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Press Start: Lead an Empowered Life as a Clinical Laboratorian

The Sky Is Falling ... Or Is It?

Published January 8, 2011 9:10 PM by Glen McDaniel
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.


During our winter storm, 5 of us were at work for over 24 hours. Only a few people came in. Just about everyone called in.  Some even claimed to be sick. Right! That reminds me of this blog. Sure the weather was bad but everyone made it into a catastrophe. Those of us at work when the storm hit could not leave. The fact that a few additional people  came in for 2nd and third shift showed it could be done.

That is one example of ways in which we sometimes act like the sky is falling in. We are in healthcare and need to be able to roll with the punches and do what is needed. We cant throw our hands up and cry disaster everytime there is an emergency. Things happen. I have no sympathy for folks like that.  They need to find jobs outside of healthcare if  a little snow keeps them home.

Janice MT (ASCP) January 16, 2011 6:22 PM
Northfield IL

It is true that we tend to think the worst and see the sky is falling in whenever we are faced with a change of any sort, I could also tell you many stories of where a chance finding by the lab has found a diagnosis that affected a patient's life. The doctors dont give credit and the paytient might not know but we do that on a regular basis.

But we also need to be willing to think outside the box when it comes to dealing with challenges in our professional lives especially in these trying times. We can make our own success if we are willing to try new things or try different things. This is a good blog as we are trying to stick to new years resolutions. This is one we can all try.

Jason D MLS January 9, 2011 6:39 PM
Portland ME

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