Saving lives, behind the scenes
Editor’s note: the following article concludes Medical Laboratory Professionals Week (April 20 to 26).
by Melissa Peet
For The Morning Star
Patient care is supported by medical laboratory professionals. You may never see them, but their impact is broad. The following scenario is based on trauma cases faced by staff at Vernon Jubilee Hospital.
It’s 3:13 a.m. Paramedics have just removed an unknown man out of a tangled mess that used to be a truck, now wrapped around a tree. The ambulance rushes to the VJH Emergency Department. The laboratory receives a phone call from emergency staff: “MVC ETA 10 minutes.” The night laboratory crew, consisting of a medical laboratory technologist and a medical laboratory assistant, begin to prepare.
The laboratory assistant positions herself down by the trauma bay located in the Emergency department. She is here as part of a team that helps save lives – and tonight they will.
Once the unknown man has arrived in the trauma room, the medical laboratory assistant collects several tubes of blood and places a numbered red band on the patient’s wrist. This may be the only piece of information that identifies the patient until the emergency staff find out who he really is. The blood samples are labelled UNKNOWN MALE, with the red band corresponding number. The medical laboratory assistant sends these samples STAT to the laboratory where they are analyzed by the medical laboratory technologist.
A phone call is received from the emergency department to the transfusion medicine department of the laboratory, also known as the Blood Bank.
“Two units O neg STAT to Trauma One.”
The unknown man is bleeding internally from his injuries, and these injuries are so severe he could die. The medical laboratory technologist removes two units of O negative red blood cells out of the fridge and places them in a cooler with ice packs. She runs them down to the trauma room and hands them over to the trauma team to be immediately transfused.
The medical laboratory technologist checks the patient’s complete blood count. The test results show a critical low hemoglobin, signifying the bleeding is severe. The technologist phones the emergency department to alert them. The emergency department then requests two additional units of “O neg STAT.”
Meanwhile, the blood-alcohol that was ordered on the unknown patient is initially too high for the analyzer to read. The sample needs to be tested again. A calculation is performed to obtain the final blood alcohol result: a critically high blood-alcohol reading.
Results are relayed to the emergency department by the medical laboratory technologist, who is also working in the blood bank, performing what is called a “group and screen.”
Within seconds the unknown man’s blood type is determined. Further testing is performed for an antibody screen, looking for any antibodies the patient may have that could potentially cause a life-threatening transfusion reaction.
His blood type is A positive and there are no antibodies in the patient’s blood. This is good news. The medical laboratory technologist can now cross-match A positive units of red blood cells. Group-specific blood can now be safely transfused to the patient.
It’s 4:36 a.m. and the unknown man’s bleeding is now under control. He is sent up to the operating room for surgery. Throughout surgery and his post-operative recovery, the medical laboratory assistants and medical laboratory technologists will continue to collect samples, analyze them and ensure that the physicians and medical team have the information they require to treat the patient.
These highly-trained and skilled individuals represent a critical component of the care team at Vernon Jubilee Hospital.
They are on-site, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to deal with traumas, acute care patients, the out-patient community and anything that comes through the hospital doors.
Melissa Peet is a lab technologist at VJH.