Archive for March 30th, 2019

PUBLIC SHAMING

March 30, 2019

As soon as I took a step towards the other side of the trail, right behind a crew member starting his chain saw, I knew it was a bad move. Oh well, I jumped quickly to the brush on the other side of the trail just I heard the chain saw roar behind me.  That was stupid, I thought, and I won’t do that again. I was carrying an axe and a hard plastic wedge, and my job was helping the sawyer by being ready to pound the wedge into the top cut to keep it open and keep the saw from binding.  But I should have waited before going to the other side.  

For the second straight week, we were clearing trail out by the Middle Fork Ranger Station near Oakridge.  The Wren Trail was normally a short, easy walk, but scores of large old growth and other trees had been brought down by the winter storm that shut down the county for a week, and the prior week the smaller chain saws used were limited in what could be cleared.

Today, we had cleared a couple of dozen big trees, 2+ feet in diameter, 200+ year-old Western hemlocks with a few Douglas firs and Western red cedars as well.  The trail was open for use again, and we were finishing a spur trail to a nearby road, making several cuts in a downed Douglas fir. It had been a good day, and the eight of us felt good about what we had done.  Nobody got hurt, although one man with whom I was working had a log brush his knee brace.

Before, during, and after. Each area that is cleaned needs to be planned, each log has to have its cut planned, and we need to be better at planning how we will get the logs off the trail. Near Middle Fork Ranger District office, Westfir, Oregon.

Shortly before we drove home, we gathered for a “tailgate session.”  I had been out more than thirty times with this group, and while we did morning tailgate safety sessions, this was the first afternoon one I had encountered. 

One of the two leaders, an experienced man in his 70s, who had spent decades cutting, looked around at all of us.  He looked at me, and then again at others, and I knew what was coming.  He finally looked at me again:

“You,” he said, pointing his finger at me, but not menacingly, “went around the saw as it was being started.  That is the worst possible time to do it.” The sawyer next to him with whom I had been working the whole day nodded agreement.

I don’t know who was looking at me, but I’m sure everyone else was.  I hadn’t been dressed down in public in a long, long time, and it stung.

“As soon as I went, I knew it was wrong,” I stammered.  And I heard again that saws starting up are most unstable.  That I didn’t know.  But I knew I was wrong.

The group discussed a few other things about safety, at least not involving me, but not involving any one individual.  I wasn’t going to say anything more, a decent approach, but I decided I would anyway.

“We need to stop and think before pushing logs off the trail that have just been cut,” I said.  This has been an issue on many of the outings I have been on, and it bothered me.  “I want to help, but if I’m not sure what the plan is, I am not going to hurt myself moving something until I get into position.”

Nobody said much. I’d seen far too many people in the woods push, lift, pull, or otherwise move logs without proper lifting care.  We were all old; sooner or later, bad technique causes problems.  Even good technique can.  I hurt my knee last summer by pushing in a way I thought was appropriate, but with which my knee disagreed.  I said probably the most important thing of all, although I didn’t appreciate it until later, and the others may not have even noticed: “we need to pay as much attention to moving the downed logs as we do to cutting therm.”

The worst thing that happened?  Being called “You.” He didn’t even know my name. I have worked with this man at least a dozen different days in the woods.  I’ve ridden in his vehicle three times 2 hours to a place and 2 hours back.  I talked to him at a benefit for the Crew at a bar because he was standing by himself and I didn’t see anybody else familiar.  OK, some people are bad at names, and I am one, so I wrote my name on the back of my hardhat.  He didn’t take the effort to know whom he was criticizing.

He should have taken me aside right then in the woods and told me why I did what I did was wrong.  That’s how you learn. Then, he could mention it at the tailgate briefing as something he has seen. I would have known it was about me, but I would not have been shamed. Instead, I felt “I’m once again at the bottom of the experience ladder and everybody else knows I’m a screwup and I shouldn’t come out here any more with the group and I just want to go home.”

If nothing else, he could have at least asked my name.

He didn’t.  He dressed me down in public, which my father and the military both taught me you never, ever do.  On board my ship, I heard a lot of yelling behind closed doors, and I saw chastened people afterwards, looking like they had been through a verbal wringer, but they at least had the dignity—yes, the dignity—of knowing that nobody else saw the scene.

Medical training was full of public dressing downs.  Woe to the physician, who, after having been up all or most of the night, didn’t have all the lab tests or a complete differential diagnosis on a patient right at his (usually his) fingertips.  It stings.  It can bring tears.

I saw a public dressing down of one of my classmates at New Mexico State when I was in grad school, and as one not involved in the issue, I felt so uncomfortable that I wanted to be somewhere else—anywhere else—at that time.  It was really ugly, and until this issue in the woods, I had repressed that day some twenty years ago.

When there is a dressing down, here are the reactions:

1. Try to become perfect, even if it is impossible, because perfection avoids mistakes, and mistakes are bad, bad, bad.  Rational? Of course not. But this is not a rational matter; it’s a deeply emotional one.

2.  Defend by attacking.  This same person who didn’t know my name was cutting a log a few weeks ago and not wearing a hard hat.  I deleted the picture I took of him. We don’t want to show that stuff.  We had too many people working in too small of a space today. That was unsafe, and nobody spoke up. We don’t lift properly, as I mentioned earlier. I did at least try to speak up, but it went nowhere. But none of that absolves me from my error, and bringing up examples of other errors is distracting and wrong.

3.  Stick to yourself, stay quiet, stay out of the way.

4.  Hide the error if possible.  A lot of doctors hide errors, because the ultimate dressing down in public—malpractice trial, which I have gone through—is intellectual rape

I’ll still work trails.  I know with whom I will try to work, however, and with whom I will try not to.  I’m a volunteer, after all, and while I’m not experienced at trail work, I’m not a beginner any longer or even a novice.  I go out to be in the woods, try to make current trails accessible again, and do good. I can go alone if I wish.

I’m a natural teacher.  Today, when the young woman at the drug store couldn’t make change properly, and I had to patiently explain the transaction to her two different ways, I did not berate her.  She felt badly enough and apologized for her lack of math.  I told her quietly not to worry about it.  If she’s good, she will worry about it, and she will get better,  but at least it was between me and her.  Nobody else.