In July 1986, I graduated from Medical Technology School, passed my two certification exams and moved the family to Oxford, Ohio for my first job with the MT(ASCP) CLS(NCA) initials after my name. Though I would only work full time as a med tech for eight years, it would prove to remain the biggest academic influence on my professional life. None of the success I had as an educator would have been possible without that series of jobs which took me to three hospitals, on all three shifts, in all the departments and even with an entry level management position. But, that relatively short career all began in the summer of 1986 at a tiny 60-bed hospital in a very small college town in Southwest Ohio.
Since the hospital was so small, I worked in the lab with only one other tech, and we did all the blood draws and testing for the whole hospital. We were also the lucky ones who got to work one weekend a month from 9 PM to 6:30 the next morning every other Sunday by ourselves. If you could not organize yourself thoroughly, that overnight shift could absolutely kill you. And, I never got out of the lab before 8 AM because I had to finish the morning tests, while the day shift techs eased into their days.
After six months of living by the seat of my pants, I saw an ad in the Sunday paper for a med tech opening at a large teaching hospital in Cincinnati. It interested me because the position was in the Hematology department, and that was my second favorite department. Plus, the ad said they were gathering data on a cutting edge technology for Complete Blood Counts (or CBCs). So, I called to see if I could get an interview.
For the interview, I showed up to the lab for my interview with the head pathologist, an older physician who oversaw the laboratory and had held the position for a couple of decades, so he had overseen many changes, including the fact that the lab then covered the whole sixth floor of a twelve-story tower of this 1000-bed hospital. After talking with the man for about 40 minutes, he offered me the job that would substantially increase my pay, put me on second shift only for six months before moving me to day shift when the new budget took affect. All in all, it was hard to turn down, but I told him that I needed to discuss this with my wife.
Obviously, I took the job. The cool thing was that we had phlebotomists to do all of the blood draws, so I no longer had to do that. I could actually focus on my lab work, which mainly entailed working with five other techs to crank out a few thousand CBCs per shift, in addition to doing all the coagulation studies. With machines to do everything, all we had to do was a brief microscope slide scan to determine if the machine was performing the white blood cell differential correctly, which it did about 90-95% of the time. And when the machine did not work, the computer would flag the sample and you would do a manual count.
In hematology, the ability to do those counts quickly and accurately is what separates the “good” techs from the rest. And, for some reason, I could discern those cells under a microscope quickly. Just from those blood smear slides, after staining, I could quickly diagnose whether these “weird” looking cells were being caused by something mundane as mononucleosis or as exotic as a specific type of leukemia. Regardless of what I thought, you only put out preliminary results and gave the slides to the pathologists in charge of hematology to make the final determination. And, it was those two guys who had the final say as to which techs were “good” and which were average. Now, that designation never increased my pay, only my prestige within the department, as those pathologists would seek you out for troublesome blood smears, especially various types of leukemias. I have to admit that those guys briefly made me into something of a hematology expert and encouraged me to go to medical school to become a pathologist. Unfortunately, that was not my path.
Anyway, while on second shift, there were a young of wannabe medical students from the University of Cincinnati who worked at the hospital as phlebotomists, so they took their jobs very serious. Their work meant they were getting ahead of other pre-meds who were not in their positions. But, like any other college kid, they were ready to party after work. Now, being a young parent, I rarely went out with these guys, but when I did, they took me to the “cool” clubs around campus where they turned me onto some terrific music from the alternative and hip hop scenes. In other words, their direction, along with living in Oxford, kept me on the cutting edge of music a bit longer than most my age.
So, in thanks for those young people who kept me young a bit longer, here’s the beginning of the first half of my med tech career and the music I loved.
Anita Baker – Rapture (1986). After Whitney burst onto the scene the previous year, people were looking for my R&B divas. What we got instead was a confidently singing, lower register woman with a sultry voice with the name of Anita Baker. This woman took the Sade formula of jazz cool and increased the soul in the mix and gave us this delightful cutting edge Eighties R&B sound. And, if “Sweet Love” doesn’t put you in the mood for some lovin’, then you might need Viagra.
Bad Brains – I Against I (1986). Bad Brains were one of the most intriguing hardcore bands from the LA scene of the Eighties. Unlike their brethren Black Flag and Dead Kennedys, these four black Americans set out of create an American version of a punk/reggae fusion similar to the UK’s ska scene of the late-Seventies/early-Eighties. Along the way, the band incorporated metal, funk, hip hop and jazz chops, which lead to this album which is their London Calling. Bad Brains, along with Fishbone and Living Colour, led a resurgence of black Americans diving headlong into the rock scene. Although those bands shared audiences with band such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Faith No More and the early version of No Doubt, they never got the big record company push of those other bands, which only proves that racism was alive and well in the late Eighties.
Beastie Boys – Licensed to Ill (1986). By 1986, rap was primed for some white guys to attempt to make inroads. The only thing was that a Vanilla Ice-type of rapper would not fly at this point. So, into the void, enter three NYC Jewish boys who were originally punk rockers but had begun to absorb hip hop culture while in college. The trio, with the help of rising producer Rick Rubin, started at Run-D.M.C.’s stripped down rock-based beats and vocal trades to bring a touch of cartoonish brattiness and a heavy dose of Gen X art into their hip hop sound. Immediately, the hip hop community embraced these white boys and the rest was history. The tour of that year was Run-D.M.C., the Beasties, LL Cool J and Whodini, and they brought hip hop to the world, much as the Sex Pistols had notoriously brought punk to the nether regions of the USA. This tour was why N.W.A and Public Enemy was under so much scrutiny afterwards.
Bon Jovi – Slippery When Wet (1986). Just when you thought that AOR had run its course, along comes the New Jersey band called Bon Jovi who were equal parts hard-working Springsteen-everyman-band, Loverboy and glam rock. The band made this album by allowing their most ardent fans to decide which cuts would be included on the final version of the album, ensuring the band to have the best collection of tunes. Of course, the whole process worked its platinum magic, paving the band’s road to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, no matter how derivative I find them. At least my older son got them out of his system before the age of two.
Cameo – Word Up! (1986). Easily the funk album of the year, Cameo finally broke through for some mainstream success. The title song and “Candy” remain as fresh today as they were back in the day. Cameo made up for the fact that Prince was going in an European art direction.
Crowded House – Crowded House (1986). From the ashes of the great new wave/art Australian band Split Enz rose Crowded House, led by Enz co-leader and younger brother Neil Finn. The band dropped the art pretensions of the Enz and focused on tight pop/rock songs along the lines of early Elvis Costello or Squeeze and rode those terrific songs to the Top 10. This is a delicious record of terrific power poppish rock.
David + David – Boomtown (1986). I say this often, but this album is a lost classic. Sure, “Welcome to Boomtown” got some radio and MTV airplay, but the album made barely a dent on the charts, which is a shame. This album remains a great rock album, but what separates it from the radio rock of the day were the lyrics, which depicted the underbelly of the American economy of the day. Actually, the juxtaposition of the music against the characters fighting economic loss and drug abuse while failing to grab the new American yuppie dream makes the album quite chilling. After recently listening to it, I feel it is still unfortunately poignant and relevant.
Elvis Costello & the Attractions – Blood & Chocolate (1986). 1986 was something of a creatively stellar year for Elvis as he released two albums. The first, listed as by The Costello Show, was an ornate set of ballads that touched on some Americana along the way. Mainly, Costello recorded with Elvis Presley’s old band, which he renamed The Confederates, though he did record one track with his usual band The Attractions. In response, Costello recorded this raucous second album completely with The Attractions that conjured up the anger of the past. Of the two, this is the better album, though both are essential to Costello-philes.
Game Theory – The Big Shot Chronicles (1986). Game Theory is a major cult figure in the power pop world. And, it’s a damn shame many of you have never heard of them. The mastermind behind the band was the troubled Scott Miller, who remained the only constant throughout the band’s go around. They ended up being a bridge between the ornate Beatlesque sound of Squeeze and the Seventies pop trash compactor of Jellyfish. This band, along with Crowded House, brought back the sophisticated pop of Rubber Soul-era Beatles and Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys. And, is that a bad thing?
Janet Jackson – Control (1986). After Thriller sold a gazillion copies and the success reunion tour of her brothers The Jacksons, Janet felt it was time to exert herself and take control of her singing career. So, Miss Jackson, if you’re nasty, up and left the safety of LA and her family, traveled to Minneapolis and home of her brother’s rival Prince, and joined up with former members of The Time-turned-producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. Together, the trio melded everything great about the Jacksons, Prince, The Time and some thick funk to give us a new pop/dance vision. The whole album is excellent, especially the singles. And, now, Janet Jackson was being mentioned in the same breath as her brother, his Purple rival AND Madonna.
Madonna – True Blue (1986). After two indisputable pop/dance classics, Madonna went all in on pop music and came out with a winner in True Blue. And, in the process, Madonna became more of an artist than an auteur. Her vocal prowess grew by leaps and bounds, eschewing her Betty Boop-on-helium attack for a fuller, more throaty approach, which worked perfectly. Fortunately for us, she was just finding her artistic sweet spot.
Megadeth – Peace Sells…But Who’s Buying? (1986). This album represents an early classic in the thrash metal sweepstakes. Former Metallica guitarist Dave Mustaine leads his band in what is arguably its finest album. Few guitarists can run their fingers on a fret like Mustaine, but at least he does in this time within the confines of some great songs such as the title song, “Wake Up Dead” and the Willie Dixon standard “I Ain’t Superstitious.” Megadeth made an album that Metallica, Slayer and Anthrax had to answer.
Metallica – Master of Puppets (1986). As soon as Megadeth dropped Peace Sells, Metallica answered with the undisputed champion album of thrash metal Master of Puppets. Unfortunately, this album marks the last one for bassist Cliff Burton, who would die in a tour bus accident in Europe while on tour for this album. Still, this album was hailed as a classic from its release and remains one to this day. Everything that made Metallica a great band can be found on this album, all the angst, all the chords and the unparalleled rhythm. This represents metal at its finest.
And, that wraps up the first day covering 1986. God willing, I will finish up the year next time. Until then, peace.