| November 1961 3320th USAF Hospital, Amarillo, Texas
How ya do. I'm Comella. Where's your Coulter Counter.
Whadda ya mean, wise guy...we keep it hidden away in the closet. We have this here hemocytometer thing & this gizmo to count people, cells, airplanes, or whatever. You don't like it..talk to the Major.
By today's standards, the clinical laboratory of the early 1960s was primitive. Nearly all of the tests were done manually and none of today's laboratory safety standards were in effect (not sure any thought had been given to the matter).
The earliest automated chemistry instrument was the Autoanalyzer capable of running 60 glucose or BUN tests each hour. The raw information came out on a sheet of continuous-feed graph paper and the tech had to manually draw the standard curve and then 'eyeball' the control and patient results. Coulter was the first company to somewhat automate the hematology lab with its red & white cell counter.
Much of the media found in the microbiology department in 1960 is still in use today, and believe it or not, the bugs look essentially the same on the agar plates. But oh those sensitivities. We used many of the same antibiotic disks in use today, but that is about where the similarities stop. We definitely did not use MH plates..probably used Trypticase Soy Agar. In the military labs, we made our own media, and if the concept of QC was available then, it certainly did not reach us. The inoculum was not standardized..just slap some of the bug on the plate and streak it around. Oh my. The disks went on the plates and then the plates into the incubator for overnight incubation, just like today. The antibiotic that gave the largest zone size was considered to be the most effective against the organism being tested. Saints preserve us. You can see that the interpretation of those zone sizes was a little different than that of the Kirby-Bauer and agar overlay methods.
With the exception of those labs that had the early Autoanalyzer, all tests in the chemistry section were done manually. Some students that I taught in the 1980s could not understand all the fuss against pipetting serum and reagents by mouth. Little did they know that was how we did things back in the 60s..about the only time we used a suction device was to pipet concentrated acids when making reagents. You have definitely missed one of life's great experiences if you have never pipetted 10% TCA into your mouth..it does wonders for cleaning the teeth.Bring on the dancing boys
Another experience that today's techs will miss is doing a Folin-Wu glucose (the funny shaped tube that you put into boiling water) and grabbing the Biuret reagent. For those of you not aware, both reagents are made with copper sulfate and have a wonderful blue color. Except that the reagents are not interchangeable. The concept of using microliter (lambda) quantities of serum for testing was in its infancy in the early 60s..seems that it took until later in the decade before the minimum sample size dropped below 0.2 ml for some of the tests.
As you take a look around today's clinical laboratories, you see that automation has taken hold except for the blood bank and microbiology departments. In hematology, the few pieces of equipment still in use are the microscope and the counter that you use for differentials. Do any of you remember doing pro times using a 12x75 test tube, a 37 degree water bath, a wire loop, and a stopwatch to determine how many seconds it took for the patient's sample to clot? Say Whaaat???
Instrumentation within microbiology has taken place where you would most likely expect--blood cultures, sensitivity testing, and in some labs, AFB testing. Somewhere on the horizon is the use of probes to identify organisms directly from specimens. How many years before this becomes practical for a hospital clinical lab? The answer is beyond me..anybody care to venture an opinion?
Hey Comella...you seen that frog that just jumped off the counter top? It's the last one and the major is really gonna be high powered irritated if we have to tell the general that his wife's got to bring in another sample because we lost the frog.