The breathalyzer

Why is there so much controversy about drug testing? I know plenty of guys who would be willing to test any drug they could come up with.
– George Carlin

So yesterday was a unique experience. I thought we were saving all of those for Asia, but this story is definitely worth re-telling.

For those of you who don’t know, I work as a contractor and to begin my contract for working in Korea, I had to undergo what I thought was a traditional drug screening test. Read: go to the lab, pee in a cup, sign some stuff and leave.

Little did I know…

I arrived at the doctor’s office (yes, a primary care clinic) as instructed by my contract agency representative. Filled out some triage paperwork, and asked for a cup of water to make sure I was ready to beast this test. That backfired later, but I digress.

As I waited, I was entertained by HGTV’s House Hunters: RV edition (not a joke) before hearing my name called by a lovely older woman with a heavy Spanish accent. She escorted me to the exam room where she began to explain the procedures for the drug screening, throwing in a “sweetie” and a “baby” here and there. To be sure I understood what was required of me, she made sure to help me clasp my hands around the specimen collection cups and sample vials, repeatedly nodding while she gave me directions very slowly.

Fast forward through the uncomfortable personal details…

And then I signed the paperwork indicating my specimen had been provided. Fine and dandy, good to go! …oh, wait, not so much.

“Okay, and now we do the breath alcohol test”.

Excuse me, the WHAT? Do I look intoxicated?

Yes, folks, I was about to partake in my very first breathalyzer test. Well, if you consider “about to” to last 45 minutes. Don’t even get me started on why in the world one needs a breathalyzer test for an office job.

First things first, the computer must be booted up to connect to the breathalyzer machine. The breathalyzer is this hunky brick of a thing that is wired up to a tractor-feed printer. It connects to an air tank (looks like a fire extinguisher) on the wall for calibration purposes, and has a place to insert a plastic mouthpiece to carry out the test. Can I just ask for a minute how a clinic requires such heavy equipment to carry out a test that a cop can do on the side of the road?

Back to my dearest lab tech. The computer is not connecting the breathalyzer, and the breathalyzer is not providing any sort of calibration reading, so we must make 12 or so phone calls to various other medical professionals (all sitting in nearby offices) to ask what the problem could be. And take a couple of quick personal phone calls in between. All the while, she vented her frustration with the technical difficulties by stamping her feet on the ground really, really hard. If I wasn’t a little bit afraid, I’d say it was actually kind of cute.

Troubleshooting method number 2: the breathalyzer “is too cold”, so “I need to warm it up”. Commence rubbing the brick all over her scrubs, her lab coat, and even the computer chair in the room. Yes, to warm it up. Oh, also sometimes the light in the room helps warm it up faster, so we needed to hold it up under a lamp for a few milliseconds to see if that would help. No go. Shocking.

“Well,” she says, after stamping her foot on the ground again, “this thing is not working. I cannot do breath alcohol test today. I can ask to get it working again, but I will have to reschedule”. Mind you, until now, I have tried my hardest to be patient, say nothing, and just watch as the mayhem ensued. I nearly said something about being unable to reschedule, as, I am moving out of the country in less than 48 hours. But before I could mention it…

“I have one more idea. I must take this out. I will go try the microwave.”


Well, apparently the microwave did the trick because she came back with another nurse (or lab tech, not sure) who simply watched her hook the breathalyzer back up to the computer and we were in business.

My friends, I blew a .000. Proof:

And there you have it, my very first breathalyzer test.

One response to “The breathalyzer”

  1. Mom

    That’s funny! And here I thought it was after we spoke on your way home from the concert.

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