Ike Armstrong

Former Lab Administrative Manager
Part-time: 1960-64
Full-time: 1966-1990

FROM PIPETTES TO ROBOTICS

After my retirement from the United States Navy, I began working at MedStar Washington Hospital Center's clinical lab full-time in 1966. A 24-hour-a-day operation, the lab was the largest and most advanced in the area, and also painstakingly labor-intensive. At its height, we employed about 220 part-time and full-time staff, making us nearly as large as the nursing department. Now, of course, the lab is so streamlined with computers and automation that it most probably employs less than half that.

During most of my career, we did everything manually and, in the case of pipettes, by mouth. Needless to say -since we were often dealing with carcinogenic and corrosive reagents, like ether, acetone, and so on - that could be dangerous! So to prevent us from accidentally swallowing any of the materials, we used to place cotton over the oral ends - not too sophisticated, but it worked.

We also washed glassware by hand, dried it in the ovens and sterilized contaminated materials in the autoclave. We performed colormetric and reagent tests, bio-chemistry assays, and everything else without benefit of today's sophisticated computer programs and technology.

Right from the beginning, MedStar Washington Hospital Center was a leader in clinical laboratory medicine. No one took on what we did: supporting heart transplantation, open heart surgery, cardiac catheterization and MedSTAR with clinical and pathological testing. Because of the heart transplant program, we were the only civilian hospital in the metropolitan area to operate a frozen blood program.

In 1982, we became the first hospital-based lab in the area to become computerized. We were networked with the floors, units, OR and ED, so for the first time, results could be accessed from any patient care area, instantly. Previously, we relied on paper, pneumatic tubes and phones to deliver results.

MedStar Washington Hospital Center was very much a family, and I was glad to have been a part of it.