For those of you who don’t know – since I honestly have no idea if I’ve ever mentioned it before – I work in a hospital’s medical lab. I work in a portion of it known as a reference lab, which acts as the go-between for outpatients visiting their doctors and the actual running of the tests in hospital’s main lab. The upshot: I don’t actually run tests or create results. I act as a pass through, for tests coming in from offices or tests going out for specialized testing in other labs, such as Mayo Medical Laboratories.

The Main Lab runs incredibly efficiently; our hospital has the busiest Emergency Room in our city, and is designated as a Primary Stroke Care Center. When a doctor in the ER or on a floor decides to order a test, he or she uses a computer program to create that order. That same program notifies the Lab’s Central Processing Center, who assigns a phlebotomist to collect the necessary specimen. The program will let the phlebotomist how to collect the specimen properly, and how to maintain it (refrigerated, room temperature, etc) until they can be processed.

When the specimens arrive, staff uses this same program to receive and log the specimen, and take the specimen to the proper department for processing. When the tests are finished running on the diagnostic equipment, that equipment tells the program what the results are, and program proceeds to alert the medical lab technicians that a test is finished and needs to be verified and released back to the ordering doctor. If the test has an alert value – either low or high – the tech is alerted to phone the doctor for immediate verbal notification of the life-threatening result.

When I walked into work on Tuesday, that nerve-center program had completely and utterly blown up. A level-1 IT crisis, that resulted in top brass across four hospitals being rolled out of bed, and found the heads of the company who created and maintained the program scrambling for causes and solutions and all of their IT professionals hauled into work.

I don’t know if I can accurately convey the chaos and potential mayhem this caused. Across four hospitals, the crash impacted hundreds of patients (perhaps thousands) and thousands of tests. Doctors couldn’t order tests. Phlebs didn’t know who to draw for what. Results couldn’t get back to the doctors. When speaking of a stroke patient, where every lost minute is paid for by loss of motor, cognitive and speech function, the situation becomes much more than an inconvenience – people could die.

Most people don’t know or even much care what a medical lab does. Blood goes away and results magically come back, for better or worse, but have you ever stopped to consider what must be going on in there? On a good day?

Our lab – all of the labs in our hospital system, actually – have procedures for just this sort of thing. Managers and supervisors stepped up, began directing action. Doctors filled out paper requisitions and sent them through a pneumatic tube system to the lab. The lab organized the orders and sent the phleb techs out to collect specimens. The arriving specimens were logged and sent to the proper department for processing. The departments ran the tests, manually processed the results, and faxed or tubed the results back to the doctors. All of this, normally done electronically, carefully relegated to endless stacks of paper covering every available flat surface.

For hundreds of patients. For nearly a thousand tests. Stats and routine. For a crisis extending over 10 hours. Standing on the outside, dealing with our own crisis management in our little bubble, it looked like tightly controlled chaos. Drifts and stacks of paper, of results, prioritizing testing order, getting the stats out in the required time frames. Voices calling back and forth, techs darting this way and that, on a night that would have been busy even under normal circumstances.

Folks, we are never going to meet you. We do our work behind locked doors and biohazard warnings. All we ever know of you is a name, and a number, and a specimen. We can make some guesses about you based on which labs were ordered and their results, but frankly, we don’t usually have the time for that kind of idle speculation. But we’re never going to talk to you, hear your worries about treatment, understand what your life is like, or have any opportunity at all, really, to become invested in who you are.

But those people who have never met you busted their collective asses that night. Techs pulled 12, 13 hour shifts. One manager worked nearly 20. They skipped meals and cigarette breaks. They got their acts together, they kept their heads under unimaginable pressure, and they did their jobs and did them damn well. For you, someone they’re never going to meet.

I can only hope if you have the misfortune to wind up needing critical medical care, that you are lucky enough to wind up in a place where even the people you’ve never met are so dedicated to your care. That people who have no idea who you are will work themselves into exhaustion in order to make sure you have the best possible outcome in your situation, no matter what personal or professional hurdles they may be facing.

And I hope you now have some idea how lucky you really are. Because I know I am damn lucky to work alongside them.



A Segue: A Thought-Provoking Blog Award

I have been nominated for a Thought-Provoking Blog Award. I am honored, and humbled. I was nominated by a friend of mine, Amanda Bretz of Amanda’s Blog. (And, as an aside, can I just say this embedding links thing is turning out to be a proper pain in my hind end?)

The Rules of this award are:

1. Thank the person who nominated you.
Well, Miss Amanda, thank you very much. I appreciate you walking beside me on this journey of ours down the dark paths of grief. We keep trying, and that has to count for something. Probably everything, in the end. Thank you.

2. Post the image on your blog.
Well, that part I’ve got figured out, anyway. Now if I could just sort out that embedding thing…

3. Share seven things about yourself.

1. When I was little-a toddler-I used to love football. Was absolutely fascinated by it. But one day I saw a player take his helmet off on the sidelines and utterly lost interest after that. I have no idea what I thought football players were, if not people. Robots, maybe?

2. I make my own soap and lotions. I haven’t used commercially produced soap in over a decade.

3. “You have an extreme intolerance for a lot of things, the chief of which being bullshit.” Dustin had me figured out like no one else ever has, and he was right on the money with that one.

4. I have two black cats, one male, one female, both named Max. It’s a long story and I swear to God it’s not my fault. I was set up.

5. The movie Munich traumatized me so badly I made the Bella the enormous golden retriever sleep with me that night.

6. I am a supertaster. It is not as much fun as it sounds like it might be.

7. I don’t read many other blogs. I’m in a very selfish kind of phase right at the moment.

4. Pass the award to five blogs you enjoy.
Well, this will be a bit of a neat trick, since I just confessed I don’t read many other blogs. Oh, well, here goes: (sorry, Amanda, I know it’s cheating, but yours is one of the few I do keep up with)



“Life is the first gift, love is the second, and understanding the third.”
~Marge Piercy

In order for any of this to make sense to me, or to you, I need to start with the beginning. No, not how we met, although that will have its place in this narrative. No, the beginning of how we came to be who we were when we met, so you (and I) can better understand why we meant so much to each other.

So. I am 35 years old. Never married, no kids, and very happy that way, thank you. I won’t say I had a bad childhood; I didn’t. I didn’t have an ideal one either, but who can truly say they have? My parents did the best they could with what they had to work with, and through no fault of their own, they didn’t always have a lot to work with. I learned to be independent and strong, and had a nearly fatal allergy to intimacy or any kind of interdependence in relationships. I was the the girl always halfway out the door; I was Zooey Deschanel in “500 Days of Summer.” Despite that, I have a deeply caring heart, and fierce loyalty to those I care for.

I am a Sagittarius born during the year of the Fire Dragon, which makes me a triple fire sign. It’s a wonder I don’t just self-combust. He used to say that although he never saw me express anger, he could see it rising in my eyes, and he was frightened by it.

He was just 30 when he passed away. Born and raised in Michigan, his childhood was even less ideal than mine. Characterized by an almost maniacal devotion to religion in his mother’s house and a psychopathic rage and misogyny in his father’s, he often found himself caught in the middle, struggling to find himself and a clear space to stand.

He used to say he didn’t know what messed him up more: the religion or the violence.

When he was only 19 years old, differences in religion and lifestyle led to his mother disowning him and casting him out. Unwilling to return to his father’s violence, he began to live his life in a half-lit netherworld, never truly returning to the light again.

At 25, his girlfriend at the time gave birth to his son. The relationship dissolved in anger and infidelity on her part, frustration and pain on his, and she took his son and left. One bad decision led to another, and he left Michigan last year. After bouncing around the country a bit, he came here. And found me.

“Sometimes the truth just ain’t enough,
or it’s too much in times like this
Let’s throw the truth away,
we’ll find it in this kiss”
~”Worlds Apart” Bruce Springsteen

I, am of course, leaving out the vast majority of the facts. In this case, the facts not only don’t tell the whole story, they actively obscure it. The essence of what became important-became, in fact, everything-is found between the lines, transcending the spare bones of detail and evidence and objective observation. He was a lost and lonely soul, a walking contradiction, part Robin Hood, part Dark Knight, looking for someone who could not only understand but accept him as he was. I was more than a little lost myself, recently recovered from a destructive relationship, looking for someone who could accept my own contradictions, without trying to minimize my intelligence, to cripple my strength, who didn’t feel threatened by my inherent nature. Someone, in short, who understood me.

We were alike. Frighteningly alike. In the areas where we differed, we were nearly perfect mirror images of each other. He was Water to my Fire. This is what we gave each other, then: unconditional love, unconditional acceptance. A clear-eyed, intuitive view into each other’s minds and hearts. We found a home.