Thursday, January 27, 2011
Fun-a-day 27: Chemistry
Chemistry in the lab isn't a whole lot of fun to look at. There are pretty colored reagent, but much of the fun chemistry is all highly automated now. Instead we med techs "drive" these huge robotic automated chemistry analyzers. It's one of the largest sections in the lab, and incredibly important though, so I figured I'd put it in a quilt block.
In chemistry, we deal not with the cells in the blood, but with the serum, or plasma, which is the liquid part of the blood. We first must spin the blood down in a centrifuge, then do the testing. We used to have to separate all of the serum off from the blood cells manually, but now many tubes have a gel layer that separates the blood for us. Our instruments have even started to have "cap piercers" so we don't' have to manually take the top off of each test tube (and put it back on). The tests we do in chemistry is everything from electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, to enzymes that measure liver function or heart disease, to lipids, like cholesterol and triglycerides. The amount of science and technology that goes into these chemistry analyzers is incredible, but it still takes a med tech to make sure the instruments are working well, calibrated, full of reagent, accurate, and that they make sense. We also have to interpret the results, and call critical lab results to the doctor or nurse.
As with chemistry, there are many parts of the medical lab that are hard to make into a quilt... phlebotomists, who draw the blood, couriers who transport it, secretaries, specimen processors, and other critical support staff, managers, special chemistry, coagulation and serology departments, histology and pathology (which I don't have a lot of experience with, but would probably make a great quilt).
For my quilt top, I "drew" an "SST" tube. The bottom layer (red) is the cells that gravitate to the bottom when they are spun down in the centrifuge. The white middle layer is the SST gel that separates the 2 layers. The top yellow part is plasma, or serum, the liquid part of the blood. I also drew tests that would normally be part of a basic metabolic panel. These chemistry tests can be run very fast, and are frequently ordered "STAT". These few tests can give a doctor a surprising amount of information, which can be critical in emergency situations. So next time you hear someone order a "STAT" BMP, or chemistry panel on your favorite TV show, you'll know a little bit more about what they're asking for!