by Beverly Eakman
May 21, 2011
A real-world lesson
In visiting an ailing, 88-year-old relative at a nursing home last week, I saw an up-close-and-personal example of how most Americans, especially young adults, have zero handle on basic science.
It was a small problem, but one with big results for the well-being of the patient, who was unable to make use of a “call cord” hooked up to a switch which alerted the nursing station that a bedridden resident needed help. Repeatedly advised to use the call cord when needed, the lack of response to having done so resulted in the elderly stroke victim, whose speech was impaired, giving up and accommodating herself. The upshot: several minor falls, followed by one mighty tumble that caused a broken leg in a failed attempt to get to the bathroom.
I should preface the nature of the real problem by explaining that this was one of those rare facilities that puts patient needs and those of the families first. They do not drug difficult patients, or strap them down. Staff come into rooms every few hours just to chat, change CDs for the patient, bring snacks and otherwise make residents’ lives more pleasant. Most workers are committed Christians who take their job not merely seriously, but as a devout duty. They unfailingly smile no matter how harried their day, hug their bedridden charges, and find no request too trivial. The problem described here occurred because of (a) miscommunication and, more to the point, (b) no one could figure out a simple science dilemma.
The nurse “call” mechanism looked like a simple light switch that had a hole drilled through the little lever. A long, red string was attached by threading it through the hole. At the end of the string was a prominent red teddy bear that was secured to the patient’s bed so that it could be pulled. This action activated a light way down the hall in the nursing station. Whenever the "light switch" was pulled down, assistance was required in Room 102, or wherever.
The problem in this case was that the cord needed to be pulled vertically to trip the lever (downward, like any light switches). But the placement of the bed with respect to this room’s “switch” meant that the patient would be applying horizontal (sideways) force to the call cord, which of course would not trip the lever. Unless the patient could physically turn around and look at the wall behind to see the problem, and apply the necessary amount of downward pull on the string to trip the “light switch”—unlikely with a broken leg, if the patient even understood the function of this particular lever, which looked from a distance like any other light switch—it is doubtful the resident would have the strength or presence of mind to force it down and activate a light way down the hall.
The solution was to put a simple eye hook—the kind used to fasten tie-backs on curtains and draperies—directly below the “light switch,” and to run the thin cord through this eye hook as well as the hole in the switch. That way, whenever the string was pulled from any angle, the eye hook converted the pull into a downward mode with respect to the “light switch,” thus alerting the nurse’s station. Not only that, but much less strength would henceforth be required to move the lever down to the “activate” position.
Here’s the basic science version of the same conundrum: The cord’s horizontal force was translated into a vertical force by the use of a pulley. That’s all any of the staff really needed to know to figure out why the woman didn’t alert them, but they didn’t, and in fact couldn’t. My husband, a physics major back some 40 years ago, had to show them.
In the 1950s and 60s, this lesson was usually taught in fifth grade as part of a unit in basic science on levers and pulleys. But most public, elementary schools today are busy promoting debunked theories about global warming and “carbon footprints,” and invoking Armageddon climate-change scenarios supposedly caused by our overuse of fossil fuels, especially in automotive vehicles. (Last I heard, there were no SUVs on Mars or Venus, which appear to be experiencing periodic, extreme weather patterns of their own. And how to explain those horrid, hot summers in Philadelphia, frequently alluded to in history texts, when our Founding Fathers were hammering out the Constitution in 1776? Oh, I forgot. The Founding Fathers were old, white males, so that isn’t taught anymore…)
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Grade-schoolers—and for that matter, high-schoolers and college graduates—aren’t forewarned that hybrid vehicles will require plenty of fossil fuels, not to mention installation of recharging stations in homes and office parking lots, for electricity needed to recharge car batteries. Neither are most schoolchildren aware that those huge recycling trucks are hardly worth the gas, natural or otherwise, they use to lumber around neighborhoods gathering carefully separated paper, plastics and cans. Speaking of which, all three—paper or plastic bags, as well as aluminum cans—require processes that use fossil fuels. Oh, well, it’s all politically correct and helps acclimate the little ones to an adulthood filled with Big Government intrusion, low standards of living and redistribution of wealth, so that makes it okay…
Meanwhile, the fundamentals needed to master physics later on are denied to young pupils. Hopefully, they won’t need them when they are old and sick and can’t get to the bathroom.
© 2011 Beverly Eakman - All Rights Reserved
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Beverly K. Eakman began her career as a teacher in 1968. She left to become a scientific writer for a NASA contractor. She went on to serve as a former speechwriter for the Voice of America and for the late Chief Justice Warren E. Burger when he chaired the Commission on the Bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution. She was an editor and writer for the U.S. Dept. of Justice before retiring from federal government. She is now author of six books covering education policy, mental-health issues, data-trafficking and political strategy with dozens of keynote speeches, feature articles and op-eds to her credit. Her most recent works include A Common Sense Platform for the 21st Century and the 2011 Edition of her ever-popular seminar manual, How To Counter Group Manipulation Tactics (Midnight Whistler Publishers, 2010 and 2011, respectively).
Eakman can be reached through her