The Puzzling Case of the Missing Blood

Late January,  I had my blood drawn for a routine blood test. The results were supposed to be available in two weeks and I started to worry when I did not hear anything. Was something wrong? Am I dying? Why hasn’t anyone called? Oh an email from my doctor’s office.. finally my results! Nope, it’s just an advertisement for their new hours. Why haven’t they called? Do my results warrant further tests? OMG! What is going on?

Last week I called to follow up on the results.

Me: Hi, I’m calling to find out about my test results.
Doctor’s Office: Hmm… we haven’t received them yet.
Me: Really? I did the test like a month ago?
Doctor’s Office: Let me call the lab hold on.
Me: Okay. Waits patiently. Mystified.
Doctor’s Office: They say they don’t have it. Are you sure you went in and had the tests done?

Fam, if you could have seen my face, it was something like this (good thing this was a phone call):

via GIPHY

Perhaps the doctor’s office deals with an abnormally high number of idiots, so they assumed that I was just another idiot calling. But why would I call asking about test results if I never took the test? That’s like calling a professor and asking what my grade was in the course when I never matriculated at the school. That is madness by definition, the brainchild of a deranged and confused person. Was there something in my chart that indicated that I prone was to insane or erratic behavior? Why would she ask me such a thing?

I informed the medical assistant that not only did I have my blood drawn, something that I OBVIOUSLY would remember, but that I was billed not once, but twice by the lab. Once for the tests and again because they miscalculated the costs and there would be an additional $0.02 charged to my credit card (yes, they mailed me a letter to inform me that they would bill me for two cents). Eventually we agree that the issue is with the lab and I would need to speak to them directly.

I hate calling organizations since it always feels like a waste of my time. I anticipate going through round after round of automated prompts, touching keys on my phone, and listening to a few Kenny G. songs before finally speaking to a human being who can’t answer my question. This person then forwards my call to another human who will either provide me with an unsatisfactory response or direct me to a website nullifying the whole reason I called in the first place. Sigh…

I called the lab.

The lab not only couldn’t find my blood work, they also had no record of my blood being drawn. I began to question myself: Had I made up the scenario? Was the medical assistant at the doctor’s office, right? Did I not actually have my blood drawn?

I remembered googling directions to the lab. Driving to the medical center. Parking in the large lot. Scanning my insurance card at the desk. Speaking to the receptionist. Handing her my credit card. Signing the receipt. Having two vials of blood taken by the receptionist. Talking to her about the staffing in the office as she worked as both the phlebotomist and the receptionist.  Wishing her a good day and driving home while thinking about stopping for an eggplant parm at the Italian deli next door.

This was not a dream. It happened. And I had two bills and a receipt to prove it.

The lab asked me to email them a copy of my receipt and they would look into it. A few hours later they still had no record of my blood work.

How could a process be so flawed? How can you misplace two vials of blood? Were they mislabeled? Would another patient get tested for a fatal disease but my blood be used instead? Would someone else with my initials be given a clean bill of health?

There was no apology. No admission of guilt. No acknowledgement of the inconvenience they caused. No “my bad” for the worry and the stress that had been mounting from weeks of anticipation. The word, “sorry,” was not typed, written, or uttered. Nothing.

Fury and I discussed whether the missing blood was a mistake or medical incompetence. I argued the latter. This was not a case of ordering a blueberry bagel and receiving cinnamon; a mistake without dire consequences (unless one is allergic to cinnamon). This was blood tests– literally matters of life and death. A mistake is charging my card .02 cents under the full amount of the bill. Medical incompetence is taking someone’s blood, charging them for it, losing the blood and having no record that they even walked into the lab that day.

I remain bewildered by the absurdity of this situation and confused how something like this happens. I’m grateful this mishap was just over blood something my body replenishes on a regular basis and that the tests were elective instead of diagnostic. But I can’t help but think of other scenarios where the lab’s mishap could have more fatal consequences for me or someone else.

Twice in this story the medical community erred- the doctor’s office with their idiotic line of questioning and the lab with their nonchalance over their own incompetence. Is this coincidence? Or par for the course in our health system?



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