Some people call them vampires. They come into a room often when the sky’s still dark, are polite, quiet, and take a little blood. Others think they’re nurses who just enjoy inflicting a moment’s pain first thing in the morning. Either way, they disappear until tomorrow leaving the patient a pin-prick of blood lighter. But rather than flying off to some crepuscular cavern, or a room lined with medieval torture contraptions, these individuals head back to their high tech lab and prepare to take that blood sample apart.

Laboratories play a essential role in medical diagnoses. Lab techs analyze virtually all bodily fluids, blood and urine predominantly, looking for various markers that help doctors determine anything from the type of illness or bacterial infection and the course of action needed to heal the patient.

“More than seventy percent of the information a doctor uses for a diagnosis comes from lab work,” said Susan Kringlie, Director of Laboratory Services at CHI Mercy Health, Valley City.

CHI Mercy Health’s lab is a technological marvel. The lab hosts several pieces of automated equipment that analyze blood or other fluids in quickly. But there are still microscopes on the counters for further, closer analysis. Blood testing in chemistry and hematology, are the largest share of the analysis run in the lab.

“Cardiac events, or possible events,” said Kringlie, “are what we see a lot of. We run tests that detect damage to the heart muscle, like Troponin-I. And of course, we test blood for pathogens, too. Sometimes we find markers for other diseases. We have, for example, found abnormal blood cells in patients highly suggestive for leukemia, which neither the patient nor the doctor knew the patient had.”

Larger hospitals, said Kringlie, have more diverse labs and a separation of duties. Some lab techs may perform only hematological testing, others in microbiology, or any other number of specialize testing or equipment that the lab may use. But Mercy’s four lab techs, Maria Flores, Matt Sprague, Angel Casamayor, and Chantal Faul, do it all.

“We’re a small lab,” said Kringlie, “and so our techs have to be proficient at everything. And be willing to put in long hours sometimes. Sometimes we do lab work for the other clinics in town because we can get the results back to them quickly.”

Kringlie said there is a shortage of lab techs nationally, with the average age well over fifty and there are less schools with clinical laboratory programs. “We really need more techs,” she said, “because in a few years lab techs will be retiring.”