CANNON AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --
Getting blood drawn can be a daunting task for some individuals and getting swabbed for COVID can be just as painful for all, physically and mentally. For Cannon AFB laboratory technicians however, blood and COVID work are just drops in the bucket of their daily duties.
“Phlebotomy is a small fraction of the lab,” said Tech. Sgt. Reginald Malone, 27th Special Operations Healthcare Operations Squadron laboratory services non-commissioned officer in charge. “We do a lot of the work behind the scenes in many other medical areas to help ensure people can work.”
Much of the work done in the lab directly contributes to the diagnoses of countless conditions and issues. Lab techs work with doctors and medical providers in order to provide accurate information regarding patients all across the Air Force and the medical world in general, in areas such as urine samples, COVID tests, and various virus plating and tests.
In recognition of lab technicians’ hard work and dedication to the medical field, the American Society for Medical Technology, now known as the American Society for Clinical laboratory Science, created Medical Laboratory Professionals week in 1975. Cannon AFB will celebrate Medical Laboratory Professionals week from April 18th to April 23rd with a myriad of lab-related activities.
“We will be putting up mock ‘wanted’ posters that have trivia based on what we do,” said Malone. “We will have full candy jars representing a blood count test and we will have people guess how many of a certain cell (candy) are in the jar. We are also thinking about letting people ‘pin the needle on the arm’ to show where you draw blood from. But it won’t be a real arm of course.”
Without lab techs’ abilities to test and check medical samples same day or same week, the results would arrive much slower, leading to increased risk in health related injuries and issues. These capabilities have made their contributions in combating COVID-19 irreplaceable, but it has been their hard work that has kept Cannon safe from this global pandemic.
“Testing for COVID has taken a forefront in our operations,” said Malone. “We still do all our normal operations, but COVID testing has added more work, it’s the priority for everybody now.”
At the start of the pandemic, the lab was only able to test two samples at a time every 90 minutes. A heavy workload of samples meant some had to be sent to third-party sources in order to speed up the process. Better equipment and more manpower has slowly led to more tests being able to be performed at one time solely at Cannon AFB.
“We average around 20 tests per day,” said Malone. “With batch tests, we are able to run close to 150, 160 tests per day. The process of preparing the tests is not the quickest, but the ability to test so many at one point does make some aspects easier.”
COVID-19 has changed how the entire world operates, but it does not change the realities of war. Lab technicians play a huge role in day to day procedures, but their work downrange is just as vital as they play an integral role in saving the lives of injured servicemembers.
“I think it is most rewarding seeing how we contribute overseas,” said Tech. Sgt. Edgardo Cadungog, 27th Special Operations Healthcare Operations Squadron laboratory operations NCOIC. “Being a part of saving someone’s life by supplying blood units to those who need it most, it is incredible to be involved in that.”
Med lab week is a great opportunity to give thanks to those who do not always get the public appreciation other agencies receive, but it can be hard to truly understand their importance in just one week. While the decorations may only be up for five days before returning back to the “normal” lab look, the spirit and dedication of lab techs never waivers and is always on full display no matter the task at hand. Or arm.