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San Angelo Lifestyles

Labor of Love

Aug 28, 2019 05:50PM
written by becca nelson sankey | photos by becca nelson sankey & provided by elma delacruz



Fresh out of high school, Elma DeLaCruz took her first job at San Angelo Community Hospital, then known as Angelo Clinic. As time went on, the hospital’s name and location changed, and so too did DeLaCruz’s job once she was promoted. Her home life evolved too, as she married, became a mother and grandmother, and eventually a widow. Being an employee of Community Hospital, a job she held for 55 years until her retirement at age 73, was perhaps the one constant of her life. “I’m happy because I did what I could,” said Elma, now 75. “I’m a big believer in the Lord, and the Lord told me, ‘Time for you to quit.’ I feel that giving 55 years was a long time, and I did my best.”


 

In 55 years, Elma was never late for work, even though she had to arrive each morning at 4:30 a.m. “I would get up at 3 or 3:30, and I would take off and be there 10 or 15 minutes before,” she said. “Then when it was icy, I would take off an hour earlier. I would go slowly and park, and I would walk slow because I didn’t want to fall down in the ice.”


DeLaCruz graduated from San Angelo Central High School in 1961, and soon after landed a job at Angelo Clinic, which, at the time, was located on Beauregard Avenue, where the Butterfield Building currently stands. “I started at Downtown in Central Supply because a girl was pregnant, and she was leaving. So, I took her place and then we moved (to Community’s current location on Knickerbocker Road), and I got interested in the lab,” DeLaCruz said. “It was a lot of people, and you had communication with the patients, and that’s what I liked. I like to help people.”


 


In the new location, she worked as a phlebotomist, a lab technician that draws blood from patients. “The first time I started, I was shaking,” she admitted. “This guy, Conrad, had been doing it a while. I said, ‘Conrad, can you assist me? Because I’m scared.’ He said, ‘Sure. This is what you do.’ Boy, I was sweating. I stuck her, and I got it on the first stick. So then, I talked to the patient and put the bandage around her arm and said I was done. Conrad said, ‘You did good, Elma, for it being your first time!’”


DeLaCruz got even better with experience. Eventually, she said, other departments would call the lab for help with the hospital’s youngest patients. “They liked how I was with the babies because I would get them on the first stick. It breaks your heart to make them cry, but what could I do? I was doing my job,” she said, then added with a laugh, “I got pretty good at it.”


 

““It was a lot of people, and you had communication with the patients, and that’s what I liked. I like to help people.” –Elma DeLaCruz


The hospital built a new, larger lab on the second floor, and DeLaCruz worked as a phlebotomist there, too. She was promoted to order the tubes, needles, and lab equipment and eventually worked her way up to hematology, where she worked until her retirement. In hematology, DeLaCruz took pride in being able to calm harried doctors during stressful times. “One time a doctor came in, and oh he was mad because his blood was not done, and he was going to take that patient to surgery,” DeLaCruz recalled.


 

“I went over there and I said, ‘What time is the surgery?’ I said, ‘We’ll get it for you; mark what I’m saying. By the time you do your surgery, you’re going to have the blood ready.’ Sure enough, by the time he needed it, it was done. Doctors, they want their stuff, they want it now, and I don’t blame them. I love people, and I like to help the sick and being able to do something for somebody, it makes me feel good.”


She also found the hematology field fascinating. “It was my favorite department in the lab,” she said. “It was nice because you got to call the criticals. You run the blood and you find out if the patient is anemic. It also tells you your platelet count. If the platelets are real low, you can start bleeding. There’s one test that tells the WBC, the white blood cell count. The white count, if it’s over 10,000, that’s critical and you need to call the doctor immediately to let them know. Now if it’s too low, .7 or 1, there’s another issue. If your hemoglobin and hematocrit are below 10 or 9, then you call the doctor and let them know. It was very interesting.”



 

During her time at Community, DeLaCruz worked under 13 different CEOs; one gave her a special parking space reserved with a sign with her name on it. She still has the sign, along with laminated newspaper clippings about her service and photo albums documenting each of the receptions held in her honor, including the last one, for her retirement in 2016. “I had to go there and pick up all my things and everybody was crying saying, ‘We don’t want you to leave!’” DeLaCruz said. “I said, ‘I don’t either, but I have to.’”



 Elma with Community’s HR Director Lisa Bibb & then-CEO Jeremy Riney at her retirement reception September 1, 2016


Despite never having smoked or drank alcohol, DeLaCruz was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a condition that requires her to have constant oxygen. “At first I was lost. I’ll be honest,” she said of life after retirement. “But then I would get up about 6 o’clock and brush my teeth and wash my face and put on my coffee and sit down and watch the news. I enjoy the news very much.” DeLaCruz said she also spends her free time watching sports on television. “I love sports. Last night I didn’t go to bed until 12 because I was watching the World Series,” she said. “I watch football, the Cowboys; I watch college (ball). My favorite team is Texas A&M because my son and grandson graduated from there. We’re Aggies all the way.”


 

Nearly three years after her retirement, another life change loomed on the horizon. In the fall of 2018, DeLaCruz sold her home in north San Angelo and planned to move to Austin to live with her son and his wife. No doubt she’ll have plenty of photos and mementos of her time at Community with which to decorate the walls of the new mother-in-law suite that awaits her. “Things in life happen,” she mused. “You never know when you’re gonna get sick or worse. I wake up, and I’m happy every morning, and I just do my oxygen treatments and everything I’m supposed to do.”



Elma & her son, Anthony DeLaCruz


With a smile evident in her voice, she added simply, “I was happy, and I’m still happy.” † 

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