Feminine pad

Feminine hygiene products were just about the furthest thing from my mind when I signed on to become a medical lab tech in the 1970’s.

I was fully prepared for thick, crimson blood in glass tubes and straw-coloured urine in clear plastic containers. I was even able to entertain the thought that I would deal with an occasional stinky stool sample in an AIRTIGHT container. The thought of any other sample types just never floated into my consciousness.

But hell, I’m flexible and can adjust on the fly just like you and everyone else out there, right?

Every field has its unusual somewhat surreal moments. Well, this is one of mine.

A few years back, a fellow female lab staff member asked me if I would come to the front desk of the laboratory. A male patient had asked to speak with a male employee — men in labs are a fairly uncommon commodity, don’t ask me why? — and as I was the only man on site that morning, I agreed to come and see what it was he needed.

E. coli urine sample

I replaced the plastic lid back onto the agar plate growing bright-pink E.coli bacteria colonies from a urine sample, set it back onto my desk and headed to the front of the lab.

I greeted a man in his mid-30’s. We shook hands and then I led him into the small pathologists’ office and pushed the door closed for privacy. Curious to know what was coming, I perched my backside onto the corner of the large wooden desk that rested next to the window.

-Good morning, I’m Larry Green, a lab technologist … what can I do for you today?

Well, I’m hoping you can do some lab tests that will tell me if my wife is having an affair.

SAY WHAT!!!??? I began to plot my escape…

Well Sir, I’m not sure I know of any lab test that can do that.

The man combed his fingers through his hair and nervously cleared his throat. Then he reached into the bottom of his coat pocket. He fished and fumbled around a bit before extracting a small white, tightly rolled-up bundle, and with a sad look in his eyes, held it out for me to see.

Interesting … looks like a marshmallow … or … oh no … a feminine hygiene PAD!

–I took this, my wife’s used tampon from the garbage basket at home. I’m pretty sure she’s been having sex with another man. Do you think that you can test the tampon for the presence of semen? I have to know if there’s something going on but I can’t bring myself to ask her directly. If you could find out if there’s another man’s sperm on this, I would know for sure.

Wife-Got-Caught-Cheating Cow

He outlined to me how he had been suspicious about an affair for some time, and explained in WAY WAY more detail than I needed about when he thought sexual escapades had occurred.

I tried my hardest not to appear stunned at the request and his story but I’m sure I must have looked gobsmacked.

Struck by the black humour of the situation, I had a brief moment of horror where I thought I might burst out laughing; wouldn’t that have been terrible? This was an obviously distressed fellow, and a bout of laughter on my part would have devastated him I’m sure.

My mind raced for an answer to the situation.

An infidelity lab test?

Did I look like Ann Landers? Or Dr. Oz or Phil?

Ummm, I’m sorry but I don’t think I can do anything to help you because it could result in legal action on either your’s or your wife’s part. You have some pretty grave concerns here. I think you might want to contact a lawyer and ask what you might do if you would like to pursue this further.

He thought about it.

He looked heartbroken and defeated, and probably felt pretty humiliated just having to explain the situation to a stranger. But he hesitantly agreed and said that he understood.  He slipped the biological “evidence” back into his pocket.

We shook hands again — I washed mine thoroughly as soon as he left — and I escorted him to the lab’s front door.

I last saw the poor shrunken man slip like a ghost through the doorway of the stairwell and disappear.

What would you do?

As he walked away, I began to think of what I would do in the same situation. How low can a person sink when they feel another is doing them an injustice?

I felt really badly for this guy. Not just because of what he thought his wife had done, but also because he had allowed himself to become a victim. Granted, human frailties are a part of what we are and, like it or not, we can’t just turn them off with a switch. Frailties? Yes, I have a few.

But this man didn’t own his own world. He was a slave to someone else’s actions and decisions. And instead of finding a way to deal head on with the pain he was feeling, he came to me looking for the answer.

He was like Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music. He wanted to spin free on the hillsides, his arms spread wide, singing to the open skies surrounding him.

But instead, he was crouching hidden in the dark corners of life, making himself a prisoner of the dictator inside his own head. He was his own cruel Nazi captor. There was nothing I could offer him that would let him out of his self-made cell.

A face-to-face talk with his wife or a sit-down chat with a counsellor would take him to a better place than a visit with a hapless, helpless lab tech like me.


I have a difficult time now each time I wander past the feminine hygiene aisle in the supermarket. These products may allow women to joyfully live through “Life’s ups and downs, cycles and changes” and to Have a Happy Period.

But the pretty pictures of butterflies and smiling young girls on the packaging just make me feel sad for the one sorrowful fellow I met who went through his own very difficult “period”.

Somehow, working with stinky stool samples never seemed as bad to me after that day.

And occasionally, just occasionally, when no one is watching, I just want to put down my culture plates, stand up and twirl carefree beside my desk.