The Thin Line: Between dedication and stupidity

Oct. 1, 2003

The Thin Line
Between dedication and stupidity

By Bill Brinkley

There is a very thin line between dedicated and stupid. Sometimes it is difficult to determine exactly where that line is and which side of it you are on. The importance of this line, and in knowing where you are in relation to it at any given moment, cannot be over stressed. Dedication is generally not a bad thing. Normally, dedication is a highly desirable trait. It doesn't become a bad thing until that thin line is crossed. Once that happens, well . . . I already told you what is on the other side of that line.

I'm sure that every person reading this has, at one time or another, gone to work sick. Maybe just a little sick, not quite feeling up to par or maybe very sick. Could be that you were feeling fine when you went to work, got sick during the course of the day, and decided to stay at work anyway. The reason could have been dedication, because you had something that had to be accomplished and it couldn't wait, or maybe it was because you didn't want to waste a sick day being sick. For whatever reason, you pulled yourself together and went to work. Which side of the thin line were you on?

As a technician, if you were sick enough to not be concentrating on what you were doing, well, that is not the "dedicated" side of the line. You could have missed something and not even realized it or taken some short cuts to get the job done faster so you could go home. If all you were doing was working on the budget, I'm sure nobody will care if you forgot to budget for salaries because your mind was elsewhere or your head was too cloudy to concentrate. If you were working on an aircraft, though, the implications are obvious.

Of course, as a technician you can always take some medicine for whatever ails you, but sometimes the cure is worse than the symptoms. Sometimes all the medication will do is make you light headed and/or sleepy, which, in combination with your original symptoms, just makes matters worse. Just remember to make notes of what medication you took and when, just in case your number comes up for a random drug test. It seems like every time I have been called for a random drug test, it was just as I was recovering from a cold or something and had been taking medicine for a week or so.

Pilots have a double whammy. They can't fly when they are sick, and they can't take medication for it and still fly. That thin line is in a different place for a pilot than it is for a technician, but it still exists.

I'm not saying that going to work sick can't work. I'll be the first to admit that I have done it, and as far as I know I have never messed up anything dramatically because of it. That doesn't mean I didn't mess anything up, it just means I didn't know about it. It also doesn't mean it was a smart thing to do. I have spent my fair share of time on both sides of that thin line.

This doesn't even address the concept of making your co-workers sick. Your boss may appreciate your dedication when you are out there working on your aircraft while you are sick. He may not appreciate it as much the following week when he and two of the duty pilots are out sick with the same stuff you had (. . . and where did they get it?) and the aircraft is out of service for lack of a crew to fly it.

Much the same thing can be said for fatigue. Marathon runners call it "hitting the wall." Several miles into a marathon, runners reach a point where they are operating on autopilot. They become oblivious of their surroundings, and get tunnel vision with their sites set only on completing the task at hand. Everything else becomes irrelevant. You may have seen the guy in the New York Marathon that was so focused he completely missed a turn and continued for almost a block before he realized he was running alone and turned around. No doubt he lost the Marathon because of it.

Again, I am guilty. I have performed marathon maintenance on aircraft more times than I can remember. I've done double shifts surviving on two-day old doughnuts and day-old industrial strength coffee, with quick catnaps in the line shack while the pilot took the aircraft around the patch. It's all part of "paying your dues" as a technician. If you have been a technician long enough for the ink to be dry on your license, you have probably done this at least once. If you haven't done it yet, well, you can put it on your list of things to look forward to.

I never considered at the time which side of that thin line I was on, but looking back on it now, it is pretty obvious to me which side it was. I was in real danger of hurting myself or somebody else, and it was merely a matter of luck that I didn't. There comes a time when you are too tired to continue. When you start approaching that point, take a moment and consider where that thin line is.

Mother Nature can be a factor with the thin line as well. Can it ever be too hot, too cold, or too wet to work on aircraft outside? It depends. I have worked outside when I was so cold that the safety wire cuts on my hands not only didn't hurt, they didn't even bleed. I never even knew my hands were cut until I went inside and warmed up enough to get my blood circulating again. That's when the cuts started bleeding (and hurting . . .). I have been sunburned under my chin and under my nose from the heat reflected up off the ramp, and have had the fire department come out and hose down the aircraft so I could work on it without burning myself. I have been so wet that my clothes were saturated and couldn't absorb any more water.

I have worked on aircraft when the mosquitoes were so thick that I couldn't make out where the safety wire holes were. I had to use one hand to work on the aircraft, one hand to hold on to the aircraft to keep from falling off, one hand to swat mosquitoes, one hand to hold the flashlight, and one hand to wipe the sweat out of my eyes. When working in these extremes, how much of my concentration was on the job at hand and how much was distracted by the conditions? Which side of the line was I on? It's hard to say for certain, but I have my suspicions.

There are times when you need to say "No." There are times when you need to say "I'm too tired" or "I'm too sick." There are times when you are doing yourself and your co-workers no favors by pushing the limits. That thin line is out there. Where it is depends on the individual, but it is there nevertheless. Know your limits, and respect them. Know where that thin line is and where you are in relation to it. If you are not on the "dedicated" side of that line, well, you know where you are.