Incompetence, Incompetence Everywhere, and Not a Fop to Think


When I was in the Army – birthplace of the snafu – I saw a sign once that said “There is nothing more dangerous than ignorance in action.” I thought at the time it was a fairly profound and accurate statement, considering all I had to do was look around. Shortly thereafter I read a book called “The Peter Principle” ( which talks about a common phenomena that inevitably occurs to employees within a bureaucracy. Quite simply put, members of an organization tend to get promoted to their level of incompetence. For instance, Bub has been slinging French fries, cooking good, greasy food and making sandwiches for three years at the local burger joint.  He has mastered the back area, and when the restaurant manager finally notes how well Bub works, he thinks Bub would be an excellent candidate for Crew Chief. Bub accepts the promotion, appreciates the raise and works hard to learn how to coach and supervise the employees. At times he struggles with some of the leadership skills, but eventually, after a couple of years, becomes proficient in his job. There comes a time when the restaurant manager needs an able assistant manager, observes his mid-level employees and decides Bub is the best candidate. Bub accepts the promotion, appreciates the raise, but finds himself way over his head trying to keep labor costs down, order supplies and hire and fire employees. He can’t get help from his boss because the restaurant manager had been promoted to his level of incompetence also, and is barely keeping the joint open. So when you have incompetent leaders, you’re eventually going to see your product or service suffer. Now think about something as large as the Federal Government. Wowser! Who needs to go to the zoo when they can turn on C-Span and watch all those buffoons in action?

My adopted 92 year old Papa started convulsing and exhibiting mental changes last night, so the nursing home sent him to a local hospital Emergency Room to be evaluated. He was admitted to a room for further observation and tests, and I was with him until after 3:30 am. He was in such a state that he didn’t know what was going on around him and could only speak gibberish (lucky for him, gibberish is my second language). I went home and slept until 11:00 am. When I awoke I called the ward where Papa was roomed. I’ve already posted the transcript of that exchange onto Facebook, but I’ll be glad to share it with you. By the time I was done with that phone call I was fit to be tied. (I’ll supply the velvet ropes, ok?) Here goes:

NURSE: How can I help you?

ME: I’m calling to see how Papa is doing this morning. His patient code is 5555.

NURSE: He’s doing fine. He slept well last night.

ME: I was with him when he arrived at the ER at 10:30 last night and stayed until three thirty this morning. His seizures (acute dyskinesia, for all you med heads) wouldn’t let him sleep. So his symptoms have resolved?

NURSE: If you’d like I can transfer you to his room.

ME: He was uncommunicative last night, so you’re saying he’s better?

NURSE: I can ring his room for you.

ME: Have you seen him today?

NURSE: No, but as I said, I can transfer-

ME: Um, Papa wouldn’t be able to answer the phone on his best day since he fell and broke his hip. I don’t think he’d be able to pick it up.

NURSE: I’ll be glad to ring the room and then go down there and hand the phone to him.

ME: So he is able to talk?

NURSE: I don’t know, but we’ll find out.

ME: Tell you what, I’ll just come over there right now and see for myself.

NURSE: Thank you! CLICK

I kept repeating James 1:19 over and over (be slow to wrath) to keep from having multiple demons from flying out my butt bent on the nurse’s destruction, got dressed (something a competent and prudent man would do, right?) and only broke four traffic laws getting over there. When I arrived I went directly to Papa’s room where I found a nurse’s aide trying to shove a pork chop into his mouth (he has no teeth, and I told at least two nurses last night he has to be on a soft diet). He was a little better than last night but was still very confused and couldn’t speak properly. When I told her about his food restrictions she vanished like smoke and reappeared half an hour later with a small bottle of Ensure. I asked to speak to the nurse and was told “She’s in another room but I’ll tell her,” then the aide poofed again and after I realized I hadn’t missed the rapture I settled down to spend time with Papa.

After two hours I strolled casually up the hallway (where a tired looking woman was mopping the floor with what looked like a cross between a garden rake and a Bentley) and found the nurse’s station empty. You don’t know how tempting it was to want to steal every pen on the desk. I mean, they were so lonely, begging me to give them purpose. Now I wish I had kicked on the intercom system and announced “Due to a mix-up in Urology, we will not be serving apple juice for dinner.” I camped out there and watched a spider build her web on the patients’ charts, but eventually grew bored and left. If the doctors came from the dredges of this medical bureaucracy, I’d be better off taking Papa to a gypsy voodoo shaman witch doctor.

Incompetence should really be a four letter word.

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One response to “Incompetence, Incompetence Everywhere, and Not a Fop to Think

  1. Pingback: From Beans on the Grill | jaytharding

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