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Medical lab tech retiring after 50 years in Kentville hospitals

Joanne Mailman is retiring from her job as a medical laboratory technologist after working in Kentville-based hospitals for 50 years.
Joanne Mailman is retiring from her job as a medical laboratory technologist after working in Kentville-based hospitals for 50 years.

KENTVILLE, NS - Joanne Mailman describes the moment she learned she’d be taking blood for a living as a rude awakening.

There was no mention of blood collection the day her father, former Rockwell Hardware Store owner Russ Freeman, informed her that a pathologist told him the demand for medical laboratory technologists was so great that the hospital was actually sponsoring people to take the course in Halifax in exchange for two years of service.

“Piece of cake, man,” said Mailman, reflecting on her initial thoughts in that conversation from the mid-1960s.

“In Grade 12 I didn’t want to go to college. I hated studying… all I wanted to do was get married.”

She remembers a lot of words that aren’t fit for publication circulating through her mind the moment her instructors informed the class they’d be learning how to collect blood samples.

Looking back with 50 years of working in Kentville’s hospitals under her belt, Mailman now knows it was only fitting that she learned to expect the unexpected early on.

In the days leading up to her retirement from the lab at Valley Regional Hospital, Mailman had a completely different take on blood collection.

“At the end, that’s my favourite part and that’s what I’m best at,” she said.

“At one point there was only two of us working there and you either had to do it or it didn’t get done.”

She’s gathered samples for tests on patients of all ages, from newborns to seniors, quickly learning how to drown out external distractions in order to get the job done.

“To me, it was more important to get a good sample and have the stuff done right,” she said.

50 years in the lab

Mailman joined the team at Blanchard Fraser Memorial Hospital in 1967, and had her last scheduled shift at Valley Regional Hospital in April 2017 after spending 15 years as a permanent, part-time employee.

She’s worked call, day shifts, night shifts and back-to-back shifts that started with an overnight and carried on into the next day.

“The lab has always kind of been like my family because I worked so much,” the 70-year-old said.

Joanne Mailman is retiring from her job as a medical laboratory technologist after working in Kentville-based hospitals for 50 years.

She raised her two children as a single mom, and took pride in gaining a reputation as one of the most reliable and dependable employees in the lab.

“You just do it; you don’t get prepared unless you go through the job,” she said.

“I like doing things that people thought I couldn’t do.”

Before going part-time, Mailman worked her way up to the head of hematology distinction.

“It was my way of making ends meet,” the Kentville resident said with a shrug.

Working in the lab was a fulfilling, meaningful and, at times, extremely challenging occupation.

“You’re at all sorts of things, like car accidents with people’s legs cut off and you have to go there and take blood… stuff you couldn’t imagine but you have to pull yourself together,” she said.

“I had no idea what a lab tech did. All I knew is that they paid ya, and I didn’t have to ask my father for money.”

A fulfilling career

Mailman is preparing for retirement with the comfort of knowing she found her calling. She plans to keep the part-time administrative job she picked up at a medical clinic in Port Williams, and spend the rest of her time tending to her house and gardens, or visiting her grandchildren.

She’s happy to retire from the lab knowing she spent five decades in a career she actually enjoyed, and takes pride in knowing she did her part to help the patients.

She thinks she’ll miss that the most.

“It’s the only job I know,” she said.

“I couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather do.”

Beth Pembroke, a senior technologist in hematology at Valley Regional Hospital, describes Mailman as one of a kind – for better or worse.

“She is very set in her ways and likes things how she likes things. I think all of us have been accommodating the ‘Joanne nuances’ for years now. I mean, she’s like our grandma, for goodness sake…does n’t like technology, doesn’t like computers, doesn’t like ‘new’ anything,” Pembroke jested.

“If our job was still filing hand-written patient cards in alphabetical order in a filing cabinet, she would be big-time pleased with that.”

And there’s more.

“She’s cranky, unbendable, stubborn and ornery, but we all love her,” Pembroke adds. “I know that must sound strange, but she really is one in a million.”

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