Wednesday, July 1, 2015

The Consequences of Breaking Rules

Earlier this week, Julie was called into her boss's office.  There she was met by her boss, as well as her boss's boss.  The head of the department.  They were investigating an incident that had happened the week prior involving an injured bird.

I was familiar with the event.  Julie told me the week prior that she'd been summoned by two vet techs who were in a panic.  They'd been trimming a bird's beak and it had struggled, and they'd cut off too much beak.  The bird was bleeding heavily and the two vet techs were both completely new and had totally lost their composure.

Julie explained to her superiors that they'd asked for her assistance, which she gave.  Together, they'd sedated the bird.  They'd cleaned it off and wrapped it in a towel for warmth.  They applied a coagulant to its beak to stymie the bleeding and placed it in a safe and assuring environment to heal without it agitating itself.  She'd then sent out a calm and reassuring email explaining what had happened to the principal investigator who was studying the bird.  When Julie told me the story it hadn't been sensational.  The injury looked worse than it would have been if they hadn't gotten the bird riled and raised its heart rate.

When the PI had inquired, the panicked vet tech had described it in the most alarming terms.  What the bosses wanted to know, though, was whether the tech's account was true in that Julie had done all of the things she'd just listed herself.  

Until this point, Julie had never admitted that she'd provided the bird with medications or directed the situation.  It was more than humility that prevented her.  There are protocols to be followed.  Julie's responsibility is to alert the veterinary team when an animal requires treatment and either let them do it or get their direction. The vet technicians would normally be responsible for deciding on the course of action and enacting it; however they were new and untrained and had come to her in panic.  The division of responsibility had broken down, so Julie had taken charge and righted the ship.  Now the higher-ups wanted to know exactly what Julie had done.

They asked questions: how had she sedated the bird? By refitting a euthanasia chamber to fill with isoflourane instead of carbon dioxide.  How had she determined the safe dose?  Based on equations relating weight and metabolic type found online, with a 15% reduction for extra caution.

When they'd finished it wasn't clear whether she was in trouble or not.  Julie asked what the bird's condition was.  The department head chuckled.  It was fine.  He then observed that she seemed very acquainted with techniques and equipment which they'd never trained her to use.  They informed her that they'd heard enough to conclude their investigation.  The PI was satisfied that the error had a been an innocent one which would be rectified by further training the new vet techs.  As for Julie, she was informed that her performance had just earned her a 3.5% raise.

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