Changes

I said in my last post, now over six months ago, that life comes at you fast. Even then I had no idea just how fast.

This weekend is father’s day. I will not be celebrating, as my father passed away two months ago, just a statistic, the latest victim of a healthcare system that research suggests kills as many as 98,000 Americans annually through medical errors, misdiagnosis, and dosing errors. (1)

He did not have to die. It was my own home, my own people, my great love- medicine- that is responsible. A single laboratory test likely would have saved him, but perhaps we are not so far out of the dark ages of medicine as I thought.

But I am determined and this will not stop me. I spent the three months of his ICU stay travelling back and forth between Alaska and Seattle, a packed bag ready by the door for the call. I stayed in school, sometimes working on homework late into the night then getting up the next morning for an early shift. And when he died I went home, packed our house in a week, scored a 99% on my final exam, and moved back in with my mom in rural Idaho.

I don’t really want to make this post about my dad. Everything else in my life right now is. This post is about me and my journey. I believe now more strongly than ever in the importance of laboratory science and the power we hold to save lives.

I also have come to understand something to which I never applied much thought. Everyone has something to give, and it’s never too late to change the world. I cannot strongly enough encourage anyone who is reading this, if they haven’t already, to please sign up to be an organ donor. Donate Life America can help you with this, or it’s a simple box to check when you sign up for a driver’s license.

Now, on to other things. I have transitioned to being a full time student as there is not currently a position available for me at my new laboratory. This semester I am taking Principles of Hematology and Hemostasis and Microbiology. It was my initial hope through this blog to provide my first hand experiences of life in a clinical laboratory and admittedly, I’m starting a little late. However, it’s never too late to start, so keep an eye here for hopefully at least weekly posts about my adventures in hematology. I am required for my class to write a weekly log of my activities, and I have six backlogged from this semester so I may put them up at some point.

I also now have a twitter account on which I plan to try to share at least daily an interesting thing I have learned in my studies or research. I hope you’ll follow it and stay tuned for fascinating facts.

And of course, I am still baking. My new home has much more sunlight so I am hoping to get better shots.

I hope everyone has a lovely week and if you’re a father, happy father’s day.

(1) Medical Errors Kill Almost 100,000 Americans a Year. BMJ. 1999 December 11; 319 (7224): 1519.

The Science of Saving a Life

Christmas is over, a New Year has begun, and I am busy as hell.

I actually had this whole week off, and I was intending to spend it in the beautiful new library, obsessively preparing for this coming semester, which I have been told is to be brutal. Lee and I spent last week down south celebrating the holidays with my family and a week of quiet library time seemed the ideal way to preface the coming academic onslaught.

It was not to be.

The internet at large will forgive me sparing the gory details, and to those reading this that know me- everyone is going to be ok! But my “quiet” week has been a whirlwind of crowded last-minute flights, doctors, ICUs, surgeries, lots of uncertainty, and more body fluids than I think safe to discuss.

Peritoneal fluid mixed with bile, baby. Oh yeah.

So I’m in Seattle. In a hospital that’s not mine, a strange reversal from confident healthcare professional to exhausted and wide-eyed family member.

This is going somewhere, I swear. On Monday, I start my first real Med Tech class. I certainly didn’t expect to be starting it from a cot in the corner of an ICU room, but life comes at you fast, kids.

People ask me a lot why I chose to study medical laboratory science. It’s something most folks haven’t even heard of, never considered, but nonetheless might save their life someday. In fact, since doctors base something like 80% of their diagnostic and treatment decisions on information from the laboratory, there’s a pretty good chance that the lab will save their life, and yours, at some point.

Pasteur and Koch’s work with microorganisms and the germ theory of disease may have brought medicine into the modern age, but I firmly believe that it is the medical laboratory and the ability it grants to not just detect but quantify hidden properties of the body that will keep us there.

Your blood is like a book written about you, and the lab is the only place that can crack it open and read it. Your blood can tell us if you’re at risk for heart attack. It can tell us if you’re having a heart attack. It can tell us if you have an infection, if you’re anemic, if you have ovarian cancer, if you had a stroke, what your blood sugar has been for the last three months, if you lifted too many weights at the gym yesterday, and so on and so forth. New advances in genetic testing are even allowing us to take a peek inside your DNA for clues about everything from tailored medication dosage to risk of autoimmune disease.

So, it’s important. It’s exciting and fascinating and it matters. I don’t have the patience or the innate compassion to be a nurse. I don’t want to give up my life to become a doctor. But you can bet when you’re sick I’ll be there help, saving your life with science.

Post Script 1:  If you’re interested in learning more about lab science, the American Association of Clinical Chemistry publishes a great peer-reviewed resource called Lab Tests Online which provides detailed information on most laboratory tests as well as a variety of lab-related topics. Of particular interest: Inside the Lab.