The Long Goodbye

I started working for Medtronic on September 27th, 1999. I was jumping from one orthopedic company to another. In the town I grew up in, if you didn’t go to college you either worked at Dalton Foundry, R.R. Donnelley & Sons(major printing company for years), or you lucked out and got in with one of three major orthopedic companies in town: Zimmer, Biomet, or Depuy.

Warsaw was known as being “The Orthopedic Capital Of The World” for years. It was even plastered on one of the signs that welcomed you to our city among lakes and corn fields. My dad took the printing route and worked at R.R. Donnelley for fifty years. Started there in July of ’64 when he was still 17-years old. Got into a Journeyman program in the cylinder making dept. and stayed there his entire career there, until he retired at 67-years old.

I saw that as an example of what you do as an adult. Graduate high school, find a job that pays decent, good benefits, and paid vacation and just hunker down till your hair goes gray, the AARP discounts roll in, and then spend your summers in your golden years travelling the country in an RV with your wife and pooch.

It didn’t sound too bad to me.

I wasn’t college material. I got that diploma in June of 1992 and scattered with the wind. I had no desire to do that again on a college level. I was working 3rd shift at Owens grocery store stocking shelves, making $6.25 an hour and that seemed doable. I worked every other night, so on the nights I didn’t work I’d hang out with my cousin Josh and we’d dream about having a band and playing gigs(something we did years later.) And when nobody was available I’d sleep all day and then wake up sad missing my girlfriend who did go to college, on a music scholarship to East Tennessee State University. That was in Johnson City, Tenn, which was quite a ways from northeast Indiana.

Eventually I quit the grocery store and rented movies to locals at Video World. I honestly loved that job. I could take movies home at night for free, all the Pepsi and snacks I could handle during my shifts, and you saw the strangest of the strange coming out of the “back room” every night. I also got a discount on CD purchases, which was a great incentive.

The owner also had boxes upon boxes of old Betamax tapes he rented when he first opened in 1983, before switching over to only VHS. We still had a working Betamax player at home, so I’d take piles of titles like Five Easy Pieces, Let It Be, Wolfen, Miller’s Crossing, and The Evil Dead and I may or may not have dubbed said films onto blank VHS tapes(not sure how long that statute of limitations is on that particular crime.)

Eventually my girlfriend moved back home because it just wasn’t working out in Tennessee(or maybe she missed me as well) and got a job at Hook’s Drug Store, while taking classes locally. In the summer of 1993 I bid adieu to the porn rental hustle and took a job at another local printer called The Paper. I delivered bundles of papers to route drivers, as well as dropping off one of our free rags to businesses all over northeast Indiana. That job was long days and pretty hard work, and for little pay.

After a 14-hour day I got a call late at night from my old guitar teacher who was a manager at one of those local orthopedic companies, Biomet. He offered me a job if I wanted it. This was actually the second job he’d offered me. The first one was two months prior, right when I started working for The Paper. I turned him down but said he should interview my girlfriend, which he did and hired her. So now we both got the golden tickets, and I told The Paper goodbye.

I felt at that point that I’d found that lifetime job. Within two years my girlfriend and I got our first apartment together. Within three years we were married and built our home. By August of 1999 my wife was pregnant. I was working as an Distributor Inventory Auditor, which meant I traveled around the country to various Biomet distributorships and did an inventory of their consigned product. It’s as lame as it sounds, but I got to stay in many hotels and drink in various lounges and TGI Fridays around this great country. I knew I needed a different job, though. I didn’t want to be in Odessa, Texas and have something happen with the baby that had yet to be born. We’d suffered a miscarriage the year before and I couldn’t imagine not being here if something happened.

I saw an ad in the paper for a shipping/receiving clerk at a smaller local orthopedic company called Sofamor Danek. They were originally Warsaw Orthopedics but were bought by a French company. At the time I was giving them my resume they had just been bought again by a Minneapolis-based company called Medtronic. Medtronic was known for defibrillators and pacemakers, but wanted to get in on the orthopedic game. Sofamor Danek was in the spinal racket, a relatively young and unknown field in orthopedics, but they were rising fast to the top of that field.

Well on September 27, 1999, I was hired and a left Biomet. It was a weird transition after working at the same place for 6 years, but it felt like the right thing to do. It was loud and chaotic and it felt as if there was no rhyme or reason. I was seriously regretting my decision to leave, but I stuck it out. It helped that another guy was hired in the exact same day as me, into the same department, and his name was John as well. He was ten years older than me, but we connected pretty quickly. Into a lot of the same music, similar sense of humors, and felt like we’d made huge mistakes. But within two months we’d gotten $2 an hour raises and I was making more hourly than I was on salary at Biomet.

Chaotic or not, I was sticking it out.

By May of 2000 my wife and I had a beautiful baby girl and by September of 2000 my wife decided to stay home with her, as opposed to going back to work and having someone else raise her for us. It was tight, but we paid off our vehicles with her stock she sold and I was making enough to support the three of us(as well as our two mini schnauzers.) It felt like maybe this was my R.R. Donnelleys. Stay-at-home mom that dabbled in Tupperware and kids toys on the side, while dad worked 8 hour shifts at Medtronic and provided the bread that put a roof over our heads and food in the pantry.

By March of 2005 we had three kids(we’d also gone through another miscarriage between our oldest and our middle child.) Things were significantly tighter financially and stress was more of an issue, but we made it work. That job helped make it work.

As the kids got older things got easier, but with new challenges like after school activities, school functions, after school jobs, and kids on different school schedules. My wife started working in the evenings, so I became second shift warden. It worked out, as both of us could make money and still not have to hire daycare. Plus with ample amounts of vacation time my job offered I could call off if someone was sick(or if I just needed a day away from work.

Through the years there were hints that things weren’t all that great in the orthopedic world. Pay-to-play came to light, with orthopedic companies gifting doctors lavish vacations in order to sway their opinion on the product. This led to government regulations banning such practices. Gifts over $50 were forbidden(even had to return a bottle of wine a supplier offered up last Christmas.)

Also, as time has gone on less doctors are willing to suggest surgery. Sure, bone-on-bone knees, trauma from car accidents, and the loss of leg use are pretty extreme cases that require implantation for better quality of life. But more doctors these days are going the pain management route; physical therapy, lifestyle changes, yoga,…whatever doesn’t involve going under the knife.

In 2013 we had the first layoffs I’d ever experienced working for Medtronic. Over 50 people were let go in various positions; from engineers to Quality Techs to office personnel to shipping/receiving. In 2017 there was another layoff with close to another 50 let go, including one of our own. They had also offered early retirement to those 59 and older, so add to the original 50 another 45 or so folks gone.

Then at the beginning of 2020 there was yet another layoff with another 35 or so employees given their pink slips, with the promise of at least another 50 employees losing their jobs due to moving manufacturing overseas. But with the hit of Covid the layoffs were put on hold. We did see close to 15 or 20 machines leave the building throughout last year, heading off to Puerto Rico for their new home.

I do need to say this, with the layoffs the company did offer fair and signifcant packages to those that were let go. Depending on how long you worked there, you were offered so many pay checks for every year you had worked there. You still have no benefits or future earnings, but you’ve got a few months of pay to figure shit out. That’s not nothing.

So what is all of this? Why am I going down employment memory lane with you all? Last Wednesday we found out that by late 2024 Medtronic is closing the manufacturing facility here in Warsaw and moving all manufacturing to Puerto Rico. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. Decision is final.

We’re going out of business. Everything must go.

Well, not really. Just moving manufacturing to far cheaper taxes and cheaper labor costs, that’s all. They will be letting people go in phases, starting in January. As processes get approved at the Puerto Rico plant, they will be shutting down said processes here in Warsaw. We still have projects to finish in Warsaw, but will not be getting any new projects. So we’ll be dead plant working until the tap on the shoulder tells us its time to haunt someone else’s hallowed halls.

If I make it to the bitter end(and I will stick around as long as they let me), I will have been employed by Medtronic for 25 years. It’s no 50 years like my dad, but its something. I’ll leave with a nice cushion, and hopefully will have something else lined up so I can take that year’s worth of pay and just bank it.

But I gotta say, it does sting.

The benefits, vacation, the camaraderie,…all of it gone. I’ll still be 15 years away from retirement, so I’ll have to start all over again. At 50 years old. The prospect of that seems daunting and sad, but I have to keep telling myself it’s not the end of the world. Well, I guess it sort of is. My career with Medtronic is like Alderaan, and I’m watching the Death Star lining it into its sights ready to blow that shit up in three years.

But though I’m not Leia Organa, I’m me. And I usually figure things out. Hell, I’ve got three years to figure it out(hopefully.) My kids will all be grown and over 18 by then. I know I don’t want to work in orthopedics again. Mainly for the reasons I stated earlier. Plus, I’ve been working in orthopedics since 1993. Since the age of 19 I’ve been hearing about the miracles and life-healing work in the field of orthopedics. While I agree that there are certainly some cases where orthopedic implants can truly change one’s life for the better, I’ve just been behind the scenes for too long that I know the crap that goes with all of this.

There’s nothing magical about this world. It’s people working 10 to 12 hour days for two or three week straight to hit dead lines created by other people that have no idea the time it takes to make things happen. There’s no need to move jobs overseas…other than money for the top-rising cream. You have folks that have been running machines, inspecting parts, hitting dead lines, planning machining, buying components, maintaining machines for years and years. If ever there were experts in a field, the guys and gals I’ve worked with for the last 22 years are it.

But I digress.

The cog isn’t supposed to question the gears, so on and so forth. The cog does its job until the gears say they’re no longer moving. Well in three years the gears are done. I’m sad. Sure, for losing the benefits of being gainfully employed by a billion dollar corporation. But more so for the end of an era. I started that job with a wife, two dogs, and a baby on the way. I’ll end it with a wife, one dog(hopefully), and three adult children. I’ll never speak ill of the company that put food on the table, a roof over our heads, vehicles to cart our kids around in, and just the genuine sense of security a job like that offers. It afforded me luxuries a lot of jobs don’t. And yes, there was a certain amount of pride with saying that I worked for Medtronic.

But if I had it my way, I’d have liked to have retired from there. Maybe had a joyful get together in the break room with a cake involved that said ‘Congratulations, John!” written in Medtronic blue. Possibly some hand shakes and pats on the backs right before I grabbed that cardboard box with my Keurig and just a few things from my desk. Some old school photos of the kids, a weird clown my oldest made me out of construction paper when she was 4, and some random CDs that had been in my bottom drawer since 2008. I’d savor that walk to the car, filled with bittersweet memories and that overwhelming sense of freedom. That freedom I felt that night in June of 1992 when that diploma hit my hand. That was magical.

It was a feeling of accomplishment, just as that day of retirement would be. Now, it’s going to just be done. Cut off, prematurely. All the hard work, dedication, and company man rhetoric summed up in a package the size of a manila envelope. No cake. No Medtronic blue.

Just blue.

13 thoughts on “The Long Goodbye

  1. Maaaan, that blows. But it’s the way things are these days, have been for a long time. Both my grandfathers worked the same jobs from after the war until retirement. My dad worked the same job til he retired. And I’ve had so many jobs (yes, we moved provinces three times, but still) that I just kind of feel like that dream of staying in one place is gone. I’d say the fact that you got 25 years out of it is a gift itself.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s also that the medical field itself is in such flux. Orthopedics had a good 25 years of boom time, but that chicken has come home to roost, so to speak. It is what it is. I’ve got some time to figure it out.

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