Friday, November 07, 2008

Getting to Know the Bugs

I'm continuing to work my way around the medical micro lab. So far I've done two days at the blood culture benches, one day at urine cultures, and then today was acid-fast bacteria (like tuberculosis). The labor-intensiveness of it all continues to amaze me, as does the ignorance of so many of the people who call down to the lab wanting answers, and wanting them yesterday. These are occasionally residents who are calling, and they are not stupid or uneducated people. A few of them just don't have any clue whatsoever about what goes on in the medical labs. Some doc who called for a stat culture is now a running joke among the med techs. (Stat means that the doctor wants something done right away. The joke is because the med techs can't force the bacteria to grow any faster just because some doctor ordered the culture stat!)

At this point, I've started getting pretty good at identifying gram stains of bacteria, and even some of the more common pathogens on agar plates based on how the colonies look. E. coli grows flat, pink colonies on a MacConkey plate. They look very different than the more spherical, slimier Pseudomonas colonies, which are also pink. Staph and Strep, two gram-positive cocci, both look like little purple balls under the microscope. But Staph forms clusters and tetrads, while Strep forms chains and pairs. Plus, the shapes of the cells are a little different. The Staph cells are more spherical compared to the almost teardrop-shaped Strep cells. The coolest thing I saw under the microscope this week was Candida yeast. I had never thought about this before because gram stains are mainly used to stain bacteria, but it turns out that yeasts stain gram-positive. What was cool is that I could see their pseudohyphae, and some of the yeasts were even budding.

I've been continuing reading a few hours each day. I wish I could have learned this much micro last year or the year before. You really don't get the same effect from looking at pictures in books or online that you get from viewing the slides with an experienced med tech who points out the relevant features for you.

This morning after hanging out at the acid-fast bacteria bench, I had my POD/ARM class. It was part II of the innovations session, and I was expecting it to be yet another exercise in pain. Instead, it turned out to be really interesting and useful. We learned about what kinds of things were patentable, how patents work, what criteria CCF uses to decide if a patent should be pursued, how spin-off companies get started, and more. If someone patents anything while they're at CCF, they would get 40% of the royalties. This is not as farfetched as it might sound. At least one of the CCLCM fifth years has a patent. My classmates and I had a lot of questions, and I didn't spend the whole time staring at the clock. Those are excellent signs that this was a good talk!

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