Wednesday, April 26, 2017

I will remember you (Musings on TM colleagues past)

Updated: 30 April 2017 (Fixed typos)

April's blog focuses on a friend and colleague who recently died. How to write about Kathy Chambers after she so suddenly and unexpectedly died? Celebrate her life with a series of anecdotes on how she affected Canada's transfusion and quality community and beyond and especially those she closely worked with. 

Kathy's was the first blog in the CSTM's 'I will remember you' series (Further Reading). This blog allows me to be more personal and intimate.

For those who didn't know Kathy, I hope the blog has interest and value as a narrative on the complex interpersonal and mentoring relationships that exist in the transfusion workplace, indeed, any workplace. As you read it I encourage you to think of your own colleagues and how you interact.

The blog's title derives from one of Canadian Sarah McLachlan's songs.

Upon first meeting Kathy when she worked as a senior in the transfusion service of UAH, Edmonton I was struck by how she was so no-BS and down-to-earth, true to her Saskatchewan roots. She told it how it was, without the soft edges of political correctness. 

My gawd, I thought, this is the hard-nosed technologist I must collaborate with to develop the students' blood bank rotation experience? She was confident and a bit intimidating. If intimidating to me, an experienced transfusion professional, how would she appear to the 'kids' (as I call them to this day). 

Well, I needn't have worried. Kathy turned out to be the proverbial 'egg', hard on the outside and soft on the inside. She truly wanted the vulnerable neophytes (students) to have a good experience, to learn and grow during their clinical rotation. Kathy's confident exterior was intimidating, but she was warm and caring too, a trait that became increasingly clear the more I got to know her. 

Someone you could treasure as a lifelong friend no matter where life's divergent paths take you. 

At the CSTM 2000 conference in Quebec City, 10 years after she'd left Edmonton, Kathy introduced me to the then BC PBCO medical director and put me forth as the webmaster/content coordinator of its TraQ website. The offer came out-of-the-blue, totally unexpected, and was very kind given that we hadn't kept in close touch over the years. 

That conference generated many laughs. Kathy had such joie de vivre, always smiling and sharing an unspoken joke. 

TraQ was a dream job because I'd recently left a tenured position in MLS at the University of Alberta. After 22 years it was time for a new adventure and to give some of the 'kids' I'd taught a chance to transmogrify the job into the 21st C.

On subsequent trips to Vancouver for TraQ, and later on a CBS educational website project, Kathy always picked me up at the Vancouver airport (a chore in itself, given the traffic) and I stayed at her home and got to know her up close and personal.

One tidbit I recall is how we'd sit on her back deck each morning over coffee and she'd laughingly point out the neighbours who were suspected drug dealers.

To my surprise, I learned that Kathy gave me significant credit for something I took as normal. During her time in Edmonton she'd undertaken an ART (Advanced Registered Technologist), no longer offered by the now CSMLS. The ART was a way for Canadian medical technologists without BSc degrees to qualify for supervisory and managerial positions in clinical laboratories. 

Part of the ART requirement, besides a research project and oral examination, was a literature review. Kathy's lit review needed quite a bit of work and, as an experienced instructor, I gently suggested how she might improve it. Goodness knows who had taught her in the past because she inexplicably credited me for being a kind mentor and never forgot it. 

I suspect it formed the basis of her many acts of kindness to me over almost 40 years.

Fits with my experience that what we remember in life is mainly a series of small events (sometimes even seconds long) that strongly affect us positively or negatively and that we recall for the rest of our lives. 

I'm so glad that Kathy saw a small act in a positive light because her resulting kindness made my post-Med Lab Science career.

In 2000, Kathy and I were approached by Heather Hume, who had a vision to create a CBS educational website, which we did (2000-2003). Still think the site was a vein-to-vein masterpiece but impossible to maintain without considerable resources. Today, it's morphed to CBS's Professional Education site.

We had so much fun creating the original website. And I learned a lot from Kathy. Her breadth of experience was incredible. 

Towards the end of the project, Kathy and I had a parting of the ways, so to speak. The details are not important but, in retrospect, the fault was all mine. Indeed, Kathy went out of her way to rectify the situation and soothe my feelings but I was the stupid, hurt-feelings, hard-headed one. Keep this in mind for what comes next.

In 2007 I formed a consortium that was eventually hired by Alberta Health & Wellness to develop a Provincial Blood Contingency Plan to deal with severe blood shortages from pandemics and other causes (July 3 - Nov. 30, 2007). Folks I asked to form the Consortium included Penny Chan, Maureen Patterson, Dianne Powell, and Maureen [Webb] Ffoulkes-Jones, and yes, Kathy Chambers. 

As it turned out, Kathy Chambers became the 'de facto' lead under difficult circumstances and led the project to its successful conclusion. Quite an accomplishment and one that showed she had the 'right stuff', which I never doubted for a moment. 

Those of us involved refer to it as the 'project from hell' and Kathy was its saviour.  We can laugh about it now but not then.

When CSTM asked me to do a series of 'I will remember you' blogs, the first person I thought of was Kathy Chambers. She agreed without hesitating and, as was typical of her, quickly delivered the 'goodies' needed for the blog. 

Kathy was so talented and efficient throughout her entire career. How the heck could she have such focus? Amazing woman! A force of nature, a 'oner'. Like many in Canada and beyond, I'm fortunate to have known and learned from her. 

My best memories are of the many laughs we shared. Cannot see Kathy's face without a smile. I hope readers will recognize themselves and colleagues such as Kathy who have affected their lives for the better. 

Naturally, I've chosen Sarah McLachlan's song for this blog:
I will remember you, will you remember me? 
Don't let your life pass you by 
Weep not for the memories.