20 Years Ago Today – I Ended Up In a Hawaii Hospital – Because I Misunderstood the Signs

Dateline: February 10, 2000

Originally published 20 years ago in the CADDI Quarterly Newsletter “lean-ISD” in the Spring of 2000. Edited just a bit for today’s posting.

I just got back from a February vacation in
Hawaii—a day early. I hate when that happens.
Just had to cut it short.

I spent most of my vacation being very concerned
with competence—human competence. I was also
concerned with the competence of the environmental
assets with which humans interact. I was
seriously concerned. It was, at times, a matter of
life and death. I hate when that happens, too. Vacations
shouldn’t be so seriously concerned with

We planned our early February warm weather trip
to have some fun in the surf and sun…as opposed
to a cold weather trip to ski in the snow of the
Rockies. This early February trip coincided with
Valentine’s Day, and some typically very cold Chicago
weather. Surf and sun usually win out in heavily
weather-weighted decision criteria. At least they
did this last time.


Off to a Bad Start
The trip began with a competence issue. The
travel agent screwed up (a technical term) the
original plans by not asking for a deposit on time
and by not using the credit card account numbers
already in the system. As a result, flight plans had
to be changed and I wasn’t happy. There were
other little things that were not quite right. Hence
my concern with incompetence.

With the recent air disasters, I was concerned
about fleet maintenance competence, pilot training
and testing competence, and I can’t forget the
baggage handlers. Then, the car rental counter
staff. Many vacations have gone very poorly when
these areas of competence are at issue.

The wife and I spent the first two days in beautiful
Honolulu right on Waikiki Beach. After the
long flight from Chicago, the sun and sounds of
the pounding surf were very relaxing. After three
years of Navy life back in the mid 1970s, I just
can’t go to that state without stopping by the Arizona
Memorial to pay my respects. No one
should. It is sobering experience. I thought of the
competence of the U.S. sailors, soldiers, and marines
stationed at or near Pearl Harbor in December
1942. I also thought of the competence of the
decorated heroes from across racial boundaries,
even way back then.

Then, I was concerned with the competence of
the serving staff and chef preparing my shellfish
meal at the oceanside outdoor restaurant as we
toured Oahu for the day. Hoping for competence.

On day four we flew to Maui, where we were to
spend another seven days at a very nice resort.

More pilot and maintenance competency being
personally tested here by the tourists. And, then
we personally tested limo-driver competence, followed
by front desk, bell services, and finally
room services competence.

Looking for Competence
The next two days on Maui were spent relaxing on
the beach, catching some rays and planning “what
will we do with our limited time without running
ourselves ragged?” We saw the whales playing at
sea from our villa window and again from the
beach lying under the umbrellas, sipping from
cups embellished with little umbrellas and fruit.
“Bartender competency tests complete. Care for
another?” The wife smiled.

We planned a helicopter ride (with video) of the
entire island. Would the pilot be competent? What
about their maintenance crew and their suppliers?
Is the snack food okay?

We planned a snorkeling trip. How competent is
that crew in life saving and emergency procedures,
in teaching snorkeling techniques, and in driving
the boat?

We planned a drive to Hana that would take us
over 56 one-lane bridges and a night luau at Lanai.
My driving competency would be tested as well as
the wife’s patience.

We gladly left off golf, diving, horseback riding on
the beach or in the mountains, tennis, sailing, and
dinner cruises from the competencies we would
test. Enough is enough. Otherwise we were going
to need a vacation from our vacation. Sadly, there
wasn’t enough time. After these two days of carefree
planning with pure relaxation, we were ready
to explore paradise at a relaxed pace.

Sunday, February 4
Just before returning to our villa on Sunday afternoon,
we walked into the water to
splash around. A big wave came up and as it
passed, I dove into it back toward the shoreline. I
was going to body surf back to the shoreline just
as I had watched dozens of competent kids and
grownups do all afternoon.

The signs along the beach walkway had said to
never turn your back to the ocean. Many signs.
Many warnings. I did not competently understand
their true meaning. It turned out that I was incompetent.


For the rest of this – see the original Post from 10 years ago – here.

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