A job well done

Woman re­tires af­ter 50 years at Val­ley Re­gional

Valley Journal Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - BY ASH­LEY THOMP­SON KINGSCOUN­TYNEWS.CA ath­omp­son@kingscoun­tynews.ca

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 in- formed the class they’d be learn­ing how to col­lect blood sam­ples.

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 Hos- pital 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-yearold said.

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, an 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 will 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…doesn’t like tech­nol­ogy, doesn’t like com­put­ers, doesn’t like ‘new’ any­thing,” Pem­broke jested.

“If our job was still fil­ing hand­writ­ten 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.”


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

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