and the post office is an egalitarian experience. Shared waiting brings people together in their collective misery and disdain for the organization making them wait. The rich and poor, those with friends in high and low places, the young and old, wait collectively. And nothing short of being told to move to another terminal draws out the ire of the group more than a line jumper.

In emergency medicine, we choose the line jumpers based off a system developed over many years. It’s not perfect, but for the most part our triage system works well. It’s great to bring back the patient with chest pain, do an EKG, and have them in the cath lab before the ink is dry. Also, quite satisfying is meeting the ambulance at the door to send the 24-year-old with dental pain to the lobby.

One of the features of emergency practice I like best is an uninsured young man, who cuts his finger working on his car, gets the same treatment as the pompous executive with the same injury from opening a bottle of wine. Same skill. Same attitude. Only I’ll enjoy fixing the young man more. This crystallizes much of what we do. All else being equal, you can jump the line at the Air France desk but not the one to sew up your manicured finger. “Tell that to your chums at the Hunt Club!”

There are many situations where we can’t control people trying to Scooby-Doo around the system. Lane merges on I-95, restaurants, the criminal justice system. It’s frustrating to watch. I take pride in not letting it happen when I work. So, have I ever allowed it? Yes. Under coercion from above. No, not God. Usually, it was the medical director or the CEO who called to give you a “heads up” about some athlete, or donor, or golfing buddy who has a zit on their left butt cheek needing immediate attention. I never liked it, but I did it to keep the peace and the paychecks coming.

Take joy and satisfaction the next time you see a tired mother, who just finished a 12-hour shift, with her febrile toddler. She’s getting the same excellent care and attention as the financial planner with tennis elbow. Nobody is jumping her line. That’s you, for a brief time, leveling your small square on the big playing field. Blessings to you.

Dr. Baehren is the medical director of the Good Neighbor Free Medical Clinic in Beaufort, SC.