Elaine C. Stewart, MLS(ASCP)CM

What an exciting time to be an Ascending Professional in the laboratory world with our fire burning bright, pushing us full steam ahead through the workday. I am enthralled by the daily mysteries in front of me and the desire to search for answers to those mysteries. The new mystery that the entire world has been given, a zebra to us all, is SARS-CoV-2. That zebra has led me to opportunity, experience, and friendships that are irreplaceable.

When we began in-house testing for SARS-CoV-2, my curiosity got the better of me, and I asked the infectious disease testing supervisor to simply see the analyzer. While the supervisor was showing me around the analyzer, I made a very sincere and hopeful statement that would change the course of the months to come. I offered to help with COVID-19 testing, and within the week I was being trained.

With what was once was a small department in my hospital, we were projected to run about 44,000 billable tests for the entirety of 2020. The number of PCR tests performed in our infectious disease laboratory increased by 231 percent from March to June, causing us to reach and exceed our yearly projection by the end of June.

“Working with the SARSCoV-2 testing, I have had opportunities for my career that I probably would not have had.”

Quickly I was working more than 60 hours a week and loving the opportunity to be right in the middle of it all. Most coworkers thought I was crazy for working so many hours, and supervisors worried of burnout, but I was truly excited tracking this mystery zebra. I was able to track COVID-19 through multiple departments as I am a generalist on the 11:00 pm to 7:00 am shift. I work chemistry, hematology, coagulation, urine analysis, and blood bank. I was now able to see patients’ positive tests and how the course of this virus would affect so many different areas of the laboratory.

Blood bank was one of the first to feel the effects of COVID-19. The decrease in donations, and subsequently in our inventory, was alarming and stressful for our hospital as we are a Level One Trauma Center. Then we began the use of convalescent plasma at our facility, further impacting the blood bank. Also, practitioners started to notice coagulation issues in COVID-19 patients, causing a 262 percent increase from the month of March to April in the number of D-Dimer tests ordered. This forced our facility to place unexpected emergency orders for coagulation reagents.

Like most people, I think we could have gone without this stressful and scary time in our lives. In the words of Rahm Emanuel, “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that is, it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.” Working with the SARS-CoV-2 testing, I have had opportunities for my career that I probably would not have had. I am blessed to have met and grown close with such a hard-working team of individuals learning these new processes. I can’t imagine how different this experience could have been without them.

Elaine Stewart is a medical laboratory scientist at Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport in Louisiana.