Tuesday, January 27, 2009

My First Job

"G", one of my favorite bloggers, at Doves Today participates in the weekly "Prompt Tuesday" writing exercise from San Diego Momma. I happened upon the prompt for this Tuesday: write about your first job and thought I'd give it a shot. The "rules" are fun and easy. I figure that anything that sparks the writing bug has got to be good.

Those first paychecks came my way for work in the clerical section of the Methodist Hospital Laboratory in Houston, Texas. This was the summer of 1973, between freshman and sophomore years of college. I made minimum wage, $1.75 an hour. For the entire summer, I banked only $500 which sounds like nothing these days. As a premed student, I was hoping for a job at a hospital and this was the closest I could get to interaction with patients. None. I worked in what was called "the cage", a glass enclosed office in the center of the lab, filing lab reports and preparing others for transport to the patients' chart. Sometimes I answered the phone but that was a tough go since I usually had no idea what people were asking of me. The learning curve was slow but the filing part I had down in nothing flat. There were four of us in "the cage"; two long time employees and two (me included) as summer help. The other summer hire was a gorgeous blonde with a thick Texas twang. I forget her name but I'll never forget the name of one of the long timers; "Nadine Penix". How could anyone forget a name like that?

Towards the end of the summer, I summoned courage and asked if I might join the team of phlebotomists (we called them "blood draw-ers" back then) and was glad when someone approved my request to do something other than answering the phone and filing in "the cage". The "blood draw-ers" were much revered; I coveted being a part of their group. They were a young and energetic mix of girls and guys, and seemed very cool. Plus, I longed to work with patients which was a plus. I was fascinated by all the blood drawing paraphernalia; the tourniquets, the blood tubes of all sizes with different colored rubber stoppers, the alcohol wipes, the needles of various gauges (the larger the gauge number the smaller the diameter of the needle; go figure) all housed neatly in a open metal carrying case; one to a phlebotomist. Our job was to collect the early morning blood draws all over the hospital and stay on the ready for add on requests through the rest of the shift. The team of five or six of us would wait our turn to be dispatched out by the lead phlebotomist.

I learned a lot that summer and returned several years later to do the same job again. I don't think I was ever very expert at drawing blood but I tried hard. If the veins were good, my work was a cinch but I had my share of troubles too and had to call for back up. The amazing thing, thinking back.....we NEVER wore gloves when drawing blood. That wasn't standard of care in the early 1970s.

When was the last time you had blood drawn by a person NOT wearing any gloves?


  1. Oh, I like this, Kate! Nadine Penix! Wow! I knew a drunken bum once whose last name was Penix...seriously!

    I am always fascinated by the little colorful tubes and stoppers of the "blood drawers" - probably because I am looking everywhere except at my own arm! although I wonder how a person brings herself for the first time to stick a needle in someone's vein! Was that hard to get over? Can I ask - what does it feel like on your end?

    True about never wearing gloves. those were more innocent times, pre-AIDS.

  2. That is a career-headed first job. I got my first job at age 16 as a page at the local library. I shelved books, two or three nights a week and for eight hours on Saturday. I liked the librarians and many of the other students I worked with, but the work didn't prepare me for a career.

  3. Ahhhh!!!!! Blood draw-ers! My nemesis(es)! I hate having my blood taken, but I bet I would like you in spite of that.

    Thanks for joining the PROMPTuesday circle this week. i really enjoyed your story.

    (And on an unrelated note, I also want to build a labyrinth in my backyard.)

  4. That name, Nadine Penix, sounds like a novel to me....

    Amazing to reflect back on a first job. I'm not sure I would remember all the details that you remembered.


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