Blood in the water
SOUTH CHINA SEA — Many Sailors aboard USS John C. Stennis have had their blood drawn in the ship's clinical laboratory. This relatively small, yet vital, part of medical department is operated by only two Sailors, everything blood-related is in their vein of expertise.
For many, blood brings a gruesome image to mind.
For Navy Hospital Corpsman 1st Class Emilio Velez, from Lima, Peru, and Hospitalman Karla Garcia, from Woodland, California, it's the exact opposite.
"The numbers in your blood tell a story," said Velez. "The blood itself is very particular. There's a certain range of cells in your blood and if you're outside of that number, something is wrong, whether it means an infection or that you're possibly anemic. We study the chemistry in your blood and advise the providers so they can go on and prescribe the right medicine."
The first step to studying a patient's blood is drawing it, a process known as phlebotomy. After the provider evaluates a patient, a lab technician takes a blood sample to check red and white blood cell counts and look for anything irregular. Even though a needle is small, it often causes a big problem with patients.
"It's surprising how many people are afraid of needles," said Velez. "For some Sailors it's a pathological thing ... they know they will pass out beforehand, but some try to hide it. Giving us a heads-up before will let us know to take the extra precautions to prevent it from happening."
After the phlebotomist takes a blood sample, they put it into a centrifuge. This separates the cocktail of plasma and other fluids from the whole blood. Then they compare those results with values in a standard range, accounting for factors like size, age and gender.
"I love the neatness of the job," said Velez. "We know that each color of tube has a certain test, and the exact order in which we do it. It's ... more towards the chemistry side of things. That's what really pulled me in towards this side of the [hospital] corpsman field."
To become a certified advanced lab technician, a hospital corpsman must complete a 13-month-long "C" School. Garcia, stationed at Bremerton Naval Hospital, volunteered for deployment to get some hands-on experience before heading to "C" School.
"As a [hospital] corpsman with no NEC [Navy Enlisted Classification] there's no certainty where you will work," said Garcia. "After working in multiple different areas of medical, the lab is, by far, my favorite. Being able to come on deployment and expand my knowledge is definitely going to give me an advantage when I'm able to go to school."
Doing a job on a ship that's normally done in a hospital does have its challenges, but John C. Stennis' clinical lab team makes it work.
"Working here is different than anything I've done before," said Velez. "I worked in large hospitals with more than 15 machines, here we have two. ... Things like that make you feel very important in the scheme of things."
The lab's crew ensures Sailors' health can be closely monitored, and illness can be detected in its early stages. Taking blood samples and checking results is what keeps their pulse pumping and their Sailors healthy.
Providing a ready force supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific, John C. Stennis is currently operating as part of the Great Green Fleet on a regularly scheduled 7th Fleet deployment.
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