on boiling frogs and busted fingers

silhouette of man riding bicycle during sunset
Source: unsplash.com

I think I’ve written before about how my current midlife crisis involves riding bicycles in the bush.  I’m not very good, or very fast, but I have a good time exploring with mates, experiencing an adrenaline rush and finding beautiful places.

Every now and then it doesn’t go so well and I find myself experiencing what I euphemistically describe as a rapid unplanned dismount (RUD). In other words: I crash.

Once such recent RUD resulted in my tumbling for quite a way through the bush and coming to rest with a dislocated and fractured finger. Not much fun, and it did hurt a bit but I honestly found myself thinking “that’s actually not so bad….it could have been a much worse injury!”.

The injury has been healing and a most excellent Occupational Therapist at the local hospital has been providing great advice on rehab, along with a few different splints and strengthening devices. It’s amazing what she can do with thermoplastic, Velcro and several variations of blue-tac.

It has seemed to me over the last month or so that I’ve stopped making progress with the injury. It’s still a bit bent, seems like it won’t ever fully straighten again, and I can’t quite make a full fist.  In any case I’m back on the bike riding pain free, can hold a golf club, can type, can hang washing and cook dinner (well…no worse than before), so really…if it doesn’t get any better, no big deal, right?

I relayed all this to the OT…how the injury had stabilised and I wasn’t seeing any improvement. What I skimmed over was that as a result of not seeing any more improvement I had backed off on the rehab.

She seemed a little doubtful, and said “Let’s just measure things and compare to the last measurements I took a few weeks back…just to be sure”.  I was pretty sure it was still the same, and the time taken to do the measurements was wasted, but acquiesced.  It’s my finger after-all, and I know full well its current condition. I knew I was right.

Surprise, surprise…the injury hasn’t stabilised, but gone backwards.  6 weeks ago, the joint had an 11-degree bend at rest, and now it’s 21. It should of course straighten out to near zero. It’s going backwards, and starting to get to the point where it will cause functional difficulties if it gets any worse.

Honestly, I was surprised. I was sure it hadn’t changed. I knew it hadn’t improved, sure, but it definitely hadn’t got worse either.

It was, for me, a lesson in the value of data. Hard observable data, rather than just “I reckon” data.  Maybe even a reminder of that old story about boiling a frog by gradually increasing the temperature (by the way…who wants a boiled frog – that’s just plain weird?).  As my injury had slowly worsened, I hadn’t noticed. Only when my most excellent OT had insisted on checking the data had I realised the situation.

Now she gets to make a new splint and I feel suitably chastised and committed to redoubling the rehab efforts. The end result is a long-term prognosis that is probably better than it was a week ago.

That’s what data does for us, if we use it right. Measuring matters. Results matter. Objective analysis matters.  At least it matters if we use it well.

I’ve spent the last period of my life working in an organisation that is sometimes a bit shy about data.  We’re more likely to go with the “I reckon” kind of measurement, or to explain away the need for any kind of measurement or analysis at all. And honestly as a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of person myself, I’ve not been committed enough to changing my organisation’s aversion to data.

Maybe this is my wake-up call.

Maybe, just maybe we need to get out the protractor every now and then and measure just how much bend there is in an injury so we know (really, truly know) what to do with it.

Thanks to my OT for the lesson…and the recovering injury!

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