Last week in lab we were doing ELISA, immunoassay plates. We were running out of time, I was anxious and rushing, and I made two errors. Neither were irreversible, and they shouldn’t have affected my whole plate, let alone… The whole class. This week we reconvened, and the professor had us start over, with two changes. First, rather than trying to rush and cut back on incubation times and wash flying everywhere, we were to take our time, take a breath, and work methodically.
I had already walked into class determined to keep my calm. I cannot allow myself to get wound up. That leads to errors. Not just in lab, but life in general. The last few years, learning to drive, I have cultivated calm. Don’t worry if you miss a turn, another one is coming soon. Leave enough time before you must be there, and if you’re stuck behind a train, take a breath and knwo you can’t change it.
The other change the professor made was in how he’d told us to handle washing (detergent solution to eliminate nonspecific binding of antibodies). He had given each lab bench a squirt bottle… And that had knocked samples into the wrong Wells. Now, we were to pipette gently. I sat at my bench, shutting out everything else, slowly pouring wash into Wells 300 microliters at a time. Nothing else mattered, only this. Zen pipetting.
We get too busy. I know I get too busy. I lose track of commitments, I keep multiple lists, I worry about timing and obligations and finances… But for this moment, all of it is behind a closed door. Only the flow of the wash into the well matters. I have another class – and an hour drive before that – but now it’s antibodies and antigen.
Life is like that. If you hurry, you risk making mistakes. Sometimes you need to take a deep breath and just focus on one thing, the task at hand.