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Did You Actually Go To Medical School?

Published August 16, 2014 by ia84

When I was in elementary school, I remember classmates circulating a story about a man who had gone in for surgery, and when he woke up he was missing a leg.  Depending on the person telling the story, he either lost both legs, or an arm and a leg, or both legs and both arms.  I’m pretty sure that at some point, in some telling of the tale, he woke up as the Headless Horseman (and was probably missing all his limbs as well).  I learned two things from this, A. Kid’s imaginations are kind of a gruesome playground, and, B. Don’t have surgery, because the doctor will mix you up with another patient and you WILL die (sans all limbs).

When I was in vet tech school, I remember sitting in surgical procedures class, and having a teacher tell us that it was super important to count all your gauze pads-and anything else that came into contact with the patient-before the patient got stitched up, because you didn’t want Fluffy coming back in for having a sponge left inside her accidentally (and having a severe infection from the foreign body).

You always hear stories like this, and I think on some level I didn’t quite believe them until a few years ago when my grampa was staying at a rehab center after surgery.  Two days before he was due to be released, the nurse gave him another patient’s meds.  Turned out that the other patient was taking high levels of morphine.  I’ve always hoped no one got my grampa’s meds, because he was taking large quantities of Coumadin (a blood thinner, for those who aren’t familiar with it).  Grampa ended up back in the hospital for a few days, and his release date got pushed back another week.

All of these things were enough to make me a little nervous about healthcare, but it wasn’t until I started working at the lab that I truly got scared of healthcare.

Now, let me just point out that there are absolutely amazing and fantastic nurses and doctors out there.  My goal here is not to bash, or cast out a net and say, “All healthcare professionals are this way.”  There are people who truly know what they’re doing and do an excellent job at it.  However, in the last year and a half, I’ve started to wonder how many of them there actually are.

I really love my job.  The work is interesting, and I’ve learned far more in the last year and a half than I ever learned in school.  I work in a medical reference lab.  We’re responsible for running tests that doctor’s offices and hospitals can’t run in-house.  I don’t personally perform any of the testing (I’d need a medical lab tech degree for that, and all I have is my vet tech degree and training as a phlebotomist), but I work in the processing department.  Instead of a long drawn out explanation, just think of it as a combination of quality assurance and client care.  I seem to spend a fair amount of time on the phone with clients, and for every call that is smooth and easy to work through, there seem to be about twenty that make you wish you were having a root canal instead.

For example, recently, I had to call a stat result to a doctor.  Not only did this doctor have zero people skills, but when I told him what I was calling about, what the test was, and what the result of the test was along with the normal reference ranges, he said, “I don’t understand what that means.”  It was all I could do not to reply, “You ordered this test!  This is your patient!  What do you mean you don’t understand?!”  Fortunately, it wasn’t a very unusual test, and after about five minutes I was able to explain it well enough to him that he seemed to have grasped whatever it was he didn’t understand.  I hung up the phone and just sat there feeling pity for his patients.

The thing is, those kinds of calls are not out of the norm.  A few weeks ago, one of my co-workers had to call a nurse because a specimen was received that had to be protected from light and frozen within 30 minutes of collection.  The specimen arrived frozen, but unprotected from light.  The nurse didn’t understand the problem, because she had gotten the specimen in the freezer in the 30 minutes.  My co-worker then had to explain that the specimen also needed to either be wrapped in tin foil (not only does it protect the specimen from light, but it protects it from aliens as well), or put into an amber colored tube.

It scares me when things aren’t labeled, or they’re mislabeled.  It scares me when a medical professional doesn’t know that you use a lavender tube to collect a CBC, instead of a serum tube.  It scares me when they don’t know the difference between serum and plasma.  It scares me when they don’t know how to operate a centrifuge.  It scares me when I have to explain something basic to someone who supposedly has more education than I do.  It scares me when people are more interested in discussing their horoscopes, than they are in doing their job correctly.  I don’t care if you’re a Cancer, I care about making sure that the guy with cancer gets prompt and accurate treatment.

I know that mistakes happen.  I know that doctors and nurses are only human.  Sometimes, though, I have to wonder why some of them decided to work in healthcare.  Must be the great hours and the glamorous uniforms.

I Can Be Your Herooooooooo

Published June 1, 2013 by ia84

Today as I was driving to work, I realized that I have not updated this blog in nearly a month.  I had a few posts I started writing, but it was all awkward and slightly disjointed.  Mostly, I just haven’t felt like I’ve had much to write about.  Lately, my days consist of getting up, exercising, going to work, coming home, exercising, and going to bed.  My weekends replace going to work with puppet rehearsal and errands.  Oh, yeah, I’ve also been having mini-panic attacks.  I guess I’m becoming a grown-up.

Y’know, part of being a grown up is dealing with things.  Things like failures and screw-ups.  The counselor I saw last fall told me I have an adjustment disorder.  In case you’re wondering, that’s fancy talk for “doesn’t like change or accept it gracefully, if at all.”  It’s pretty much true.  Weirdly, I remember a time when I really enjoyed change.  Every time my  family would move, I’d be excited (unlike normal kids who pitch a fit about their lives being ruined).  I was convinced that each move was just another adventure.  I loved adventures.  I loved seeing new things, and meeting new people (I still love seeing new things, but not so much the whole meeting new people).  I’m not sure when this optimism melted into terror.  I just know that somewhere in the last ten years, I began to fear change.  Change was never good, nothing good could come of it.

I’m a vet tech.  I’ve even got a license from the state of Nebraska to prove this.  This means that I clawed my way through an associate’s program.  Sure, I attended a for-profit school.  I know a lot of people look down their noses at this.  However, I wasn’t just handed a degree.  I had to learn and prove I could do things like run anesthesia on a living animal (and successfully keep it alive during surgery), take radiographs, pill a cat, draw blood from a horse, assist in surgery, perform manual CBC’s, memorize more parasite’s than House ever mentioned, and a pile of other things that involved a lot more poop, pee, and blood and a lot less playing with the cute kitties and doggies.  On top of that I had to take classes.  And pass tests.  And do a 56  hour ward care week every 10 weeks (this was frequently included holidays, and I couldn’t always get the week off from my job).  Not only did I do all this, but once I did finally graduate (test anxiety helped push my 18 month plan out to being almost 3 years), I had to face the board exam.  The board exam was 225 questions covering all aspects of being a veterinary technician.  200 of the questions were scored, and 25 were thrown out, and of course we weren’t told which were the magic questions that were getting tossed.  I passed it.

The job I mentioned above?  I hated it.  I really, really hated it.  (However, I met some amazing people, and met some pets that will forever have my heart).  Not at first.  At first I loved it.  I was working in a vet clinic, and that was fantastic.  I started as a receptionist, with the understanding that I would gradually be worked into a tech position as I got further in my education.  At least, that’s what I thought.  There were a lot of things that went wrong (and most I can’t talk about, because the clinic would probably hunt me down and send dementors to suck my soul out).  I can say that the little confidence I had was destroyed by that place.  In the early days, when I was actually enthusiastic about learning to be a tech, the doctor blew me off more than once when it came to helping.  She regularly chose to have anyone but me lend a hand.  I know I wasn’t the best tech (but believe me, I’ve seen worse).  I struggled.  Lack of feeling in my fingers made blood draws next to impossible.  Emergencies made my mind go blank.  Asking people for money while they were saying good-bye to their best friend set off nuclear explosions in my heart, and  by the time I left I was completely heartless.  There was just a void.  (And yes, I know that medicine is all about the money.  Believe me there is nothing like having to ask someone in the throes of grief  and waiting for the euthanasia med to be administered, for over $100.  And when you get someone who explodes and tears you apart for something that’s killing you inside, it’s too much.  I especially hated how everyone around me acted like I was being too melodramatic.  “Sure, we hate it too.” They’d say, as I’d get ushered in to do the unpleasantness.)

I kept telling myself that I couldn’t quit.  I needed the money.  I had to pay my bills.  I think God knew I’d stay there until I had a stroke.  The job came to a painful end, but it was truly for the best.  I’ve never regretted my decision to leave.

I spent the next year looking for a job.  Most jobs that I applied to, I got replies like this:

Thanks for your time last week.  I have hired an extern instead of a full-time tech for now.  If things don’t work out, I will keep your resume.  Again, thank you for your time and good luck.   (Yeah, because a ungraduated, unlicensed, unexperienced tech is always the better option.  I translated this e-mail to mean: We don’t have to pay them, and we’d have to pay you.)

And then there’s this little gem:

After evaluating all candidates for this position we have determined that another candidate more closely fits the requirements set forth for this position. Accordingly, you will not be considered further for this particular opportunity.  

Anyway, this has been a long meandering route to get to the heart of what I wanted to talk about.  Basically, the nearly 5 years of constant rejection did quite a number on me.  I’m not proud of this.  I should be made of tougher stuff, but I’m not.  Following leaving the clinic, I really struggled with the idea of ever working in animal healthcare again.

Today, I was at work, doing my usual thing, and as I worked, my brain started thinking about things.  Things I didn’t necessarily want to think about.  I founds myself wondering if I could ever do anything good in animal healthcare.  Then, something wonderful happened.  I got a phone call.  Well, not me personally, but I’m the person who happened to answer the phone.  On the other end of the line was a vet tech who was absolutely frantic.  (And this is about where I have to skip over a pile of details, because I’m not wanting to step on HIPAA’s toes).  Long, long story short, she had a problem, and I was able to fix it.  It was positive for her, her clinic, and the animal.

Now, no one at work got why I was excited about fixing the problem.  I had done good in animal healthcare for the first time in forever!  I got to be the hero of the story.