When I was “growing up” as a laboratory student in Indiana in 1970, there was a name synonymous with blood banking --Narcissa Hocker. Narcy, as she was known to her friends, was the supervisor of the blood bank at the Indiana University Medical Center in Indianapolis. Her reputation as the queen of blood banking was known throughout the state. She retired in 1992 as Emeritus Associate Professor from the IU School of Medicine. Even after her retirement, she was still involved in the blood bank at IUMC, returning weekly to help record data and teach students laboratory technique. At the age of 95, she died on May 26, 2018. On February 5, 2019, the IUPUI Faculty Council honored her with a memorial resolution.
Narcy was a great supporter of the Indiana Medical History Museum in Indianapolis, the oldest preserved pathology laboratory in the US. In 2005, as part of the Museum’s celebration of National Laboratory Professionals Week program, she participated in a panel discussion that recalled the early years of training for medical technologists. In the discussion, she revealed two things that have stuck with me over the years. 1) Her first career choice was physician--she wanted to be a missionary doctor, but was advised to become a medical technologist instead; 2) during a time when laboratory workers wore white nurse’s uniforms and white shoes (no nurse’s cap, of course), they frequently tucked a floral handkerchief loosely in their front pocket so a burst of color would pop out. Narcy said the all-white uniforms were so boring.
I have no doubt that Narcy would have helped many people as a missionary doctor, but her work in transfusion medicine touched many lives also, as you can read in the Council’s memorial resolution. The laboratory profession and the School were immeasurably fortunate to have her.
My interpretation of the bright handkerchiefs? I can’t help but wonder if there wasn’t another reason for the colorful display. I later learned that Narcy was not the only woman who received that same career advice. Perhaps these lively, dedicated, science-loving women were not merely making a fashion statement. Perhaps they were saying “I am a woman in white...but I am not a nurse.”
I recently found some of my mother’s flowery handkerchiefs when cleaning out her house. I don't have a front pocket anymore, but maybe I’ll just pin on one of those handkerchiefs during Lab Week. If anyone asks, I can tell them about Narcy and her fellow women in white.
All photos from Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives
University Library, IUPUI