Wednesday, November 15, 2006

A controlled experiment...

(click on pictures for larger view)

Introduction: A couple of weeks ago we needed to get some blood work done on one of the VVF patients and on one of our expatriate staff; tests that we can’t do in our smallish lab at the center. So, our local lab tech took blood specimens, put them in a ziploc bag with a request form and handed them over to the driver who then took the samples to a lab in town. Later that same day the driver drove back into town to pick up the results. Well, the results that came back weren’t quite what we expected. Both ladies had very low sodium levels; pretty much incompatible with life. We decided we better stick with bedside case management and not rely on the results. It made me wonder…can we rely on other labs to do our blood work? And that’s when it all began. Phase One of the experiment was instigated.

Phase One: I decided to have my blood tested at the same lab (picture:right arm). Since I was feeling fine, I figured the results would be normal. Wrong. Again the results were not what we expected; I too had a low sodium. Not as bad as the others but pretty close to putting me in a coma! All of a sudden I wasn’t feeling to well anymore. This led to Phase Two of the experiment.

Phase Two: Having checked one lab in town I thought it was only right to check both of our ‘referral’ labs in town. And we needed a control lab; a lab we can rely on. So I chose a lab that I was pretty sure would give accurate results. Being the sole investigator in this experiment made me the guinea pig, or should I say pin cushion! In phase two I again willingly provided some of my precious blood (picture:left arm). This time my blood was being scattered throughout Freetown- having to go to three different locations.

Results: Maybe we should just skip to the conclusion. By now I guess I should say that the results were what we expected as none of the labs gave the same results. Two of the three labs (one of which was the ‘control’ lab) pretty much concluded that I was near death (with a sodium as low as 113.2 mmol/l). The third lab however fortunately confirmed that my sodium levels were normal and that I would be okay; but can we trust this result?

Conclusion: Maybe it is not so wise to get your blood tested in Sierra Leone; at least not your sodium and potassium levels. No, seriously, if I would have been in a hospital here and the docs would have started treating me because of these results I would have probably died because my actually normal sodium and potassium levels would have been sky high because of treatment.

Final word: it was a fun experiment.

NB: Normal levels: sodium 135-155 mmol/l & potassium 3.4-5.3 mmol/l


gisela said...

You are one crazy girl, Sandra!! Maybe we should have done this experiment month ago? But would it have changed anything?? What would it take to have the lab do sodium and potassium right there at the ACFC???
Hope you are not anemic after all that blood loss??

Jacqueline said...

Wat een lef San!! Luv

Anonymous said...

ha ha dat kan alleen in afrika. je schrijft heel leuk sandra! ik geniet ervan om je brieven te lezen, of wat heet het, blogs. ik heb net ontdekt wat dat is.
thanks for sharing your great stories! melissa lauf

Colleen said...

ahh! amazing! but i absolutely LOVE your methodology! thanks for being the "lab rat." you confirmed what we all know...that if you're really sick...go home fast! :)

~ Act Justly. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly. micah 6:8 ~