If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
This is the phenomenon at the root of all our health care problems. It’s why, when doctors get MRI machines, patients get scans. It’s why back surgeons operate on backs that won’t benefit from surgery. It’s why breast cancer professionals – doctors, nurses, technicians – tell you to get screening mammograms in the face of data that show they don’t improve outcomes.
It’s also why I live in fear of Kevin’s getting a welder. Sure, today he makes a new firebox for the smoker, but tomorrow I can’t open the car door.
Kevin dearly loves a new tool. When he got his nail guns, we had a rash of new construction around here. When he got his tree limber – a heavy duty pruner on a long pole – our vista was suddenly much clearer. When he got his big hairy F250 diesel, with its 650 foot-pounds of torque, he waited until I was away for the afternoon and then pulled out the stumps in the back yard. From the front yard.
A couple weeks back, our friends and fellow oyster-farmers Scott and Tina came over to shrink-wrap the boat. Scott is one of these guys who can do pretty much anything, and one of the things he does is shrink-wrap stuff. He comes over with a huge roll of plastic, a heat gun, and his wife. Tina (who manages to look well-dressed and put-together even when doing hard, dirty work) gets on the deck, and Scott hands her the end of the roll of plastic. She pulls the sheet over the length of the boat, and he secures it all around.
Then the fun begins. Scott fires up his heat gun, a propane-fuelled wand that looks like a giant hair dryer, and goes around shrinking the wrap, after first making sure that his wife is safely off the boat.
I know how this works, because I looked it up. The roll of white plastic that Scott and Tina use is a super-duper co-polymer called ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA). Polymers, in their natural state, consist of molecules that are tangled up like spaghetti. But shrink wrap is heated and stretched, so its molecules all line up neatly. Then, when heat is applied, the molecules tangle up again, and the plastic shrinks.
When the shrinking is all done, Scott patches any holes and – here’s where we got into trouble – trims off the excess. The excess, he leaves behind and, all of sudden, everything looks like a nail.
We don’t have a heat gun, but we do have a propane torch. Kevin waited until I was away for the afternoon, and started shrink-wrapping stuff. First was the wood-fired oven.
I have to admit, it worked pretty well. Kevin is no Scott, but then I’m no Tina. There were a few holes and a few blackened spots where the flame got too close, but it looks like the fig tree and wood-fired oven are going to make it through the winter. Kevin made some noises about buying a real heat gun and his very own roll of EVA, but then he got distracted.
He got distracted by the arrival of his brand new sausage-stuffer. I swear some of my socks are missing.