When I graduated from undergrad, I believed I was a chemist. But I was limited to a very small town for two years. That confinement was the price paid for the second best thing that ever happened to me. That limitation made it very hard to find a proper job for someone who, mere weeks before, had been working advanced quantum mechanical equations and arguing about gene expression mechanisms with professors.
My dear readers that are young, enjoy the academic atmosphere while you can, or find a way to remain a student forever.
The whole second-best-thing-that-ever-happened to me required a roof and food. I needed a job. I looked for a job. Looking became a job that did not pay. I rapidly was forced to search for jobs outside of chemistry. For 3 weeks, I worked as an office person in a supermarket, for about $1 an hour over minimum. With a BS in biochemistry, yo. That is called “taking me down a few notches” in, in Christian language, I was being humbled. very humbled.
Hoping for better pay, better benefits, better hours, and some degree of self-respect, I took a job at the local hospital in the pathology department as a clerk. I did find better hours, but that was it. I was not going to be a pathologist, or even a lab tech (although I had more developed lab skillz than our two lab techs, I did not have any sheets of paper that said I had the requite skillz). And here, my story proper begins.
We lived in an area where there were lots of ex-farmers and hill-rods who what stopped doing farm work and moonshine-ing to sit in AC, collected government benefits and watch whatever garbage was popular on TV in those days. They did not, however, alter their diets from the days of doing farm work or moonshine-ing. As a result, there was epic obesity in that area. I don’t mean most folks were modestly overweight either. It was EPIC. And, type II diabetes chaises epic obesity like the ladies used to chase me. Actually, it was more an inverse relationship.
When you got any kind of blood issues, you just gotta check yo feet. Daily, to make sure nothing nasty is going on down there. When you are epically obese, you can’t see your feet, so you don’t check them. And then a scratch becomes an infection, and they don’t notice until one day, they take their shoes off and wretch from the odor of decay (no, this is not my general hyperbole). At that point, it’s too late to save the leg, so at the hospital I worked at, we were cutting off legs like it was a Tyson Chicken Factory in late January. Gross. Part of my job was to, several times a day, cruse around the hospital to collect things that had been cut off or out of people. Legs, for some reason, went to the Morgue. Deadleg.
One day, I got a call from the morgue that a leg had arrived. I walked down there to pick it up, and found a large, lawn-trashbag sized red “biohazard” bag with the telltale outline of a leg. (I’m dying right now, remembering this. There are just some things I’d like to unsee). A large (epic, remember?) leg. I hoist it up, and, with a level arm at shoulder height, start back to the pathology office. Oh my grosh, the mass. I can’t hold this up forever, it’s got to weigh like, 50 lbs. So, against my will and better judgment, my arm weakens and eventually is mostly perpendicular to the floor.
At this point, I am kicked in my butt. I turn around ready to drop the leg and throw down. The leg would have made a good club, except that the heel might well have reduced to pink mist owing to the extensive decay of the hard and soft tissue. There is no one there. I turn back around, and then it (realization) hits me. I have just been kicked in the ass by a disembodied leg. It is impossible to describe what goes through one’s mind at moments like this. See, my stride matched the twisting vibrational frequency of the leg in the bag. As I walked, the small swing of the leg was amplified by my gait, and the amplitude of the swing increased, until the foot connected to the leg, swung around a bashed me. “The knee bone connected to the leg bone/the leg bone connected to the foot bone / the food bone connected to my backside”
Another day, I picked up a specimen in a jar of “formalin.” The jars had adhesive labels that wrapped most of the way around the jar, but there was a small window through which you could see whatever was in there. Sometimes, I think it was a window into hell. By this point, I had been around long enough to have the general procedure of not looking into those jars, but one day…Part of my job was to type the specimen description into a database, and I typed in: “left eye and ~1/2 optic nerve.”
I simply could not believe it. I just had to look. Why? Because I was 22 and less than intelligent. I rotated that jar around to take a look into “the window to hell” and saw an eye. Alone. Looking straight back at me. I was frozen in horror. It was like a bad movie. It WAS a bad movie. I was wide-eyed, and waiting for this thing to blink. It’s not going to blink, man. It was my Mordor moment. “A great eye, lidless and wreathed in formalin.” Yea, Saruman, bite me.
Similar to the “eye” incident, one day, we got the finger. There is much less to write, but for some reason, I had to take the lid off the jar. There it floated, bobbing up and down like a fishing bob. It was pointing at me, accusingly, like “the thing” from Addam’s Family. What had I done, I wondered? To this day, I assume I must have offended it by opening the jar without knocking first.