Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The National Institutes of Health

Today went into NIH to have my blood tested and such. I have to go back in a couple weeks for the blood tests, so I decided to take advantage of this opportunity and do a few things I've been meaning to do.

Mrs. Avis Brown
I visited Mrs. Avis, who was the head of the summer internship program a few years ago and kinda my first boss. She is one of my absolute favorite people and I just adore her. She loved me because I really went after that NIH job. I called her in October and wrote an essay and sent in a resume and got a teacher recommendation and obtained a transcript and in short did a great deal in order to obtain that internship. She loved me.

At first I was a secretary for Transfusion Medicine, but that didn't get much action. I still liked it, though. I was in close proximity to Mrs. Avis, Mrs. Winnie, Pete, and Mrs. Sarah all of whom I liked very much. They are wonderful people. However, a couple weeks into the internship I got moved up to the lab, where I spent the majority of my time as kind of a personal assistant to Mrs. Gina Matia, who was in charge of Phlebotomy.

Making Friends
Two other girls had also been transferred up to the lab- Ashley and Keaira. I never would've gotten my job if it hadn't been for Keaira, who told me about the opportunity in the first place or rather, told my mother. My mom was giving blood in Transfusion Medicine the summer before, and Keaira was there. She was chatting with my mom and my mom asked how she had achieved an internship at the National Institutes of Health so early in life? Keaira gave her Mrs. Avis's number, and my mom gave it to me.

Ashley , Keaira, and I became unexpected friends. They were already friends, since Ashley's grandmother is Mrs. Avis and Keaira had worked with them before. I was honestly not expecting to make a lot of friends over the summer, because our first meeting was very divided. It was about a dozen of us, and I was the only white one besides this pathetically obnoxious boy named Robbie who none of us liked because he was, quite frankly, very disagreeable. I'm not saying that I had a problem with the fact that I was a minority- I didn't. I'm a Maryland girl, and if you want to know my opinion on people who call me racist you are welcome to read this post. But the other kids didn't talk to me much. This didn't really bother me, because I wanted to focus, but then unexpectantly we were all friends. Sans Robbie.

Soon I found Ashley knocking on Mrs. Gina's office and saying Keaira and her were ready to go to lunch. We would go up to the 13th floor, the highest level. You could see the temple from there, always a comforting sight. We would have elevator dance parties, standing seriously as newcomers entered our private nightclub, casting us bewildered looks. We would try to send things up to the roof, because that level is locked to those who don't have access. One time we sent a chair up there, and then watched in dismay as it bypassed floor 13 and continued down....down....down....We stood there, staring at the blinking light above level five and alternated between biting our nails in anticipation, laughing at the undoubtedly surprised faces of the elevator's current occupants, wondering why on earth the elevator let the chair up to the 14th floor and not us, and frantically pushing the button to summon it back to us.

The cute boys of NIH
Sometimes we went and watched The Tyra Show, which proved to be pretty interesting. Other times we went to au bon Pain, the restaurant at the very front of building ten. Ashley was usually the one in charge of these expeditions, because going to front of the building meant passing the hang-out spot of many construction workers currently remodeling Outpatient Phlebotomy, among other places. She thought they were super cute, and they liked her too. It was funny watching her trying to casually coax Keaira and I downstairs with proclamations of how the walk would do us good, and declarations of how I had been needing a pick-me-up anyway....Eventually we would say yes and wander down the corridor together, Ashley always talking her loudest and walking her slowest when we traversed the bridge over the construction workers' hang-out.

We teased her about this quite a bit, but she repaid me with comments about Jeffrey Swift, a boy I had met the second or third week in. We had to go to orientation, and it was very interesting how, despite the little cliques our own internship community, we all banded together as we surveyed the other groups of interns, not quite sure what to make of them. We sat in high, comfy, swirly chairs and were given folders. Every day we listened to various presentations and watched several power-points. It was nice, but any kind of orientation gets monotonous after awhile I would think. One break time I glanced about the room and my eyes landed on a tuft of blonde hair. I watched it interestedly until he turned his head, and then my mouth formed itself into a ridiculous smile.

Lachelle noticed first. Giggling, she poked me. "You like him?" At this Keaira and Ashley took interest, too. They followed our gazes and grinned at me. "He's cute girl," Lachelle nodded approvingly. "Go talk to him."

The others nodded and I gripped the sides of my seat. "No way!" I protested. I was not the only girl who had noticed this boy. Several other female specimens had gathered around him, gravitating to the most interesting thing in the room by far.

Ashley sucked her teeth. "Please girl. They are nottt competition."

Luckily at that moment the break ended, but word had spread among the others in my program, and I kept receiving pokes and whispered pieces of advice. Well, I never said they weren't tactless.

Finally the day came that I was to meet mysterious blonde boy. The presenter announced that we would be dividing into pairs to practice the calm discussion of opinions within the workplace, or something like that. We were on opposite sides of the room, so I had little hope, but sure enough the smiling lady walked up to me and pointed. "You'll be working with him." I turned. He turned. I grabbed Lachelle's hand. She looked up. Lachelle nudged Ashley, who nudged Keaira, who nudged Larnell, who nudged Neaira, who nudged Torrell....until my whole internship was grinning at me and shoving me into an empty seat next to him, with clear instructions to "flirt until those other white girls puke with jealousy."

He smiled. I smiled. "I'm Jeffrey Swift."

"I'm Nicole."

"You're an intern?"

"Yep. You?"

"Yeah....I work in the morgue. Basement level."

I blinked. "How....interesting." I meant depressing. He seemed to know this and grinned and our conversation was fairly easy-going from then on, except for an interruption from his superfunny asian friend, who was paired with one of the several girls who apparently had formed the Jeffrey Swift fanclub, and was shooting daggers at me. None of the girls who had made a point of flocking to Jeffrey every break were very good at masking their annoyance for not being paired with him, but I have a feeling the lady did it on purpose. She didn't seem to like them much and she smiled at me whenever she had the chance. Well I wasn't complaining. I smiled prettily at them and winked at my fanclub- Ashley, Keaira, and Lachelle, who gave enthusiastic thumbs-ups and did all my glaring for me.

Jeffrey and I would sometimes run into each other, each meeting ending with me promising to visit him at the morgue, but I never got the courage to actually do it. What a shame :(

Mrs. Gina Mattia and Phlebotomy
Back in the lab again, Ashley only worked with Mrs. Gina once and then worked with this other lovely woman. Keaira was in a different department to the right that smelled distinctly of coffee. I only visited her once, because she was further into the lab than either of us so usually she would find us first.

In my opinion, I got the best deal out of all of us. I reorganized and put together a new training manual for Mrs. Gina. I got to use her office and I listened to music and had a lovely time. She told me about her family and showed me pictures and even let me use one of her lab coats when she declared that mine was far too dirty and sent it off to be cleaned. She was very kind to me :) Sometimes she had me go downstairs to Outpatient Phlebotomy, where I would label the blood tubes when patients would come for blood draws. I loved working there. I had the best time. It's almost as if it's a requirement for NIH employees to be nice, fantastic people, because I have met all of three who weren't. Make that five.

One day Mrs. Gina had me call around about something....I forget. Anyway I kept having to call this one department, and this secretary was getting very rude with me. At the end of the day Mrs. Gina came down and asked how it went. "Well," I said hesitantly, not wanting to disappoint her with the small amount of information I had gleaned in the increasingly hostile phone conversations. And I explained. Mrs. Mattia got very upset and hugged me and told me she would take care of it and she was very sorry to have put me in that position.

I was very surprised at her concern. I thought that a woman in her sort of power surely would not care what happened to a lowly intern who had flubbed the one assignment given her since she entered into her care. I had a lot to learn about Mrs. Gina Mattia.

When I was not working with Mrs. Gina I was in other sections of the lab. I filed, made spreadsheets, observed, and learned more than I ever had in any science class. One day I even came across a file of my little brother, Jacob, who is a regular healthy volunteer in NIH studies. I asked someone to explain it to me and, after confirming that I was in fact this patient's sister, got a very detailed insight into my baby brother's health. Apparently he is in top physical shape and has lots of great stuff floating around his body. I beamed :)

I never, ever have had an interest in pursuing a career in medicine or any such thing, but being at NIH and walking among some of the greatest doctors and scientists of our time had a very distinct impact on me, and I might find myself leaning towards that field.

I met the man who discovered a cure for something.... I think it was Hepatitis B but I could be wrong. Lachelle was one of his helpers. It was actually quite funny how I met him. Ashley and I were talking about Lachelle and how we should find her for lunch or whatever. Ashley mentioned who Lachelle worked with and said in a reverent voice, "he found a cure for Hepatitis B." "Really?" I asked, mildly impressed. Then I turned. I was facing a very kindly old man who wore a lab coat and had white hair. Ashley poked me in the back. "That's him."

I have no idea what came over me. My mouth dropped open. My throat dried out. My eyes widened and then blinked rapidly. The man smiled at me kindly and continued on past. "I...." He looked back, still kindly but mildly confused. "Thanks." I sputtered, my face rapidly turning a very red. He smiled knowingly and stuck out his hand. I gasped and jumped a step back. His eyes twinkled as he and Ashley exchanged a look. "This is Nicole," she supplied helpfully. "She's a huge fan." I nodded fervently and, hesitating, reached out and shook hands with one of the greatest scientists I had ever met.

From then on whenever we passed in hallways he would make a point to smile and wave at me. I felt very special and happy :)

The Director of Building 10
Every day Keaira and I would deliver the mail to Dr. Gallin, the man in charge of building ten. We loved this job. Keaira used to do it alone, but one day she invited me along and I was so thrilled by the prospect of meeting Dr. Gallin that I insisted on accompanying her each time I had the opportunity.

We were rather like star-struck tweens at a Hannah Montana concert, I daresay, with how eagerly we would enter the office, hair swaying as we looked left to right, hoping for a glimpse of one of the most powerful men on campus. But he was as elusive as ever- I think we only say him twice in his office ever, and we delivered the mail daily. One day, though, we struck gold.

Building ten has this huge atrium, and hallways for levels 1-7 (I think) look down into it through glass panes. One day as we were delivering the mail, I glanced down at the atrium, which contained au bon Pain and a couple other shops. Suddenly I stopped dead in my tracks. Keaira carried on a few steps until she noticed my absence. She glanced back at me but before she could say anything, I pointed. "There's Dr. Gallin."

Keaira followed the direction of my finger and gasped. "It is!"

Don't ask me how we identified the man we had only seen briefly at the beginning of our internship (well, Keaira had seen him a bit more the previous summer and actually got a picture with him that went with an article about the internship program in NIH magazine, The Catalyst. I know. Fantastically nerdy name :)) from seven stories above. I have nooo idea. But it was him, and Keaira and I rushed to an elevator. We squealed about our good luck as we hammered the button for level one, ordering the doors to close faster, and for the craft to not stop for anybody. Luckily it didn't, and Keaira and I stumbled out of the elevator. We looked around frantically, spotted him, and collapsed onto chairs next to au bon Pain, pretending to be deeply engrossed in conversation as we passed covert glances at the building director, willing him to break away from his pack of lab coat-wearing colleagues and walk in our direction. I glanced down, quite distressed that I had not kept my own lab coat on, or rather, Mrs. Mattia's lab coat. But there was nothing to be done, and Dr. Gallin was alone and headed our way.

I kicked Keaira under the table in excitement and she stood up, yanking me along. "Dr Gallin?" she called. He turned, and seemed surprised to see us addressing him. He did not know us, but we filled him in quite quickly, ending with, "Thanks for this opportunity. We love it here."

He smiled at us and we shook hands and he expressed his pleasure in the internship program as well. Then we said our good-byes and as he walked away Keaira and I turned to each other, foolish grins spreading over our faces. "I can't believe we did it." I exclaimed, and she nodded happily and we got celebratory hot chocolates from au bon Pain.

NIH loves me
NIH was very good to us interns. When it was Children's Day Keaira, Ashley and I got to go around with all the kids. We went through the lab and were shown different instruments and all sorts of things. We got to play games and were even awarded our own lab coats at the end. Mine still hangs proudly in my closet.

Toward the end of the summer we were given a much more detailed tour of the lab, which is the largest open lab in the world. It was conducted by this kindly woman who absolutely adored me :) Sometimes during the day I would have breaks and I would visit her, or I would visit this other lovely woman who loved when I asked her what she was doing, and would launch into very detailed descriptions of her work, making sure I understood each thing. She was an excellent teacher :)

I love Maryland
One day in Outpatient Phlebotomy we began discussing the Mormon Temple. They loved it. They kept talking about the beautiful lights and how they always looked forward to seeing it each year. When they found out I was Mormon they asked all sorts of questions, and it was very fun to talk to them about my religion. They all received copies of the Book of Mormon and were very touched by the gift, and when I came back to visit in the winter I brought them copies of the Visitor Center calendar for the month of December, because they all said they loved going.

That's what I love about Maryland. I love being around people of all different religions, ethnicities, backgrounds....I am so glad that I was born and raised here :)

I love NIH
I cannot say it enough, I love the National Institutes of Health. That internship was one of the best experiences of my life and even though that summer I got up at 5:45 every morning and did not get home till 5:30 at night and often collapsed into bed around 8:30 or 9 from pure exhaustion, and had no days off, I really loved working there.

I loved walking along the same halls with some of the greatest minds of our time. I loved seeing smiles everywhere I turned and always meeting nice people. I loved working with Mrs. Gina Mattia, and Mrs. Avis, and Mrs. Winnie, and Mrs. Sarah, and Pete, and Keaira, and Ashley, and Lachelle, and Jeffrey Swift, and all the fun secretaries for the lab and the wonderful Outpatient Phlebotomy staff and the lovely people in other sections of the lab. I loved working upstairs in the lab even if it was just me filing papers or making labels for Mrs. Gina's binders, because I knew that I was doing my job and that in performing some of the more tedious tasks, I was freeing up time for others to focus on helping patients and making the world a better, more disease-free place.

I am so grateful for the opportunity I was given, and I'd do it again in a heartbeat. Who knows? Maybe one day I'll be Dr. Gallin, or Mrs. Avis, or Mrs. Gina Mattia. Maybe. But wherever I end up being, I know that I have been made a better person because of the National Institutes of Health :)


  1. If you look at it deeply, learning how to do the procedure correctly will most probably land you a job that is indispensable and largely demanded. For individuals who want to engage in phlebotomy, there are phlebotomy training and certification courses that can be taken to be a certified phlebotomist.

  2. thanks for the info! and yeah, it's something I'm definitely interested in, and it's a possibility. NIH really changed my perspective on the medical field.