Things we take for Granted

Fifteen days ago I had a minor corrective surgery.

Sitting now on Pesto’s salon, after having had a “nearly normal” week, I was wondering about the highly complex elements that are part of our lives nowadays.

This post is in appreciation of it.

When I moved aboard last year, I enthusiastically engaged on a number of activities to prepare Pesto for our journey. As I tackled one project after the other, I didn’t realize these were all new physical demands to my body and, without giving it time to adjust properly, I eventually had a hernia develop in my belly. I was able to live with it for some time, but it was getting bigger and was starting to limit me, and threatening to hinder our plans.

One day I was discussing it with Adriana and we realized we had time available now. It is still too hot, there are these crazy night Chubascos every now and then, and it is wise to await the end of the Hurricane Season before getting seriously out there anyway. I exchanged a few messages with my brother, who works on a major pharmaceutical company, and two days later I was sitting in front of a Doctor in Hermosillo. This all happened less than 20 days ago.

The surgery happened two weeks ago, and a few days later the doctor gave me the opportunity to watch the video of it. Basically they inflated me like a balloon, stuck a few tools inside the “cave” – camera included – via four small holes poked through the skin, revolved my guts around for two hours, and clamped a dozen-or-so square inches of polypropylene mesh to keep them in place for good. And I am not writing this to “eew” you or for you to pity me … the procedure was indeed minor. Read on.

I was released from the hospital just under 24hrs after the surgery. Came back to Pesto three days later and for most of the last two weeks I was able to do homeschooling with the kids, move around and perform light household chores – all with the doctor’s blessing.

True, we did stay in a hotel for a couple more days after the surgery, my belly is now half shaved and I look like an albino chimpanzee, and there is still a bit of localized pain here and there.

But what is important is that I am already reasonably functional. Just 20 days after the surgery. And getting better by the day. It is a fact that I am still banned from weight-lifting and contortionism which pretty much prevents me from doing ANY boat work for now. But the doctor warranted me that I should be “back in business” within the next two months, and we will be good to cast the lines off and set sail again.

Switching now to the focal point of this post (and I realize it took me over 400 words and 6 paragraphs to do so, oh well, I like to write …). From the moment Adriana and I made the decision until we set sail again in November, there is a number of overwhelmingly complex elements underlying this three-month rather trivial tale.

Starting with the surgery: technology and thousands men-hours of R&D allowed the doctor to fix the hernias (turns out I had two) via tiny incisions to my skin and adjoining tissues, thus enabling a quick recovery. And the solution applied – the mesh – yields a success rate in excess of 2%. Think of it 30, 50 years ago …

Shifting the focus to Medicine. As minor as the surgery was, it does involve quite a bit of moving around, stitching and clamping, and I suspect it is probably a painful process until the body can reincorporate all that. But I was able to cruise through it, with relatively little pain, due to the analgesic medicine. A number of artificially synthesized components which need to be absorbed by our bodies and “hit the right strings” so that the pain is routed away from our brain … imagine how much thought, trial, resources and time were required to get to this point. I was stunned when the pharmacist handed me the saving box of painkiller for just MXN30 (less than two US dollars !).

And once I am fully healed, and the hurricanes are gone, and we let go of the dock lines again, with the flick of a button I will know with incredible accuracy where we are and where we are headed to, thanks to GPS-enabled navigation hard/software. Up until 2 or 3 decades ago, offshore sailing required knowledge of Celestial Navigation, an art-turned-science-turned-art which involved using the positions of known celestial bodies on the sky to find one’s own on earth’s surface, roughly within a one-mile radius. That employed the use of a Sextant, a “precision time piece” (aka, a mechanical watch), celestial conversion tables, a number of mathematical calculations, and a large paper chart. Nowadays, a miniature device called GPS connects to a selection within a constellation of satellites, interpolates its position, and plots it on a digital map on an electronic screen. All real time, and with a few meters accuracy.

What makes writing this post even more interesting is that the complexity of “enabling paraphernalia” grows exponentially as we move to the more trivial aspects of my three-month tale. Take the decision-making conversation I had with Adriana at the beginning of the story. Picture this: we were taking a short break after lunch, both sitting at Pesto’s salon and chatting. We started talking about our Journey’s next steps, and I was checking on the latest Hurricane Season information available online to corroborate the decision to stay until November. We then shifted to the hernia, the possibility of fixing it here in Mexico and near San Carlos. While talking to Adri, I was using internet-enabled Messenger to chat with my brother who, in turn, used his company’s intranet to locate a few doctors near us. All within minutes. A couple decades ago, this would have required a number of lengthy phone calls via a landline (in our case probably a phone booth), possibly a number of faxes and maybe even telegrams. Would have taken a month and a lot of labor to reach a decision we now made within a quarter of an hour while sitting on our armchairs.

And here’s another one that always fascinates me: we paid our way through this story using our credit cards, and every time it was entered into a POS machine, an unimaginable amount of hard/soft/peopleware was evoked in support of that nearly non-event, split second transaction.

Think of it for a second: we live immersed in a medium composed of elements which are extremely complex in their own nature. Just look around you. A combination of Circumstance and Choice defines which one of these are Essential, Augmentation or just Unnecessary for each one of us. But regardless of the combination, once available, we hardly even take note of them.

Decades, thousands of men-hours and billions of dollars were required for a certain Medicine to be developed, for the Internet to become what it is today, or for a credit card transaction to be approved within a slit second.

And despite their complexity, these elements are so incorporated into our lives that their eventual underperformance is intolerable: the Medicine will get poor reviews in forums and maybe even a class-action, internet provider’s customer service channels will get overflowed, and credit card companies will receive infuriated calls and reviews. All rightfully so. I am not proposing that we accept lower performance standards of something just because of all the time and efforts and resources employed to set it up. After all, that’s our very essence: we expect, we demand, and once we get it, we expect more. It’s this essence that drives the ongoing development of such complex elements. It’s the virtuous cycle, the human cycle. A cycle which, by the way, can cause us big trouble in the future, but that’s way beyond the point, and definitely does not pertain to this post.

Today, all I want is to acknowledge these highly complex elements that are intricately weaved into our daily lives, and be appreciative. Without them, I would not be writing this post the way I am today. By hundred different reasons. Definitely not.

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