Painful Repairs

Posted by bob on July 6, 2016

The process of solving certain problems requires a physical sacrifice by the problem solver.  Vehicle maintenance; household construction or maintenance, especially plumbing; yard maintenance; and some electrical wiring projects are a few of these challenging problems.

It seems that I cannot work on a car without gaining several new cuts, bruises, and occasionally permanent scars.  Age and corrosion (rust) form onto various parts, making them nearly inseparable.  Yet we must separate them to gain access to the parts we need to replace or repair.  Knuckle-busting is a common experience of those wielding any screwdriver or wrench on a car.

Likewise, houses hide many surprises that challenge our problem solving skills.  “What do I know about this construction?” we might ask ourselves.  Unfortunately, the well-thought-out logic that a careful engineer might use to assemble a structure or plumbing system, are often completely the opposite of the strategy pursued by the original construction team.  As low-bidder, they perhaps took some shortcuts to gain a quicker or cheaper installation.

I recently acquired some new cuts and bruises thanks to corroded and calcified plumbing pieces.  Parts that were supposed to slide over each other had become completely bound to each other.  No amount of chemical or forceful persuasion would separate the pieces.  Ultimately, applying a cutting disk on a high-speed drill was required to separate several pieces to allow removal of each end.

Then I encountered some caulk.  This simple material is meant to prevent water getting into bad places. This time, removal of the old caulk required slightly more patience and arm strength than I possessed.  Bad words, broken skin, and me yelling at anyone nearby was inevitable.

No matter how well I plan--and I do plan these projects very carefully--I always end up making several extra trips to the hardware store.  There is always one more tool, a little more material, one more manufactured piece, or one unexpected and additional failed component to replace.

A few weeks ago, I researched a relatively minor repair for my car.  The “experts” on Youtube promised me that it would take less time to remove certain panels than it took them to explain and demonstrate the process.  They told me it should be a 20 minute job at the most.  Two hours later, with the repair completed, I finished bandaging my cuts and cleaning up the blood, sweat, and tears from the vehicle.  No big deal.  I probably could do that job in twenty minutes next time.  Of course, there might never be a next time for that particular repair.  A fresh hell awaits us for each new project.

The important lessons from these repair adventures might surprise you.  We learn that sometimes we make further mistakes while trying to fix an original problem.  We learn that we can take on projects that were a little scary before we started.  We learn that we all have strengths and thinking capabilities that run deeper than we expected. 

We learn that having the right tools is essential; and when we don’t have those tools, sometimes we can improvise.  Sometimes we learn to stop improvising and go buy the right tool.  But most of all, we learn that a little personal sacrifice is often required for a project to succeed.