At the microscope, I notice that the patient’s urine is alive with Trichomonas– a writhing, one-celled creature. I glance at the computer screen. She’s in the Emergency Room because of abdominal pain. This is not an emergency, unless some other problem plagues her. I don’t know. I don’t have access to her history. I’m a medical technologist, not a doctor, and my job tonight is to analyze the urine of patients throughout the entire hospital.
Tomorrow night I’ll rotate to the other side of the lab, where I’ll prepare bone marrow specimens. The next night, I’ll operate the analyzer that counts blood cells. The night after that I’ll be at the microscope looking at those cells, but tonight, I am the Pee Queen of Tinkletown.
I check the macroscopic results for the patient afflicted with Trichomonas. Nothing else stands out as particularly abnormal, so I punch in my observations and send the report to the ER.
Eight specimens are lined up waiting for microscopic examination, two of which are also from the ER, so I pluck those from the line and look at them first.
In many ways, my job is nothing more than a manipulation of numbers. I churn out sets of numbers that doctors use to make treatment decisions. Several hundred specimens enter the lab every night, many of which pass through my hands. They are interesting, in an abstract sort of way, especially when they are abnormal or atypical. Sometimes we recognize certain patient’s names because we see their bloods day after day until they either recover or die. Occasionally, one of us gets to meet a patient when we assist a pathologist at a bone marrow aspiration.
We seldom know more; therefore I have acquired the habit of reading the daily obituaries. Sometimes I see a familiar name and maybe a photo. Then, I know that the patient was not just a case, or a series of specimens. He or she had a family, or a dear friend, and was loved, and had a place in society. I get sad, sometimes, and then I know why I became a medical technologist instead of a nurse. I’d never learn how to lose a patient. They say one gets used to that sort of thing, but I doubt it.
If I had a choice, I wouldn’t work at all. I’d write, and only when I felt like it. Until retirement, when I plan to do exactly that, I’ll continue coming to the lab every day and churning out the numbers that let other caregivers know, exactly, what is wrong with the patient, and/or how the patient is responding to treatment. I like this work, because it is exacting, demanding, and contributes directly to the well-being of patients.
It’s contributed directly to my well-being, too, in a different way. This is the work that took me to Saudi Arabia. I would never have gone there had I majored in English, Psychology or Foreign Languages, fields that claimed more of my interest. I can’t imagine not having lived in Saudi Arabia all those years. I owe those years to my profession. I could go back again, I’m sure, and slip into my former position as if I’d never left, but I won’t do that. Retirement beckons. Five more years, insha’ Allah…That’s the plan, and Allah knows best.