It’s Just a Stupid Job

There are days that I am stunned by stupid. That someone could possibly think what they have done is acceptable is by itself amazing but then they defend what they have done.

A statement like that must be followed with examples or you could correctly think I am ranting and stop reading  but I have an example.

af.milA high volume histology lab like mine produces thousands of blocks every week. These are plastic and paraffin pieces like the one you see in the picture. Every block has a number on it which identifies it as belonging to a particular patient. All of them have to be filed in numerical order. Usually, the techs do this filing but in a busy lab, an lab assistant is more likely to do this task.

Once upon a time, there was a lab assistant who was worried about losing their job. He did a number of tasks around the lab and he filed blocks as well. Whenever a block was lost, misfiled, he could find it.

It was really quite an amazing feat. This lab assistant could locate just about any misfiled block. Every lab loses blocks on occasion. They fall to the floor and get swept away by housekeeping. Doctors take them and don’t tell us and don’t return them. They fall in garbage cans and get tossed out with the trash. But if we have already produced a slide from them, the block was handled correctly and was then misfiled. Whenever that was the case, this lab assistant could always find the block.

How? I learned he misfiled  blocks on purpose so he could find them again later. He figured if he was really good at finding lost blocks, he would be indispensable and he couldn’t loose his job. If anyone needed a lost block, he was there to save the day. He saw nothing wrong with what he had done.

I am still stunned by this. He  misfiled blocks for years so he might find some quickly and seem like the hero. What about all the ones he never had to find? They remain misfiled. I learned about this after he had moved  to another job. He left, pleased with himself for protecting his job and seeing nothing wrong with what he had done.

My lab is engaged in research so old blocks are often pulled and sometimes they are not easily found. I wonder if that employee is the reason every time a search commences for a misfiled block. Eventually, someone will find all of the blocks he misfiled and put them in the right place. Little by little the mess he made will be corrected.

ant-697329_1920That sort of work reminds of a podcast I was listening to. It was about the disorganization of ants. The little guys look like they are pushing dirt around with great purpose and doing everything to exact specs but, upon watching ants work long enough, someone realized they aren’t following any rules at all. In fact, pieces of dirt are often put someplace by one ant only to be taken back to their original place by another ant, back and forth like that until an ant that knows what it is doing picks up the dirt and it puts in in the right place.

That is what stupid looks like when it’s working in the lab. A tech will take work they don’t do well only to have someone else have to redo it. On a good day, the first tech hasn’t lost or ruined the work. On a bad day, they have. Eventually the supervisor or doctors learn to push the work they want done correctly at the tech they know can do it. Meanwhile, stupid is misfiling blocks or cutting poorly and creating work others must undo.

Part of the problem is some people do not understand how important the work is to the patient. Some techs and lab assistants don’t associate the blocks they handle with a person. It is only a stupid block, one of thousands, and stupid job, one of many.

When I was training to become a histologist my teacher told me to think of every block as belonging to my most loved relative. That has stuck with me. Any time I’m frustrated with how poorly a block is cutting or have to track down a nurse to fix a problem, I think of what she said. The block could belong to the person I love the most. That is the reason I don’t shove the problem along the line and leave it for someone else to fix. I do it to make sure it gets done.

wheelchair-1629490_1920.jpgI have shared that sentiment with other techs and lab assistants through the years. Often I am met with a dead stare, one that clearly means that person will not think of a block or specimen like that. It’s stupid to them. They know it isn’t true. Others can feel the reality of the idea. Every patient has a person who loves them and will be hurt by their pain and they can put themselves in their shoes.

On a bad day, when the ants are shoving dirt in all the wrong places, they are the ones who will try harder to make things right. As a patient, they are the ones you have to hope handle your specimen.






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