SHTF Laboratory

SHTF Laboratory. Should we even bother?


We have touched on this topic, A SHTF lab, before in both newsletter and on the show The Medic Shack.

Last week I talked about how sick my wife was and it we got lucky, she didn’t need surgery………yet. She has to have some other testing over the next few weeks. I want to thank you all for the thoughts well wishes and prayers. We appreciate every one.

So last week(ish) (I think) I mentioned on  SHTF medical lab. Ok first remember. I am NOT a doctor, I do not prescribe medicine or treatment nor make a diagnosis. Everything we talk about is for educational and informational use only. Get it? Got it? Good! There is a host of diagnostic tools that can be used to help you determine what is going inside a person. The tools do need to cost a fortune and take a bunch of space.Well a lot of the grunt work for this was done in August 2016 in our piece SHTF Clinic Part 3 where I outlined some of the items that you will need.

So what can you do as a ditch lab tech?

Well your trusty microscope some slides and different stains when used together can help you determine if the reason someone is feeling bad is from a minor illness or a major infection.  You can get an idea if the reason someone is feeling tired because of illness or anemia. Urinary problems can be narrowed down.

Now don’t get me wrong just because you buy a microscope Wright’s/Giemsa stain or Grams Stain some slides and a centrifuge you become an automagical medical lab tech. But you have the tools on hand for now that  times are good (sorta) you can practice the basics of being a ditch lab tech. In February 2016, my dear friend Cat Ellis The Herbal Prepper and I did an episode of The Medic Shack on “Ditch Microbiology” where we talked about how to determine what bug is infecting a person.

So first let’s talk about ditch Hematology., And to start that we need to talk about the components of blood.

Blood is composed of: Blood is composed of Plasma and the solid cells.


















Red Blood Cells. These are the components that carry oxygen and nutrients to the cells and return waste and carbon dioxide. The arrows point to the platelets the red cells are the larger pink cvells












White blood cells These are specialized cells that clean up the body. The attack and consume foreign bodies and bacteria and are vital to prevent infection.

The 3 most important are

  1. Neutrophils. They attack bacterira and fungi in the blood and tissues
  2. Eosinophils. They attack larger parasites, IE Protozoan
  3. Basophil. These release histamines for protection against allergens











Platelets. These little cells are what help keep us from bleeding to death every time we get cut. When a cut happens they along with fibrin form a mess and eventually a clot to stop the bleeding.


Plasma. This is the straw colored liquid that contains all the blood cells and transports it throughout the body,


Now that we have the components of blood down, how in the hell does a ditch medic use that information in our medic duties,

Well one method is to have the equipment and hope you can find someone that knows how to use it.

Get the basics down by learning HOW to use it and act upon it.
First off doing a manual CBC is a very technical process and it takes a minimum of 2 years of school as a medical lab tech. There are complex math equations and time intensive procedures. What we are going to go over is the bare basics to:

  1. To tell if a person is anemic.
  2. To tell if a person has an infection.

This is about all that a non trained person can manage. Now as you get more experienced in looking in your microscope you will see volumed of information released each time you look.


Items needed:


This one is a beginner scope and is one of the few with both a light source and a mirror for illumination


The invention of the hemocytometer made life SO much easier to do a CBC but you still need to know how to stain and use the plain slides since the hemocytometer can not tell you what is going on. Just how many cells.How many red cells. This alone will take care of the 2 of the questions. Are they anemic?   2nd question Are they having a systemic infection?
So me being the person who does not like to waste time re-inventing the wheel, this link Introduction to counting cells will give you the basics of the math and the technique used to count blood cells.


These items are good to have and I will do a newsletter and a full class on how to do a manual differential. But it is WAY too complex to do here. Just describing how to make a blood smear will take 2 pages
Glass slides

Wright/Giesma stain

Coplin Jar for staining slides

Imersion oil

This table is the Average NORMALS for adult males and females


Red blood cell count Male: 4.32-5.72 trillion cells/L* (4.32-5.72 million cells/mcL**

                                Female: 3.90-5.03 trillion cells/L(3.90-5.03 million cells/mcL)

White Blood Cell Count  3.5-10.5 billion cells/L (3,500 to 10,500 cells/mcL)

Platelets  150-450 billion/L   (150,000 to 450,000/mcL

Another item that we measure is called hematocrit. It is the percentage of plasm to solids in blood. Normally this is measured on a CBC machine,  or a spun microhematocrit. For the ditch medic, unless you have access to multi-thousands of dollar micro crit centrifuge.Or a Coulter Counter CBC analyser it is difficult to do. But by using the cell counting method on the hemocytometer you will have a good estimate of the level of anemia.

This is what a hemocytometer image will look like


The idea here is to count all the red cells in between the triple lines. Then count all the white cells . This is a good example of the why you need to know how to do the blood smear. The white cells are visible but are difficult to see. By using a blood smear and staining it will light up the white cells and platelets.







This is an invaluable set of tools and knowledge to have. Every group really needs to have someone that is designated their lead medic and assistants and have them trained in this.
Now does this mean that you need to forego seeing you family doctor and trying to do your own lab work? No not at all. But as I like to say, the world is filled with what ifs The biggest what if we prepare for is, What If our medical care stopped? We’ve seen it happen. And we have seen it happen in the modern world.

Next week I’ll talk about how to do the peripheral blood smear and the staining. Of all the techniques of a blood count making the smear is the hardest to master.

  1. RBC image courtesy of Gauss Surgical
  2. WBC image courtesy of Wikiwand
  3. Platelet drawing courtesy of Beyond the Dish
  4. Blood components and hemocytometer image courtesy of Polartech


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