Getting Fired from The Lab

| June 14, 2017

trumpThe first real job I had was delivering Chicago Tribunes, Chicago Sun-Times and Wall Street Journals to about 100 homes every morning. There were 48 Tribunes, 48 Sun-Times and 4 Wall Street Journals, give or take, week to week, depending on subscription prices and folks away from home for extended periods of time. At some time before I arrived on my bike, someone would drop off 2 piles of newspapers for the route. At the first pile, you would roll up and rubber band each one and throw it in the canvas bag on the front of the bike. By the time you ran out of newspapers, the second pile would be waiting for me and I would repeat the process. Someone figured out the bag could only hold about 50 newspapers and not hang so low it rubbed on your front tire.

Sundays were a different story. Given the size of the Sunday editions with all the inserts, I needed a wheelbarrow to deliver the papers. And you couldn’t get away with throwing these to the steps or the porch. These had to be placed under door mats or inside screen doors so your customers could easily retrieve them on Sunday morning. All the papers were supposed to be out by 8 AM on Sunday. 7 AM for Monday – Saturday. I made 2 cents a newspaper during the week. The paper retailed for 25 cents. I don’t remember what the rate was for Sunday – perhaps a nickel. Those retailed for 75 cents or a dollar.

At the end of the month, I would ride up to a small office behind a grocery store where the dispatcher was to pick up my pay for the month. You were allowed 6 “complaints” before you were docked pay. A complaint could be missing the steps or porch, getting the paper wet in the sprinklers, leaving it on the driveway if you didn’t feel like throwing it or missing the house entirely and keeping an edition for yourself. Did this once in a while if there was a significant headline. I collected them. Hundreds of newspapers filled our basement. Eventually one trip home from college saw to it that they made the recycling bin.

Shortly before I graduated high school and would have passed the route on to someone else, I asked the dispatcher for a penny raise from 2 to 3 cents a newspaper. He claimed he only made 6 cents and couldn’t give me half.

It was perhaps the hardest and the best job I ever had. I was my own boss. As long as the me throwing the newspapers didn’t break any porch lights or windows and they arrived on time I could change the route as I saw fit to get the papers there on time. Sometimes I would do the route in reverse just so the people who normally received their paper last and were waiting for me to arrive would have their paper when they woke up. In the pitch black of a winter or rainy morning, I would wrap and throw those newspapers like my doing so was the only way people would get their news. Perhaps for some it was. I haven’t seen a junior high or high school student deliver newspapers since. Unless it is on my phone, I don’t read newspapers anymore.

I had other odd jobs like working at a body shop, painting cars at Maaco one Summer in college and being a bicycle messenger and occasional taxi driver in medical school.

For a couple of years during medical school I also worked in the medical school’s dermatopathology laboratory grossing specimens.

Specimens from the dermatology clinic and few outside offices would arrive by 5 PM for the next day’s sign-out. My job was to get the cassettes labeled, gross the specimens, diagramming on a log if I bisected or trisected the specimen, be it shave, punch or excision with measurements, if it was pigmented or scaly or what not.  It was crude but it worked. A shave of a presumed seborrheic keratosis would have a pencil drawing of a shave biopsy with a dark raised circle in the middle and 2 or 3 vertical lines roughly depicting where the specimen was cut.  I would carve out a few hours each night to run up to the lab and gross the specimens as “study breaks”. I think the job paid slightly better than minimum wage and my hours were self-reported on a 2-week basis. Occasionally, I would sit through the dermatopathology sign-outs and see my handiwork, if the punches looked like they were evenly cut and the drawings illustrated as best they could the number of sections and any pigmentation or marks.

Friday’s specimens just had to be put on the processor by Sunday night for Monday embedding/cutting.

If I was at another hospital, perhaps even on call, I would find coverage with my team to ride my bike downtown and gross the cases before returning to the hospital. If it was particularly snowy or cold, the El would get me there.

The job paid slightly more than minimum wage as I recall.

I did this for about 2 years until I went apartment hunting for a week out of town prior to starting internship. Prior to doing so, I let the medical director of the laboratory know I would be out for one week and would not be able to gross the specimens. We discussed it several times. I trained some of the dermatology residents how to gross and a post-doc I think working in an immunology laboratory. Grossing was covered. Or so I thought.  I would pick up the duties in when I returned to campus.

Apparently, that medical director had a very short memory or short attention span or both because when I checked back in on the date I told him, he told me I was fired. Gone. Finished. He claimed I had left him without any coverage and specimens piled up for a week before he realized what was happening since I wasn’t there to answer my phone in my apartment and emails and cell phones were not ubiquitous. I am not sure why it took a week for him to recognize there weren’t any blocks to cut but I didn’t argue. Graduation was in 2 months and I was moving to Washington, DC.

I saw the medical director years later at a meeting. I reminded him of this and he thought he may have overreacted just a bit and we laughed about it.

The job would be passed to another medical student, taking over my route if you will, to assist in the diagnosis and provide clinicians the news they needed.

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Category: Humor, Personal

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