Who’s afraid of a little blood?

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Arizona -- I have been in the Air Force for 22 years and have been a medical laboratory technician since the beginning of my career. The medical or clinical laboratory is where specimens are tested to provide information to medical providers who directly assist in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of disease in patients. After graduating basic training and spending the next 13 months in Phase I and Phase II of technical training school, I became a "permanent party" lab technician, ready to conquer the world.

There are several sections to work within the laboratory: taking blood samples, operating computerized instruments, identifying abnormal blood cells, culturing and identifying bacteria and viruses, and assuring the safe testing and transfusion of blood products. All of these areas sounded pretty good except the latter.

The section where you test and distribute blood products is called blood banking, where blood and blood products are banked or stored. You learn early on as a lab tech that you can easily kill someone by the stroke of a pen if you record or distribute the wrong blood type to a patient. That sounded stressful, and I thought to myself, "Who would ever voluntarily work there?"

For 13 years I managed to steer clear of the blood bank until I became the NCO-in-charge of blood banking. I had no choice but to learn very quickly how to conquer my fear. Fear by definition is a distressing emotion aroused by impending danger, evil, pain or anticipation of the possibility that something unpleasant will occur. Some people are able to conquer fear by jumping right in and doing the thing they are most afraid of, while others have to work their way up, exposing themselves little by little to what scares them.

I needed a plan. How do you conquer fear?

The first step is to learn as much as you can about the subject by doing research. I had technical manuals, operating instructions and career development courses. So many things at my disposal and all I had to do was read. Now the most popular way to do research is to just look on the Internet. When you treat each new experience as an opportunity to learn, it becomes more of an adventure than an obstacle.

Next, seek assistance. You should never try to navigate any new endeavor alone. Once you have done your research, you should have plenty of questions that need to be answered. Seek out an expert. There are so many knowledgeable people all around waiting for the opportunity to share their expertise. All you have to do is ask.

Lastly, trust your judgment and take action. Once you have done all the necessary work you should be more than prepared to do whatever challenges you. For me, it was being careful to ensure I paid attention to detail because every patient's life was literally in my hands. Once I got the hang of it, my confidence was built up. I worked in the blood bank for three years, and it eventually became my favorite section. I am no longer intimidated by a little blood.