Chief Pin Coushion and Bottle Washer by John L.  Neel

My college "career" was short.  I only lasted one semester and failed miserably.

I was smart enough, but I didn't like going to class or studying.  I didn't do the work.  I was lazy and undisciplined.  I'm probably still carried on the rolls at The University of Alabama, Birmingham (UAB) on academic probation.  When I got the letter from the Dean, I laughed and showed it to Dad and Mom, promising not to take another course until I was ready to pass and make good enough grades to get into Med School.

Mom and Dad were not happy.  They had recently been contacted by my bosses, Doctors Wayne and Sarah Finley who offered to support me, financially and by recommending me in my quest to become a doctor if I would specialize in Genetics.  It didn't hurt that they were on the UAB School of Medicine selection board.  With my first and only semester, I had effectively blown that opportunity and had to look for another job.

I began working for the Finleys as I started school to help pay for room, board, books, and to buy Sneaky Pete Hotdogs, "Two all the way and a pint of Milk, Please." This was back when Pete was behind the counter.  I was there so much, he knew my name and knew my order by heart.

The good doctors were prominent Geneticists who ran the Center for Developmental and Learning Disorders (CDLD) on the UAB Campus.  They hired me as a lab assistant, which means I washed and autoclaved the pipettes, Petri dishes, beakers, and instruments, picked up the mail, helped the secretaries file, and assisted the lab technicians, students, and residents.

I spent a lot of time helping the head lab tech, Paulette, who was by far the most gorgeous woman on the UAB campus.  She taught me the sterilization process for the equipment and took an interest in making sure I got it done properly because she was the main user and her results depended on absolutely sterile products.  I had to wash everything in a special soap, with distilled water, then thoroughly rinsed with distilled water, wrapped, and then autoclaved.  I was dressed like a doctor in surgery to do this.  When I came in every day, I would check with Paulette to make sure her inventory was good for the next couple of days.  That was my standard and my two days ahead.

The Residents took great delight in my interest in what they were doing.  They showed me everything and made sure I got my hands on the process.  It was super interesting stuff and I was captivated.  When the Autoclave was running, there was little else I could do but watch them.  I knew I had arrived when they let me photograph my first amniotic cells, develop the film, count, cut, pair, and paste the chromosomes for an amniocentesis.  Compared to the Residents sheet, mine were identical.

I'd like to see how they do this these days.  Back then, we cut the chromosomes from the photograph, paired them on a table, and pasted the pairs on a sheet.

Another reason the Residents liked me was my blood.  As they worked on their doctorate, they needed a research subject and I was handy and willing.  I looked like a drug user with all the needle marks on my arms.  For a while, it seemed like every day someone was asking for my blood, until I got with the head resident who agreed, "we should stockpile your blood." Now I was more like a Red Cross blood donor than a pin cushion.  I should have charged them for all that royal B-negative Neel Blood.

It was a good time and I think I did a great job for them, but I understood when Doctor's Wayne and Sarah called me in and explained that I had to be an active student to hold the job.  I expected it and had already interviewed for a job at Motion Industries.

But, that is Another Story.

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