'Matter of Laugh or Death,' the award-winning humor column
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
(appearing each week in the Republican-American newspaper, Waterbury, CT)
MEATBALL SURGERY IN THE OFFICE
In the emergency medical business, they have a term called “triage.” I first heard this term while watching the TV show “M*A*S*H” many years ago. At the time I thought it meant Hawkeye was dating three different nurses at once.
But it turns out triage is a genuine medical concept, used mostly in emergency rooms and on the battlefield. As the sick and wounded are brought in for treatment, they are separated into three groups. The first group are those who can survive only if they are given immediate attention. These are the cases Hawkeye or Trapper would take, and then perform some miraculous feat of surgery, such as doing a complete spine transplant using only a salad fork and Radar’s No. 2 pencil.
The second group are those who can survive but do not need attention right away. These are the cases Major Burns would take, but unfortunately the patient would die after Frank, attempting to remove a piece of shrapnel from the left thigh, would accidentally remove the right lung.
The third group are those who will not survive no matter how much attention they receive. These are the cases Hawkeye would kneel alongside and deliver a soliloquy about President Nixon’s criminal behavior. (Even though the show was set during the Korean War in the early 1950s, everyone knew the purpose of the show was to accuse the U.S. Military of being evil during the 1970s.)
Anyway, I have a triage system in my office at work, and it’s very similar to the “M*A*S*H” system, except there is slightly less blood and no promiscuous nurses.
My triage system consists of three in-baskets on my desk. (Well, actually, it’s two in-baskets on my desk and one trash can on the floor.)
As memos and faxes and emails and phone messages come pouring in to my office, often at a rate of 30 pounds of paper per hour, I perform triage by separating the items into three groups and then I place them in the appropriate in-basket.
The first in-basket is labeled, “Omigod, this needs immediate attention or my career won’t survive.” These are usually situations where an irate customer demands satisfaction—now!—or else he’ll take his business elsewhere and refuse to pay us what he already owes. Making these customers happy is much more difficult than performing a complete spine transplant using only a salad fork and a No. 2 pencil.
The second in-basket is labeled, “OK, this does not need immediate attention, but I’ll still get fired if I don’t do something about it by the end of the day tomorrow.” This is a rather large in-basket for two reasons: the label with the basket’s name is the size of a billboard, plus I have a special talent for procrastination and rationalization, often putting items into this basket when they should go into the first basket.
The third in-basket, which is actually my trash can, is labeled, “Blame it on Nixon.” It used to be labeled, “Sorry, I have no idea what you’re talking about so there’s nothing I can do to help you,” but since Nixon is still such a convenient scapegoat for just about everything—even though he’s been out of office for 30 years and dead for 10—I just couldn’t resist. So if you’ve ever sent me an urgent memo or fax and I never replied to you, blame it on Tricky Dick.
Some people in my office complain that I spend too much time on my triage sorting system and not enough time actually getting any work done. But they’re just a bunch of Nosy Nates. They’re just a bunch of rule-breaking, hot shot show-offs. What this outfit needs is discipline. We have to follow the rules and regulations—even if it means there’s no time left to take care of the customers.
Now you understand why I’m known as the Major Burns of the business world. But at least it’s better than being known as Tricky Dick.
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