12/9/12 Exhaustion

I am exhausted. There is no starch left in my jeans. My fibers have wilted. The support structures keeping my spine upright have been replaced with an over-boiled linguine. I don’t know what to do about it, except for this: I am not complaining, but merely making an observations. The exhaustion is mental, which means that my body has imitated what my brain is feeling. Physical exhaustion can be cured by a hot bath and a good night’s sleep. Mental exhaustion is more resistant to treatment.

A long work week, followed by an intense period of metal gymnastics of developing switching orders for the energizing of a new 12,470 volt feed to new switches for the Thad Cochran Natural Products Research Center on the campus of Ole Miss just did me in. I started writing them last Thursday, reviewed them with all the appropriate players Thursday afternoon, discovered some very real and potentially threatening problems in what it was that we were actually trying to accomplish, and spent nearly all Thursday night re-writing them, limiting them to what we knew we could do, and omitting those things that we were not sure of, which, had we proceeded, might have placed us all in great jeopardy. Underground electrical distribution circuits can be tricky, because once they enter the ground, you cannot be certain how the phases might have rolled when they emerge, or how they might have been rolled years ago to get them to match existing circuits. Tying different circuits together is always tricky. There is no room for error. In trying to eliminate the possibility of human error, I was at wits end.

I hustled to the campus before daylight Friday morning to verify with my own eyes the differences I saw in the engineer’s drawings versus what I was able to see in the actual field equipment. This is no place for assumptions . . . only the facts will do, and sometimes the facts can be hard to ascertain. They can be arranged for convenience, but the true test is when you throw the switch. Do the buildings affected go dark? Does the entire campus go dark? Does the substation that feeds all of Oxford go dark? Does all of TVA go dark? If so, does the entire electrical grid East of the Mississippi go off-line, plunging the country into chaos? Do expensive pieces of electrical equipment go into a low Earth orbit in a violent eruption of fire and brimstone? Is it uneventful, or does the smell of ozone hang thick in the air? Does everyone still have their eyebrows intact, or are you fortunate that only their eyebrows are now missing, a singed shadow of their former selves?

This all must be thought about in advance so it can be done safely, without any events. There is always the possibility that a piece of electrical equipment will malfunction, but let it be the equipment that failed, not that we did things in such an order as to cause it to do so. The pressure of this is tremendous. When I was younger, I used to thrive on it, enjoying the adrenalin it produced. I still get the adrenalin rush, but now, once it is over, I am completely exhausted: wrung out like a dirty dishrag, as hollow as step-pulled/stump-whipped chitt’lin’s. There is no there there.

Contemplating that, I get up and rush to the mirror in the bathroom. I flip on the light switch without the benefit of switching orders, laughing to myself that perhaps I should have written some down, but some switching is just too simple and routine. The light comes on as planned, without any events . . . I breathe a sigh of relief. I peer deeply into the mirror and see myself looking back at me.

“You look tired,” I said.

“I am,” I said back. “If you could place an ammeter on me, you would see hardly any current flow. Any minute, I might trip out from under-voltage or under-frequency.”

“That bad, huh!” I say to myself.

“Yep!” I say back.

“Maybe I have a blown fuse and am single-phasing,” I said.

“Could be,” I said back to me. “It would be wise to check and make sure.”

“Maybe your DC control current is dangerously low. Have you checked your batteries and your battery charger?” I asked myself.

“Not lately. I suppose it would be wise to do it . . . I am just too tired,” I said.

“Don’t worry. I’ll go and do it for you,” I replied.

“You’re not much help,” I chided myself, even though I was trying to be helpful. Sometimes we get in our own way, thwarting ourselves as we try to help ourselves. Sometimes we put too much on ourselves. I had placed more on myself than was good for me, and now I am paying the price.

I went over the switching orders with very capable people, who made suggestions, and I incorporated their edits. Everyone wants to make sure that the switching comes off as planned . . . UNEVENTFUL. After going through all that Friday morning, I had to leave before the switching actually began because of prior commitments. I knew I was leaving all the work in the hands of those very capable people, but that did not mean I wasn’t worried about it as I drove home from Oxford.

I received a few phones calls along the way, citing the progress of the various stages, then about the time I got home I got the word that everything was complete. There were no events, no smoke, no darkness, no Eastern Seaboard power grid failure, and no scorched eyebrows. I was thankful for that. I am always thankful for that. Now, it is two days later, and I have not recovered. I am lost in a wilderness of weariness. I suppose that this is because the second phase of this switching procedure starts tomorrow morning. I will leave this in the hands of those same very capable people, but I will be beside myself waiting for the phone call that tells me that everything is done, the switching is complete, and that it was uneventful.

As I was thinking all this, still looking in the mirror, the incandescent light bulb over the sink blew out with a “ffffink!” The bathroom was now dark. I went into the laundry room and got another bulb, one of the new and improved compact fluorescent bulbs the government wants us to use. I unscrewed the old bulb and placed in the new one. It lit right up, a cold, feeble facsimile of the bulb I had taken out. At least it worked. I had had an electrical event right in my own bathroom, though it was not an earth-shaking one. At least I still had my eyebrows. I have some more incandescent bulbs somewhere in the house and as soon as I can find one, I will replace this miserable, cold, new-but-not-so-improved light bulb that is in there now.

In the meantime, I am off to get some rest while I can. I will think about tomorrow tomorrow. Today, I am through thinking about anything at all, other than thinking of how thankful I am for very capable people. There are lots of them out there. Many of them keep your lights on and do remarkable things in such a way that you never know that they were being done, because they were uneventful. Bless them all, Lord, and keep them safe!

Enjoy your day of rest.

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