The Memoir of Eleanor Taylor, Pt 1
Several weeks ago, our Pathology Blog featured a posting from the memoirs of Eleanor Taylor, the much beloved and respected manager of the Clinical Chemistry Laboratory at Johns Hopkins Hospital from 1950-1980. We are continuing her interesting memoir in several sequences. This was taken from a speech she gave to the Chemistry staff in 1980. She retired in 1986.
The Bad Old Days, Part I
Since 30 years in one institution represents a milestone of sorts in one’s life, it seems an appropriate time to reflect and examine some of the changes that have occurred in the clinical chemistry laboratory during those years.
Some of the information is from memory, but because I am a “saver,” the technical details are directly from old procedure manuals. The dates of changes noted were obtained from records carefully kept by Florence White who was the Chief Tech of the Lab from its vague beginnings until 1969, and continued by Elinor Douty since then. Perhaps somewhere “under the dome,” official records exist; I don’t know where to begin to retrieve them.
Hopkins, or rather all of East Baltimore, was a very different place in 1950. The neat rowhouses of the area were kept spotless (just as they look in the pictures in the National Geographic). Women were seen out scrubbing the white marble steps in the morning; there were screens at the windows with scenes painted on them which permitted one to look out of, but not into, the house. Parking on the street was the order of the day for there were no parking lots, and the streets were safe to walk, especially if one wore the traditional white coat which identified him as belonging to “The Hopkins”.
It is hard to condense so many years of changes into a short talk; since clinical chemistry is such a dynamic field with change occurring constantly and rapidly (perhaps this is one of its many aspects that have maintained my interest for so many years), I have decided to look at these changes from three aspects:
3. Patient Service/Technique
The first entry in the old ledger is dated 1943. I know some laboratory work was done previous to this time by Mrs. White; in the 1930s, she was the entire staff of the lab. Several other entries occur during the 1940’s, the most notable being the introduction of the Coleman Electric Spectrophotometer; previous to its introduction, an instrument was used to visually compare the color developed in a patient’s sample to that developed in a primary standard solution treated similarly. By 1950 the list of tests offered by the laboratory was very similar to that offered in routine chemistry today, with the notable exception of some enzymes such as CK, LDH, ALAT, ASAT. The main laboratory was located in the room which now serves as the office, data storage and snack area, room 552. The area just east of that (now G.S’s office) opened into the larger room and served as Mrs. White’s office and special chemistry and development lab. The machine repair shop area was a large wall full of hoods, Kjeldahl burners, and distilling assemblies. The large room was not air conditioned and temperatures in the “Kjeldahl corner” were recorded as high as 114°F. The staff usually changed into “lab clothes” after arriving at work – and changed back to more respectable ones before leaving. In the summer temperature-dependent reaction tubes were immersed in water baths containing ice cubes to bring the temperature to 30° for reading at the spectrophotometer. The small special room had a window air conditioner which worked only intermittently, occupied the only window; the doors were always kept closed, so the atmosphere in there was often extremely unpleasant. I’ll have more to say about this “bad air” later.
In 1957, the lab moved into its present location and has undergone one major renovation of that area in 1970 which necessitated moving into the Pathology Building and operating under great obstacles, such as very poor quality deionized water, lack of adequate lighting, compressed air, and other necessities for about 8 months.
There has never been a time when we have felt that we had enough space – or enough staff. There have always been too many stats and a generally heavy workload. The census figures I’ve located indicate a total of 131,392 tests were performed in 1950 (by a staff of 15), increasing to 580,101 in 1967, the last year the census was counted manually. Since then the computer has kept track of the number of tests performed; in 1978 about 600,000 tests were done.
Mrs.Taylor’s memoirs – to be continued ……