The Sky Is Falling ... Or Is It?
The news has been rife with reports of dead birds
suddenly falling from the sky in several states. Now, it’s fish washing up on shore.
It’s interesting to hear theories being floated: the birds were hit by lightning, traumatized by New Year’s fireworks. When fish started dying biologists floated the theory of an environmental factor being involved. Some have even claimed these are the signs of a religious cataclysm.
All this speculation coupled with lunch with a scientist colleague (more about that in a minute) made me think of how much we tend to interpret the world through our own paradigm and often end up with the wrong conclusion.
My friend, whom I had not seen in years, and I met up for lunch and the conversation turned to her current work at the CDC. She told me about an epidemiological investigation she was involved with a few years ago. Several organ transplant recipients had died suddenly and the CDC was brought in to find the cause. Epidemiologists we all baffled after weeks of tests and onsite investigation.
One laboratorian-scientist had pulled an all-nighter and was dead tired. But after looking at some tissue one last time before heading home, she remarked to a colleague that some characteristics reminded her of a case of rabies. They called in scientists from adjacent laboratories. The experts all dismissed that theory because the paradigm was that rabies could not be transmitted through whole organ transplants. Long story short, after further testing they discovered that the causative agent was in fact rabies and the single donor of the multiple organs had been bitten by a bat about a week before his organs were harvested for transplant.
So much for saying “never” in science.
Change is the only constant in our profession. Yet it is easy to be paralyzed by challenges rather than facing them head on. It is tempting to look at issues through the same traditional lenses, rather than considering a new approach.
We all have stories about finding a malaria parasite on a random WBC differential, “impossibly high” glucoses on ED patients, TS patients who change blood types and so on. Penicillin was just a nuisance mold that contaminated a culture until a laboratorian decided to think outside the box.
Whether it’s dead birds falling from the sky, testing a specimen, looking at a new project or facing some new challenge at work we have to be ready to think outside the box, shift our paradigm and be willing to rethink conventional wisdom.