Sept 30, 2005
Volume 33
Issue 39

Friday, Jul 03, 2020 07:33

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Not Thinking Straight by Madelyn Arnold
I Am How I Work
Most of us have to earn a living, and even as we approach the "global workplace", work alongside others. So work anchors us in the world. Some of us, however, have the great good fortune to actually love what we do, which usually means we're using our natural talents. The luckiest of all serve the public, enjoy work and coworkers, and have the support of kin and friends as well. But you can't have everything. Or most of us can't.


As I grew into an understanding of myself, I watched the medical people who meant so much to my community. Perhaps it was instinct, but I believed that, over and above what Medicine itself might mean, medical people were necessarily accepted, regardless of their little crotchets.

But my interest in the science of medicine began when I was about 5. For months I had been falling asleep in my plate, at school and behind the couch; whining to go to bed early, and sometimes fainting. Then one night I had a dream about resting gently into the earth - it was such a wonderfully restful dream that I told my grandma, and before I could draw another breath I was in Dr. Benjamin Harrison's office, having sharp things jabbed in my body. This did not please me.

So Harrison asked me to read him the titles of his books. Some were written wrong (like the missing L's from Materia Medica). He showed me my purple-centered red cells through his microscope, and I was hooked. Whatever I did had to be linked with the magic of microscopes.


Overall, it's amazing how many projects I took up with: Science Fair protozoa; early studies on Dilantin; breeding Corn-borer Moths in a senescent bug lab; using chloroquine dyes on human sperm; producing Bacitracin. Technique fascinated me; I thought that skill would ensure me of accuracy. Nursing couldn't attract me, only Medicine.

Except the first question I remember on the application for Medical School was: True or False: I have never been attracted to a member of my own sex. Yes, they certainly could and did ask such things then. Homosexuality was illegal; and if it hadn't been - if I lied on that form, well, it was a legal document that I had falsified.

Medical school was out. I began taking work as a Microbiologist... then came west, where Medical Technologists did Microbiology. I stayed around medicine in many different ways - most with the public. And after 20 years I finally gave up expecting to be an MD. I've never quite been able to marry a hospital as I had expected to do, which was how I'd expected to function in society - without being heterosexual.

I stayed - mostly in a remarkable number of differently-named jobs that encompass basically the same work: clinical technologist, medical technologist, medical microbiologist, clinical laboratory technologist, medical laboratory technologist, phlebotomist, "lab helper", anaerobic microbiologist, research technician, research technologist - and, in small clinics, simply "The Lab". I've been happy, more or less. Labs have been the route and the destination.

Behind it, I wrote for the Gay press, starting at a time when Everybody imagined they should Write, and secretly I was also writing fiction - novels mostly. Writing fiction means intentionally hallucinating, and as long as I was working in the humdrum world, it was freeing. Repetitive work was fine, and everything I saw was grist for that fiction mill. Of course, writing in general is often intensely lonely, as medical work almost never is - there, you deal with and about other people; plus, you have the work of your hands to do. You're part of the world.

Always work to do, and people to do it with/to. Being Gay took an MD away from me, so I refocused from Medicine to Laboratory Medicine. But having AIDS has taken that away, because I can't work.


I thought getting an MD would let me interact with some community somewhere, that my Queerness would be overlooked because I was useful; I didn't realize I couldn't get one. The first thing I did on the campus from which I graduated was join Gay Liberation, ensuring that the school and the law would know my identity. There were other Queers, frightened and angry and fixed on medical school - they shunned me. Like, I never once had a female lab partner... but then I rarely had a partner at all, and preferred it that way.

Those who have a passion for their work and a way to find others to appreciate (or tolerate) that work have a place in society. They have a name for who they are and what they do, and if they grow old in that service they're fixed as a part of the world.

It's not an accident that so many homosexual people are identified with their work. I used to be, and frankly I was happy.

But at least there are all these lovely hallucinations...

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