While I was working for a few years in the large medical center in the New Orleans metropolitan area, I started having “Out of the Lab” experiences. Back then these were nearly unheard of and were often cast aside like “out of body” experiences. However I was curious what occurred outside of the laboratory dungeon so I ventured to where none of my fellow bench tech coworkers had ventured before …
First it was explaining to a nurse what made each person have their own blood type (i.e. people who have type “A” blood have this thing called the “A” antigen attached to each and every one of their red blood cells) and why it was OK to give someone with type AB blood a unit of type A PRBC – that stands for packed red blood cells for the muggles reading this blog. Since I took the time and thoroughness to explain it she was very appreciative and frequently called me for help with other issues.
Then it was the housekeeper who stumbled in the laboratory while the Anatomical Pathology walk-in refrigerator door was wide open and thought the hospital was selling body parts on the black market. Yes, I reassured him that was not what was going on and even explained why the pathologists needed to inspect all of the parts that had to be removed during surgeries. He was very appreciative, but I think he still had those conspiracy theories in the back of his mind.
There was the new ER resident who was trying to order labs and couldn’t find the right pneumonic in the computer system to order the test he wanted. I simply talked him through how to order it and he was very appreciative. [To be fair, the IT people programmed a BMP (or basic metabolic panel) to be ordered as LYTES+ so him and every other new resident or employee couldn’t figure out how to order the test in the computer either!]
I also went to local schools – elementary, middle, and high schools – talking about everything from how germs spread to different jobs and education needed to work in the medical laboratory.
Most of my co-workers felt these types of interactions were bothersome or an annoyance. And, I can understand why: most medical laboratories are so short-handed that bench scientists struggle daily with getting the enormous volume of work completed while working with instrumentation that are about as moody as one of the Maxine cartoons you see all the time. Every phone call is an interruption in that workflow. Every problem or issue that takes you away from your bench typically causes a delay in at least one patient’s results. I completely get it! The difference is that I enjoyed quite a few of those phone calls or interruptions because I could build a bridge between the lab and somewhere else.
I began taking these calls when my co-workers didn’t want to. And then they started calling specifically asking for me. This was essentially the beginning of my road to laboratory consultation – there just wasn’t a name or a clear path to make it official … yet.