My Christmas Story

3567527341_a7554554e4There are, as we all know, people in this world who do not get the day off at Christmas (and if any of Aunt Toby’s readers have beliefs that make them wish that they would get accommodation for Kwanzaa, the High Holidays, Passover, or Ramadan, I’m with you there. No one should have to ask for the day off for their most holy of days and have the supervisor give them this look as if they had two heads..). Police and firefighters, the staff at newspapers and other daily media, hospital staff, public safety, ambulance crews, emergency services and so on.

It has been Aunt Toby’s great good luck in life that there were periods when I had jobs at the winter holiday season (or, as we call it here at Chez Siberia, "The Big Darkness") in at one time a daily newspaper, and at another time, in the laboratory of a community hospital.

And today’s offering is in tribute to all of those good and dutiful souls (yes, I realize that most of them are getting some sort of ‘holiday time and a whatever" but they are NOT at home, with fam, sucking up ‘White Christmas’ on the tube) who are, depending on their jobs, watching the weather, watching the roads, watching out for us, watching out for bad guys, watching the patients, serving the needs of millions of people everywhere while the rest of us are snuggled up at home, doing whatever we do today, in the blind confidence of their service.

For several Winter breaks when I was in college (lo these many many years ago), I was able (and I admit to having pulled a few family strings) to get a job in the bacteriology lab of our community hospital. It was a very small laboratory, in the basement and we handled all sorts of specimens that Aunt Toby is NOT going to describe here (I do have the sensitive feelings of my readers’ stomachs at heart after all). There was a front hemotology lab, where the phlebotomists (isn’t that a lovely word?) would take the blood specimens, put them through the analyzer and also read the smears under the microscopes, clicking off the reds, whites, and so on with little keyboards next to them, while they did the ‘fields’ on the plates. There was also a chemistry department where they had an entirely different machine which took up most of the hallway in the back, and they would do the blood chemistries for people who’d had heart attacks, gall bladder disease, and so on. There was also, in the front, a department for the director of the laboratory, who was a pathologist with a staff person of his own who handled making all the slides for his studies. He was a big, bluff, crusty guy and his assistant was a big, bluff, crusty former nurse who was about 6’2" tall, who used to dye her hair a ferocious shade of purplish brunette and who was devoted to the doctor.

This was truly a no-nonsense place, with a routine that was punctuated with crackling announcements of "code five" which would empty the place like a three alarm fire while the most experienced of the techs would rush down the halls with their equipment and trays to the emergency room. The first break I worked in the laboratory, there was a horrible snow storm through Christmas Eve night and I arrived for my shift at 7:30 a.m. to find the place abandoned except for the receptionist and the chemistry techs in the back getting ready for the onslaught of specimens that they knew would be flying into the laboratory from patients brought in from several multi-car accidents just before. I was assigned to get equipment, plates and record keeping materials set up in the other departments so that when the techs came back, we were ready.

That morning was a fever of activity. No chitchat. No questions about the kids. Just hard, grinding, careful work. No one got a chance to go to the cafeteria for any sort of lunch; we were making do with stale peanut butter crackers that one of the techs had stored in a desk drawer. By 2 p.m., the pace had slowed enough so that we could start to clean up.

At this point, magically, the pathologist and his assistant showed up, armed with a lab tray of specimen beakers and a bottle of scotch. The assistant poured a bit into each glass – the rest of the staff crowded into the bacteriolgy laboratory, leaning against the stone tables while the drinks were handed around. The pathologist saluted everyone.

"Merry Christmas," he said, knocking it back. He waited a moment to see the rest of us join him (some of us coughing and spluttering a bit).

"Back to work," he said.

So, for all of you out there who do the same on Christmas, who work, and watch, and care and do your duty for the rest of us. Thank you.
(photo courtesy of Jim Frazier)

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