T-SQL Tuesday #012 – the DBA as a Modern-day Specialist
This blog entry is participating in T-SQL Tuesday #012, hosted this month by Paul Randal (Blog|@PaulRandal). You are invited to visit his blog to join the blog party. You are welcome to write your own participating blog post for the party or just to read more blogs participating in this month’s theme: Why are DBA Skills Necessary?
For my part in this month’s T-SQL Tuesday, I am going to delve back into my past and relate something that happened to me in my teen years to DBA skills. When I was young, I experienced a minor injury while playing football. That minor injury triggered a severe malady that went undiagnosed for many years and almost landed me in a wheelchair permanently.
The Minor Injury
My earliest childhood memories all seem to revolve around football. It seems like I was playing football from the moment I first learned to stand. I was good at football, and I could play any position. My favorite positions were running back and defense. I enjoyed the physical contact. I liked it when people tried to tackle me because it meant I got to hit them. I never thought of being tackled as them hitting me. It was me getting a free shot at them. Of course, it helped that I was larger than average for my age. In fact, the malady that I’ll take about shortly stunted my growth. At a time in my life when I should have grown another 8 to 10 inches, I only grew 1 1/2 inches. I was 5 feet 10 inches tall in the 8th grade and should have been somewhere between 6 feet 6 inches to 6 feet 8 inches by the time I graduated high school.
I was playing football one day, and I took a direct hit to the front of my knee hyper-extending it in the wrong direction. It hurt like the dickens, but I kept playing. I limped on it very badly for the next week. I never saw a doctor. I believed I was fine. It was just hyper-extended, right? Well, actually it was just a simple injury. It improved greatly over the next week but never quite went away. For weeks and weeks, it continued. I wrote it off as the knee never being able to heal completely because I continued playing.
Summer came, and there was nobody to play football with for a while. Now my knee would have time to heal up, and I’d be good as new by the time school started back. That’s when something unexpected happen. It got worse. By the time school started back, my knee was causing me to limp badly. My limp was easily as bad as it was when I initially hurt it. Finally, I told my mother I needed to see a doctor. She took me to see our family doctor. His diagnosis was that it was growing pains, and it would go away.
Six months later, the knee was the same condition. My mother took me to a different doctor, another general practitioner. This doctor at least x-rayed my knee. He diagnosed a knee spur. A spur is when you have a little offshoot of bone sticking off the end. If you have a spur, and it occasionally rubs against another bone (like it might if it is in a joint), it causes pain. The doctor said it was a common issue with teenagers that will correct itself in 99.9% of the cases. His advice was to give it some time. So basically, it was growing pains, and I’d be okay.
Fast forward to the next year, and my knee is worse. I insist many times that my knee is worse, and my parents insist that it’s just growing pains and will heal on its own. I go without seeing a doctor for my knee for almost a year. At this time, I’m no longer playing football. In fact, my mother is writing me notes so that I don’t have to participate in physical education (PE) classes because it hurt my knee too bad. Many years later, my mother will confess that she thought I was faking the level of pain to get out of PE class. Why she thought I would want to get out of football and PE still perplexes me to this day.
Near the end of the year, my mother took me to another doctor. Basically, she took me again just to shut me up. It didn’t work. The doctor confirmed the knee spur diagnosis and said it would likely get better on its own. When I asked him how long it would take and told him how long this has been going on and how much pain I was in, he said it just takes time and to give it a little longer. He also suggested seeing an orthopedic specialist if it doesn’t clear up soon.
Early the following year (my freshmen year in high school), I was having trouble walking at all. I was limping very badly. My mother drove me to school one morning, and when I got out of the car. I stood there for a few seconds. My mother asked me why I was just standing there, and i told her that it hurts the most when I first stand up after sitting for a while. When I started walking away, I was limping so bad that my mother described it as looking like I was trying to walk with a broken leg. She told me to get back in the car so she could take me to a specialist. I think at this point, some part of her thought I was still faking how bad it was. She made an appointment for me to see an orthopedic surgeon who just happened to have an opening that day.
The Big Diagnosis
The orthopedic surgeon felt he knew what the problem was just from my description of my pains. The x-rays confirmed his suspicions. I was suffering from a slipped capital femoral epiphysis. He said it was often called slipped hip for short. Turns out that the problem wasn’t my knee after all. It started with my knee. The limping from my knee injury plus the fact that I was big for my age combined to cause this problem. The term slip was a serious understatement. Nothing was slipped, it was torn.
A slipped hip is when the cartilage ball on the end of the femur that fits into the pelvic joint is tearing loose from the bone. Every time I limped, it tore a little bit more. If it tears completely off, it can’t be reattached. My hip was almost at that point. The doctor said he’d never seen one as progressed as mine and that I was on the verge of completely tearing it off. In fact, he wouldn’t even allow me to walk out of his office. He had me taken out in a wheel chair out for fear that the short walk outside would be my last step.
The doctor’s office was across the street from a hospital. He had my mother take me straight to the hospital and told her not to allow me to walk in. I spent the next 18 months either in bed or on crutches. The only way to correct it is to surgically drill pins through the bone of my leg up into the cartilage ball to hold it in place. They pinned the hip in the worse condition first. They could only do one leg at a time, because I need one to be able to use crutches. I can’t imagine anything hurting as bad as this surgery did. I don’t know what drugs they were giving me pain that night, but it didn’t work. Technically, I died during the first surgery. This was when I learned that I have a very low tolerance for medication. My heart stopped due to overdose of anesthesia even though I had only been given a small amount. I suspect that they might have been giving me less pain medicine than normal as a result.
Ten months later, they pinned the second hip. In the summer before my junior year of high school, they removed the pins from both hips. Amazingly, I was able to get up and walk to the bathroom after the final surgery. At most, I felt a little sore where I was stitched up. After 3 surgeries, 10 pins, 42 staples, and 56 stitches later, I was walking around normal again. I wouldn’t be cleared by my doctor to play football again until after I had graduated high school. Eventually, I would even earn a position on a semi-professional team.
How Does it Relate?
If I had gone to see a doctor with the original injury, I probably would have healed before it escalated into something more serious. I don’t blame the doctors that I saw that misdiagnosed my issues. I saw the x-rays and there was indeed a spur on my knee. The doctors simply did not have the skills to know what was really wrong with me. Furthermore, the doctors did not have the skills to know that they lacked the skill to diagnose my real problem. After all, the big problem was in my hip, and they were looking at my knee.
In many ways, people who take care of databases are doctors. In many cases, the people managing the database systems are general technologists or Systems Engineers. They have sufficient skills to maintain the servers and SQL Server to a certain degree. They lack the skill to diagnose a lot of the problems that SQL Server encounters. As a result, they end up leaving small problems alone until they become big problems that can no longer be ignored.
A DBA is a specialist, like an orthopedic surgeon. DBAs have the skills to detect small problems that others might not even notice. They can treat the small problems before they become big problems. If there are big problems, they know how to find them and fix them. So if you find yourself wondering if you need the skills of a DBA, ask yourself if you are okay with your SQL Server limping along until its problems become too big to ignore and are costing you money. And there can be things more important than morning at risk. Your company’s public reputation could be at stake as well as your own reputation inside your company.