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Love in the Laboratory

Diane and DaveThis week, our internal publications – HUPdate, What’s New, and the Presby Bulletin – all focused on the people who keep hospital operations running throughout the evening and night shifts. Everyone who works an off-peak shift has a different reason for doing it. Some choose it because they enjoy working independently, or they prefer the quiet to the hustle and bustle of the dayshift. Others work those shifts in order to accommodate their family’s schedule. And still others do it because, well, it’s always worked for them. But any way you slice it, and regardless of why you do it, working while others are at home or asleep will change your life in ways you can’t imagine.

February 19, 1980: a day when nothing particularly special happened – at least not according to several historical web sites – but one Penn Medicine's David and Diane Talemal will never forget. It was the day that Presbyterian Medical Center brought them together, and changed their lives forever. 

Just a few months earlier, late in 1979, David Talemal, then 25, was holding down three part-time jobs and going to school for a Master’s in Chemistry.

Feeling burned out and in need of a “regular” job for a little while, David applied for positions in Pathology & Laboratory Medicine at both the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Presby – not yet then part of Penn Medicine. When he didn’t hear back from the folks at Presby, he quit his three part-time positions, put school on hold and started as a full-time employee on the dayshift at HUP. He was the first technologist hired in the newly formed Stat Lab. It was January 2, 1980.

Had Presby not come knocking just one month later, this might be the end of our story. However, then “competitor” Presby did come knocking and offered David a position on the evening shift. Preferring the later hours, David accepted the job. He would start in the evenings at Presby on February 19, 1980.

“I remember it was my first day; I didn’t know where I was going, or what I was doing, but I got to the elevator and there was this girl…,” recalls Talemal, laughing. “I thought, ‘She’s pretty cute. I wonder where she works. If it’s near me, this might not be so bad!’” 

He didn’t know her name, and he didn’t ask. They rode together on the elevator in silence, never exchanging a word. “We got to the fourth floor and we both got out,” he says, retelling the story as though it had happened just yesterday. “I went one way, and she went the other way. So, I didn’t even know her name or anything about her, but I knew she worked on the same floor and I thought ‘okay, maybe I’ll run into her sometime!” 

After a quick tour of the labs and a rundown of David’s responsibilities in his new role, the lab manager paired David with a colleague to show him the ropes and help him get his feet wet. Who do you suppose that colleague was?

“He takes me over to one of the labs and says ‘This is Diane, you’re going to be working with her today,’ and I couldn’t believe my luck. It was her.” 

“I remember seeing him in the elevator that first day, but I didn’t know who he was or anything,” says Diane, who was 23 when she first met David. “I wasn’t looking for a relationship at that time, but we started talking on his first day and we hit it off pretty quickly.”

Talemal says he went home that evening and called his mother. “It was 2 a.m. when I got home, but I called and woke her up anyway,” he says. “She thought something was wrong, me calling that late at night. But I told her ‘Mom, I just wanted you to know, I met the girl I’m going to marry.’ She said I was crazy and went back to bed.” 

It was only the second or third night of David’s shift when he, Diane and another co-worker decided to go out to Smokey Joe’s – a tavern at 40th and Walnut that’s become an “institution” at the University of Pennsylvania since it opened in the early 1960s – after their shift.

Photo (2)The rest, as they say, is history. Less than six months later, David Talemal and Diane Smith were engaged. And one year later, on August 1, 1981, the pair was married. 

This year, Diane and David both celebrate their 35th year at Presbyterian. Having met Diane, David, now the night shift supervisor, never went back to school. Instead, the two began their life together right there in Presby’s department of Path & Lab Med.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes over the years, but this has always worked for us,” says Diane, now the evening shift supervisor.

David and Diane worked the evening shift together for the first year or so, but when their first son was born, David switched to the night shift so the couple didn’t have to hire babysitters. Today, Diane and David have three children: a son, 32, and two daughters, 30 and 17. Balancing the family life with two parents who work “odd” hours has required some creativity over the years, especially when the kids were younger. Luckily for the growing family, the evening and night shifts had an hour of cross-over time. 

“David got in at 11:30 p.m. and my shift ended at 12:30 a.m., so when our kids were babies, we used that time to hand the kids off, or have dinner together,” says Diane. “As they got older, we were lucky enough that our managers allowed us to be somewhat flexible with our schedules so I could leave a little earlier and get home before David had to be at work for his shift.”

When the kids got older, Diane says another benefit was that she was always able to be home during the day, chaperoning field trips or helping with carpools for after-school activities. For his part, she says, David “had to learn how to do dinners and help with homework, while I was at work.” 

Diane and David have been working the evening and night shifts at PPMC ever since that fateful day back in 1980. That day, and that shift changed their lives in a much bigger way than they could have imagined. They found new dreams in one another, and their love grew… in the laboratory. 

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