Tuesday, April 30, 2019

The thing called love (Musings on folks who work in medical labs)

Last updated: May 3, 2019 (See ADDENDUM below)
Another short blog, this one about National Medical Laboratory Week (NMLW), April 21-27, 2019. My story is one that's hardly ever told because oldsters like me don't normally write blogs,

Folks, I came to work in a clinical lab by an atypical route. To test myself, as an individual who was terrified of being asked a question in high school, I followed some of my pals into unusual UManitoba teacher training. We were to spend several summers in Faculty of Education and get BEd.

My most vivid memory was the Dean telling me I'd never be a good teacher because my handwriting was poor. Hard to believe but the dude said it to my face. Regardless, after the first 3-month summer session I was hired by a HS in Baldur, MB. That experience was wonderful and I'll never forget it. Many students were older than 20-yr-old me and their parents totally supported teachers.

However, when the opportunity arose to move back to Winnipeg and be near to my family, I took it. The opportunity came from a university pal who told me that Canadian Red Cross Blood Transfusion Services (CRC-BTS) hired BSc grads. In retrospect that was crazy as folks like me knew nil about blood and laboratory medicine.

Note: Winnipeg's CRC-BTS was unique in Canada, a combined blood centre and transfusion service for Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba and beyond into northern Ontario. BSc grads were hired because training for med lab technologists in Winnipeg was poor. CRC-BTS was the only show in town and the training community college students received was inadequate. Most were afraid to work in transfusion labs. Hence they hired untrained innocents like me.

Fact: When hired in 1964, I well recall asking CRC-BTS colleagues what the yellow stuff was after the whole blood donation had settled. My knowledge was NIL. Today I would never be hired and that's a good thing.

To flesh out the above tale of my start at CRC-BTS an excerpt from a 2014 blog, Bridge over troubled water (Musings on what to be thankful for as TM professionals):
The reason Canadian Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service hired BSc grads because most med lab tech grads from Red River Community College (RRCC) were afraid to work there.' I later learned the fear was largely because the clinical rotation was pathetic. Students spending most time labelling tubes and similar scut work in between being told by technologists to get the ABO group right or they could kill a patient. Did I mention the clinical rotation was only 2 weeks then? 
Soon I started work in a large combined blood centre and transfusion lab, the latter doing compatibility testing for all city hospitals and beyond, plus prenatal testing for northwestern Ontario. At first, I did not even know what the yellow stuff was when the red cells settled. 
I'm so thankful for the mentoring of generous colleagues. And for wanting and needing to read the 'bibles' of TM from front to back (every word). The books were penned by such icons as Issitt and Mollison, and included the AABB Technical Manual and a 'little red book' written for Red Cross staff by Dr. B.P.L. (Paddy) Moore (and others), National Director of the Red Cross Blood Group Reference Laboratory, who died in 2011. I wrote about Dr. Moore in a 2007 blog, 'My life as a blood eater.'  
I worked in Winnipeg for 13 years, got Subject certification in Transfusion Science (no longer offered) from what is now CSMLS. My last 3 years were as the clinical instructor for new laboratory staff, RRCC students, and medical residents doing a transfusion medicine rotation in the only show in town. How crazy is that?
Looking back, I'm thankful that I worked in a busy laboratory where you never knew what to expect. Besides the routine of pretransfusion testing for scheduled surgery and anemic patients, at any time 24/7 patients might need massive amounts of blood in a hurry from a ruptured aneurysm to a GI bleed to a placenta previa during delivery. Often the lab was chaotic but it was organized chaos, even if that's an oxymoron.
Moreover, I'm thankful that in those days work was mostly hands-on and issues arose daily that required problem solving. For example, I worked with Dr. John Bowman when he did the first trials of antenatal Rh immune globulin and was involved in the work that led to this paper (I'm the Pat mentioned in the paper):
Which is why I'm so privileged to have worked in transfusion for more than 50 years. Why I love my kind Med Lab Sci colleagues at the University of Alberta who overlooked my weaknesses and generously taught me what I didn't know. Why I love my students, who were smarter and more knowledgeable than I was, who tolerated me calling them 'kids.' And so many went on to become leaders in many areas.

Chose Bonnie Raitt ditty because I'm a fan and it's how I feel about medical labs, especially transfusion services.
As always, comments are most welcome. See some below.


  1. Simon (@haemovigilante @bluesfan707110:09 PM

    Hi Pat,

    There are definitely those who deliberately choose to work in labs and those who drift in by accident.

    I am most definitely one of the latter. However 40 years later am still in the field, albeit now in Australia, and really can't complain. Have been able to travel and work overseas and along made many friends and met some fantastic people!!!

  2. Thanks, Simon. My entry was definitely by happenstance, a lucky fluke. A university pal told me that Canadian Red Cross Blood Transfusion Service (CRC-BTS) hired BSc grads to work in its donor testing & transfusion service labs. They were so desperate that they hired me though I was one subject short of my BSc. Fact is I majored in bridge and sports at university & had a sports trophy to show for it. Hence I failed one subject, physics, which I'd gotten great grades in at HS.

    After I left CRC-BTS twice for extended vacations, Europe/Mid East for 4 mths & Jamaica for 6 mths, yet been rehired, the CRC administrator had a heart to heart chat. He chastised me because I had shown disloyalty by 'goofing off' & recommended I get that degree, which I did 'tout de suite' via a night course at university. <;-)

    Like you, I have no complaints. I've been blessed to teach many fantastic students who went on to great things, meet many remarkable colleagues all over the world & become longtime pals with many.

    I'll end with a quote:
    “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” -Albert Einstein

    My transfusion career is definitely a miracle.

  3. Roger Strange6:09 PM

    Hi Pat - I really enjoyed your "history". I always wanted a "Path Lab" as they were called in the UK, trained from School, and wanted to specialize in BacT (Microbiology). No space so drifted in Haematology and BT. Loved it, came to Canada, and taught Med Lab students from BCIT, and towards the end NAIT for mumble mumble years. Love is the only way to describe the way us TS folk feel about our subject. Now retired for 15 years, but still enjoy reading TraQ, and all things TS related.
    You are doing a great job - keep it up.
    Roger Strange

  4. Thanks, Roger. Great to hear from you and that you still read TraQ's monthly newsletter! Funny how it's true, once a blood banker, always a blood banker. Or perhaps I should say, 'You can take the blood banker out of the blood bank, but you cannot take the blood bank out of we blood bankers.' BIG GRIN