NEWS | Nov. 16, 2011

Behind the scenes -- NHCC Lab

By Petty Officer 1st Class Jennifer Hudson Joint Base Charleston Public Affairs

We all know the drill. The doctor wants to run some blood tests. We head over to the Naval Health Clinic Charleston or the 628th Medical clinic, take a number and wait our turn.

After being called into the lab, a technician tightly wraps a rubber band around your arm, and asks you to squeeze your fist repeatedly until he is able to locate a vein. They then proceed to fill up numerous vials, all color coded as to what test they will be used for. Finally they verify and mark labels and place each vial on a rocking table or vial holder.

But what happens after that? How is the blood prepared for the various tests the doctors have ordered?

First, the vials of blood are put in the "rocker," a machine that keeps the vials constantly moving so the blood won't clot. Or, it is put in a vial holder until it does coagulate. If your blood takes a while to coagulate it may be too thin, indicating a possible vitamin deficiency.

The coagulated blood is then collected to be put into a centrifuge machine, which spins the vials at 3,000 RPMs, separating the blood from the serum (the liquid in blood). The serum is the part that gets tested.

Depending on what a physician requests, a patient's blood can be whisked off to the microbiology lab where corpsmen look at a blood smear on a petri dish -- visually looking for an infection and determine if there is anything in the blood. But they don't just check it visually; they also look at it through a microscope before putting it in a microbiology analyzer machine which is able to identify different types of infections so doctors know which antibiotics can be used to fight the intruder.