Wednesday, April 11, 2007

In Appreciation of Cutmen and Sweepers

We have some friends from the old AOL boards, a couple who describe themselves as "A Prizefighter, and the best Cutman in the business." I love that analogy; it instantly brings an image to mind of the person who's out front getting the glory and the person who does all the work to makes it happen.

Think of it as a parallel to the cold-weather sport of curling. One person throws the big stone thingy, and one person sweeps furiously in front of it to give it a smooth path to glide over the ice on. It doesn't work without the glory person and the workhorse operating in tandem.

So in my job, I'm usually the Gloryperson. Someone brings me specimens, I analyze them, and then I call the doctors and tell them what I've found. I'm recognized as an expert, and I receive some respect for my work and my opinions.

Last night we were shorthanded and I was helping the Workhorses out in the front of the lab. The part of the lab where I normally work is a quiet, monastic environment full of humming machinary and studious people peering into microscopes. The area out front is mayhem. I was completely out of my league, and my only objectives were to not screw stuff up too badly for the people who actually do that work professionally, and not to look like a total ass before my shift ended and I could get the hell out of there.

I think I failed on both counts.

In my defense though, it was an extra odd night. I was humming along, receiving specimens and fielding phone calls and thinking, "This isn't too bad. I'm doing okay." Until a couple of things happened almost simultaneously. A woman came in after being hurt at work for a routine chain-of-custody drug screen for Worker's Comp, and a courier brought a box labelled "Human Eyes. Handle With Care."

I signed for the box, but I was thinking, "What the hell do I do with that??" One of the other techs and I consulted, and decided to call the doctor who's name was on the box and ask him about it.

He took the 10pm phone call graciously, and said that the box should be refrigerated and that one of his techs would be down to pick it up in the morning for surgery.

Okay, cool. Problem solved. Except that when I took the box to pathology to stick it in the path fridge, the fridge was pretty much filled up with an entire human leg, wrapped in plastic.

Well, fuck.

I'll admit I tried torquing the leg around a little...angling it in, bending it...trying to make the box fit. No dice.

So I looked in the other departments, and I found room for the box in the chemistry fridge. I knew that no one would know to look for it there, so I left a note on the lab clerks computer, "Dr. X's box of eyes is in the Chemistry fridge. His tech will pick them up in the morning."

In the meantime, we're all laughing. There's a note you never imagine you'll be writing. Ms. Chain-of-Custody drug screen and her husband are cracking up. He says, "I'm glad I came with her. This place is fun!"

And I told him, "It's not normally this much fun. In fact...I blame you. I've never seen either of you before, and I've never received a box of eyeballs before. Ergo, the two are related, and this is your fault."

They laughed at that even more. By then she'd finally drank enough water to be able to pee, she signed the forms and they got ready to leave. When they got to the door, he stopped, came back, and said, "Are y'all hiring by any chance? I want to work here."

I gave him an application and encouraged him to fill it out.

And thus, a lab career is born.

And by then, luckily, my shift was over and I got the hell out of there. But it'll be a long time before I make the mistake of underestimating the Cutmen and the Sweepers again. Their jobs are tough!

1 comment:

Suzanne said...

Wow, a box of eyes! That is awesome. I am very jealous.