It’s not uncommon for Laura Hackman to arrive from work at the end of a shift and find she’s tracked tiny white flakes of paraffin around her home. To work in DynaLIFE’s anatomic pathology department is to toy with wax.
Wax pellets are continuously melted and hardened and melted again to create the perpetual stream of liquid paraffin needed to embed tissue samples for testing. Flakes are a by-product of the embedding and cutting processes.
“They’re in your hair. It’s on your clothes. You end up finding it everywhere,” Hackman says, smiling. “Those flakes have a way of hanging on to things.”
Over 29 years with DynaLIFE, Hackman has come to regard the malleable medium as one of the last bastions of the early, modern diagnostic world.
“Our industry is always being shaped by technology. Those changes have driven us where we’ve gone. Creating these blocks of tissue with wax individually is one of the last manual fields left,” Hackman says.
Although technology is still developing a more elegant solution to paraffin sample preparation, Hackman is aware of how it’s changed the workload in DynaLIFE’s anatomic pathology department.
“Technology has impacted the volume of samples we can prepare and the number of issues pathologists can identify. When I started in this department in 1999, a busy day saw us creating 1,200 tissue sample blocks. Now that’s a slow day. On a busy day, we’ll process 2,600 blocks.”
Hackman attributes the increase to advances in proactive medicine.
Since her first days as a blood collector at the Charles Camsell Hospital, through her early work with Hanson Labs, and into progressively senior roles as a lab technologist and now assistant manager, “I think people are getting more preventative scopes, screens and biopsies,” she says, which increases the demand for pathology services.
The consistency with which DynaLIFE has provided those services to Albertans mirrors Hackman’s work-life routine. Having raised two kids – now 21 and 19 – with her husband, she now finds comfort in predictability, stability and knowledge.
“It’s why I rewatch movies,” she says. “I don’t want to invest time in something that’s unknown and might upset me. I like to stick to things I’ve seen.”
Dependability is the corporate characteristic Hackman most identifies with at DynaLIFE.
“I’ve been very fortunate to be here for so long, with a company that does so much more for the community than I think people realize. A lot of us have had different experiences within the company, so you’re constantly able to take something you learned here and apply it there,” she says, gesturing about her head as if to recall memories and skills acquired over her career.
“Our jobs are engaging and challenging, and the people we work with like a family. The management team has always supported us and helped us transition and adapt to the new environment.”
Hackman is talking about COVID-19. It came along just as DynaLIFE implemented new systems to improve its services and build its Calgary capacity. The pandemic has increased demands across all departments, especially anatomic pathology.
She nods at the suggestion that wax is as much a figurative glue as it is literal.
“It holds everything together,” she says.