Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Tribute to Ray Minnick (1950-2011) by René Najera

Some things cannot be kept silent. When we have a moving experience, sometimes we just need to tell people about it. It may be something exhilarating that takes us to the heights of joy; it may be something devastating moving us to profound grief.

My friend, René Najera, has had both of those recently. He has been approved to take the oath of citizenship in just a short time, and he has learned of the passing of a close friend and teacher. Since he was forced to take down his blog, I offered up Harpocrates Speaks to let his voice be heard. Here is his touching personal tribute to Ray Minnick, who passed away September 13, 2011:

I graduated from college as a medical technologist in the Spring of 2000. Unlike other college graduates, my prospects for a job were very good. The number of medical technology (laboratory medicine) programs had dwindled since the 1990s, so the demand was high for lab techs like myself. I had always wanted to live and work on the East Coast, so I put out a lot of applications to a lot of hospitals all up and down the eastern seaboard. One interview after another, I was rejected over and over because I was young, single, and had never been to the East Coast. I had no real "roots" there, so a lot of employers were hesitant to hire someone who could leave at any moment. (They actually told me so a few of the times.)

One place I didn't apply to was the Waynesboro Hospital in Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. Waynesboro is a small town in the Blue Ridge mountains of Southern Pennsylvania. It is two hours from DC and Baltimore and three hours from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. One morning, at around 7am Mountain Time, I got a phone call from Ray Minnick, the lab manager at Waynesboro Hospital. We talked for a bit about my experience as a student, about my plans for the future (which were few since I just wanted to work and make money), and my plan for moving to the East Coast. It wasn't a particularly memorable phone call. It was rather routine. My hopes to get a job there were few.

Two weeks later, I received a phone call from a person in human resources at Waynesboro. He called to make arrangements for me to travel to Waynesboro and interview in person. Apparently, Ray had nothing but good things to say. I was rather stunned because all he really had was what I posted on Monster.com about wanting a job as a lab tech on the East Coast. That's how he found me. He had gone online and seen my profile and very short resume and still offered me the chance to join him and his team of lab techs in Waynesboro.

I took the chance and traveled to Waynesboro over a long weekend in June. Ray picked me up at the hotel on a Friday and showed me around town before we went to his office. Aside from all the regular questions about the job, Ray asked me one question: "If you see that all the tubes of blood draw on a woman in the OR, who is undergoing a C-section, are hemolyzed, and the repeat draws are hemolyzed, what would you do?"

Without hesitation, I told him I would get the fresh frozen plasma thawing and do a type and screen (blood banking procedure) on her since she was in the process of DIC (diffused intravascular coagulation), a deadly condition in which all of the body's clotting factors are being depleted due to clots being formed everywhere. He leaned back in his chair for a few moments and then came forward, stretching out his hand to shake mine. "The job is yours if you want it." I did. We spent Saturday and Sunday morning finding me an apartment in Waynesboro and showing me the points of interest.

Over the next 7 years, Ray Minnick was the lab manager under whom I worked as a medical technologist. He allowed me a lot of freedom in the job, and he trusted me immensely. He told me so himself. He said he wouldn't have left me working by myself on the third shift if he didn't trust me. I considered that an enormous honor. When I needed help because there was a surgery that had turned bad, or there was a mass trauma event (bad car accident), Ray would show up in his dark blue scrubs and get to work. He was very, very experienced in blood bank. What took me 30 minutes to do took him 20, and he had a sharp mind.

His interactions with me did not stop at the lab. He had me over for dinner a few times, introducing me to his family. He loaned me his truck to move my furniture when I moved into a tiny apartment. He even counseled me when I had a very bad break up with a very serious girlfriend. Heck, even with the not-so-serious girlfriends, he always had a word of advice. There was a particularly "annoying" girlfriend who worked in the emergency department. It was always on and off with her, and the games we played were many. Ray once sat me down in his office and warned me that such a romance at work would not end well.

I wish I would have listened because that nutty relationship really did not end well.

There were also the times when we disagreed on something. There were times when the old Navy Vet in him came out and made me stand at attention as he paced back and forth explaining to me why I was in the wrong... And I didn't have the right of reply. I understood completely that all those things he did and said were for my own good. He really did help me along in the maturation process.

Perhaps the biggest contribution he made to my life was when he walked up to human resources and demanded that the hospital reimburse me for some of the classes I took as I worked toward my Master of Public Health in Epidemiology. Nurses got almost all of their tuition reimbursed, so why not reimburse the "lab boy"? HR argued that I would bolt from there as soon as I got my degree, but he countered that nurses also left once they got their advanced degrees. After a lot of arguing, Ray convinced them to help me financially in getting my MPH. Not only that, but he allowed me to do my coursework during my shifts. I was able to work full-time and go to school part-time and not have to worry about not giving my all to one or the other.

Again, it was a privilege to work for that man.

Unfortunately, Ray's approach to common problems rubbed people "upstairs" the wrong way, so he had enough of the politics and the second-guessing of all his projects for the lab. He came in after hours to talk to me about him having submitted his resignation. He asked me if I felt like he was abandoning me since - in all honesty - he was the one lifeline I had in Waynesboro; my parents were thousands of miles away. I told him he didn't because he taught me well. His parting words to me at the lab were that he hoped to once be the mentor of a "doctor" (meaning my aspirations for a doctoral degree once I got my MPH).

After he left the lab, we stayed in touch by phone and in person once in a while. Just last week, he called me to chat about stuff. He asked how married life was treating me. (He'd been to my wedding one year before.) And we joked about all the fretting I did back then over girls that didn't really deserve so much time and effort. He told me to take care and call him once in a while. I said I would.

Yesterday, as I sat in the immigration officer's office, I noticed that the officer had a lot of memorabilia from the Army. I asked him if he was in the service. He went into a long-winded tale of his days in the Army in Vietnam. This made me at ease during the citizenship interview and exam since Ray had been to Vietnam as well. Their stories were similar, and they were about the same age. For all intents and purposes, Ray Minnick might as well have been the one administering the test to me, a test that I passed. That in itself reminded me of how proud Ray was of me when I seriously considered joining the armed forces after September 11, 2001. He told me that the attacks were a watershed moment in my life like the JFK assassination was in his. But he discouraged me from joining because he said that the country was not in mortal danger and I'd contribute more if I went to school and bettered myself... And got my citizenship. The agent who interviewed me yesterday asked if I'd be willing to "help out" if the country ever needed me, too.

Funny how things parallel each other like that.

Ray Minnick passed away last night at the age of 61. The world lost a great father, friend, medical technologist, and, for me, an awesome mentor. At a time when I was maturing personally and professionally, he was there to set me straight... And teach me how to do a type and screen in record time. He will be missed.

3 comments:

  1. 61 -- way too young! I'm so sorry for your loss, and for the loss to the world!

    It's a good time to remember that we would not be who we are without our mentors. I will call all of mine in the next few days,in memory of Ray.

    I won't ask what he died of, not my business, but I'm after the disease that take great teachers away from us far too early. Fight on!

    EpiApril

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  2. What a touching, lovely tribute. Thank you for sharing it, Rene (and thanks to Todd W. for giving him a forum in which to do so). I don't know where I would be without the mentors who have helped me out over the years. I'm sorry you lost Ray. He sounds like a hell of a guy.

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  3. Thank you all for your kind words. It means a lot to me to have so many great people "in my corner". Ray was one of them, and he'll be hard to replace... But you folks make it all go by easier.

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