You don’t often see things out of the ordinary as a laboratorian, but every once in a while you encounter something unusual, and where you can really make a difference.
Some years ago, I was working in Hematology at a Veterans Hospital in Loma Linda, CA. One day a gentleman came in with a fever and flu-like symptoms. I was doing his differential on his CBC, I noticed some strange looking red and blue comma shaped specs on the slide that I had never seen before. I marked up the specs with a grease pencil and showed the sample to our pathologist who was able to determine that it was a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii which causes a disease known as Toxoplasmosis. There are a number of ways you can contract this parasite, such as by eating undercooked meat, drinking contaminated water, or also by coming in contact with cat waste. When I questioned the patient, it turned out he was a cat owner; this was later identified as the source of the problem. That’s the best part of this job – being able to use your detective skills to help solve patient problems. When you’re successful, it can really make your day, week, even your year!
I joined this practice in 1993, where we specialize in Native American health care, dealing primarily with diabetes management. Statistics show that American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest prevalence of diabetes in the world. About 80-90 % of our patients are living with diabetes, so we’re typically monitoring their glycemic control through hemoglobin and urine testing. But we also sometimes see unusual things here as well. Just the other day, a young girl was brought into one of our satellite offices for a checkup. Again, we picked something unusual in her urine specimen, which turned out to be a parasite. Because we strive to provide test results in 15 minutes, the doctor was then able to diagnose and treat her before the condition got worse.
Even with our routine testing, I feel we really are making a difference, as our quick turnaround times allow our doctors to quickly evaluate our patients’ conditions and adjust their medication if necessary. Whether it’s helping to diagnose something routine or out of the ordinary, the lab plays a critical role in healthcare.